TransAfrica was the African-American lobby for Africa and the Caribbean. Incorporated in September 1977, it became the first national advocacy organization to exist solely for the purpose of articulating an African-American voice in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. TransAfrica Forum, the lobby's research and educational affiliate, was established in 1981. It published the journal TransAfrica Forum, sponsored an annual foreign policy conference, and administered a library and resource center. Operating in tandem under a shared executive director, the parent body and its educational offshoot promoted progressive, nonracialist policies to address political, economic, and humanitarian concerns in the black world.
The history of African-American activism in foreign policy predates the Civil War. Indeed, while slavery was still practiced on American soil, abolitionists, among them Frederick Douglass, pressed for official recognition of the independent black republics of Haiti and Liberia. African-Americans opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Haiti (1915–1934); tried at the end of World War I to petition the Versailles Peace Conference on behalf of colonial populations; mobilized to circumvent the U.S. federal government's neutrality toward the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1934; and criticized U.S. policy toward the Belgian Congo in the 1960s.
The impact of these early campaigns, however, was largely symbolic. Not until the 1970s—in the aftermath of the civil rights movement and the emergence of a critical mass of black elected officials—did African Americans command the political resources necessary to promote a foreign policy agenda.
The decision to institutionalize a foreign policy lobby was the direct result of a Leadership Conference convened by the Congressional Black Caucus under the direction of congressmen Charles Diggs (Dem-Michigan) and Andrew Young (Dem-Georgia). On September 25, 1976, leaders from civil rights organizations and church, labor, business, and community development groups, as well as academics and elected officials, gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss Africa policy. Their immediate concern was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's maneuvers to protect white minority interests in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which was moving rapidly toward black majority rule. The conferees issued an "African-American Manifesto on Southern Africa" and pledged to mobilize a constituency for Africa. TransAfrica formed one year later, with Randall Robinson as its executive director.
Emerging out of support for liberation movements in Southern Africa, TransAfrica quickly developed an image as an antiapartheid group. This perception was further enhanced in 1985 by the success of its yearlong civil disobedience campaign in front of the South African embassy in Washington, D.C. The demonstrations drew thousands of protesters from around the country and culminated with the passage—over President Ronald Reagan's veto—of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which imposed sanctions on South Africa.
TransAfrica targeted aspects of policy that affect Africa and the Caribbean: development aid, debt relief, human rights and democratization, refugee issues, famine assistance, covert operations, the drug war, and advocacy for a postapartheid South Africa. In 1990 the forum began an International Careers Program to prepare black students for the foreign service exam. The Washington, D.C.–based lobby had chapters in Boston, the District of Columbia, Chicago, Detroit, and Cincinnati.
In 2004 the organization decided to focus its efforts on researching U.S. foreign policy and educating and informing the general public, government officials, and political officials. A name change to TransAfrica Forum signaled this decision.
Challenor, Herchelle Sullivan. "The Influence of Black Americans on U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Africa." In Ethnicity and U.S. Foreign Policy, rev. ed., edited by Abdul Aziz Said. New York: Praeger, 1981.
TransAfrica Forum. A Retrospective: Blacks in U.S. Foreign Policy. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1987.
pearl t. robinson (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005