Randall Robinson, founding father of influential Africa foyer, dies at 81 Lalrp


Randall Robinson, who as founding government director of TransAfrica, a high-profile lobbying group in Washington, helped reshape U.S. overseas coverage towards apartheid South Africa and as soon as performed a 27-day starvation strike to carry consideration to the struggling of Haitian refugees, died March 24 in St. Kitts, the island within the West Indies. He was 81.

His spouse, Hazel Ross-Robinson, mentioned he died in a hospital of aspiration pneumonia.

Mr. Robinson grew up in what he described because the “home apartheid system” of the Jim Crow South, recalling that he had not a single White classmate till he was accepted at Harvard Regulation College.

He participated within the civil rights motion and, within the years that adopted, sought to hold on its beliefs as maybe the foremost U.S. activist representing Africans and the African diaspora.

Mr. Robinson led TransAfrica, which additionally included a scholarly and academic affiliate often known as TransAfrica Discussion board, from its incorporation in 1977 till he stepped down as government director in 2001. TransAfrica ceased operations in 2014.

A member of Congress, he recalled, as soon as remarked to him that earlier than TransAfrica was based, “there weren’t quite a lot of folks on the Hill who might identify greater than three African international locations.” Below Mr. Robinson’s management, TransAfrica turned “black America’s premier foreign-policy suppose tank,” Washington Put up columnist William Raspberry wrote in 1993.

TransAfrica had the backing of Black celebrities together with singer Harry Belafonte, tennis participant Arthur Ashe, actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, comedians Invoice Cosby and Dick Gregory, and boxer Muhammad Ali.

The group — and Mr. Robinson particularly — had been extensively credited with forcing the US to confront the apartheid regime in South Africa and push for the discharge of South African activists together with Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years below apartheid.

“If I needed to establish one particular person” in the US “liable for ending apartheid, it could be Randall,” then-U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) instructed the Boston Globe.

In November 1984, Mr. Robinson was arrested, together with Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and Mary Frances Berry of the U.S. Fee on Civil Rights, after they staged a sit-in on the South African Embassy in Washington.

Mr. Robinson went on to guide each day demonstrations outdoors the embassy that led to hundreds of arrests, together with these of Ashe, singer Stevie Marvel, feminist chief Gloria Steinem and Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., the liberal Republican from Connecticut. Mr. Robinson was detained a complete of seven occasions.

President Ronald Reagan had advocated a conciliatory coverage of “constructive engagement” with South Africa. However in September 1986, amid rising outrage amongst People over the brutality of apartheid, Congress voted to override Reagan’s veto of laws that positioned financial sanctions on South Africa.

Mandela was launched in 1990 and, 4 years later, was elected South Africa’s first Black president. Mr. Robinson was unable to attend the inauguration, as a result of he had solely days earlier ended a virtually month-long starvation strike to attract consideration to a different plight: that of hundreds of refugees fleeing the navy junta that had ousted the democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“Lives had been at stake,” Mr. Robinson instructed the Dallas Morning Information on the time. “The place life is at stake, one must be ready to do something to avoid wasting a life. … If there will not be some rules you’ve got which might be price dying for, then your life will not be price residing.”

Mr. Robinson took solely water and fruit juice throughout his protest, which attracted nationwide consideration. At one level he was hospitalized for extreme hydration. He ended his starvation strike after President Invoice Clinton agreed to grant would-be refugees asylum hearings slightly than interdicting them at sea and returning them instantly to their violence-wracked nation.

Clinton mentioned that his administration had begun reviewing its place on Haitian refugees earlier than Mr. Robinson undertook his protest. However the president had additionally remarked through the quick that “I perceive and respect what he’s doing. … We have to change our coverage.”

Randall Maurice Robinson was born in Richmond on July 6, 1941. His father was a highschool historical past instructor and athletic coach, and his mom, a former elementary faculty instructor, was a homemaker and volunteer.

His earliest recollections included the indignities inflicted on folks of coloration due to segregation — the separate consuming fountains and bogs, the division retailer clerk who compelled his mom to put on a skullcap earlier than she tried on a hat. He recalled delivering groceries at age 14 to a White household and feeling invisible as they spoke amongst themselves about intimate particulars of their life, with none sense of his presence.

“When one will get on a bus and has to sit down within the again — even a 2-year-old youngster understands,” he instructed the Atlanta Journal-Structure in 1987. “Life is all the time a combined blessing of ache and pleasure, however there was an excessive amount of ache and no justification.”

Following Military service, Mr. Robinson obtained a bachelor’s diploma in sociology from Virginia Union College, a traditionally Black establishment in Richmond, in 1967. He graduated from Harvard Regulation College in 1970 and determined to not pursue a company profession path.

He practiced public-interest regulation within the Boston space earlier than embarking on a six-month journey by Tanzania. He then labored in Washington for 2 congressmen, Rep. William L. Clay Sr. (D-Mo.) and Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.), each founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Within the late-Seventies, the caucus helped set up a working group, chaired by Mr. Robinson, that led to the creation of TransAfrica, which he mentioned was initially shaped to protest White-minority rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Throughout his quarter-century on the helm of the group, Mr. Robinson spoke out towards the relative paucity of U.S. overseas support to African nations and the low variety of African refugees allowed into the nation.

Mr. Robinson’s marriage to Brenda Randolph resulted in divorce. Survivors embrace his spouse of 35 years, Hazel Ross-Robinson of St. Kitts; two kids from his first marriage, Anike Robinson of Silver Spring, Md., and Jabari Robinson of Philadelphia; a daughter from his second marriage, Khalea Ross Robinson of Manhattan; two sisters; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Robinson’s brother, Max Robinson, the primary African American information anchor on Washington tv and on nightly community tv information, died in 1988.

Mr. Robinson wrote a number of books, amongst them the memoir “Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America” (1998); “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks” (2000), wherein he argued for reparations for the descendants of enslaved folks; and “The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Every Different” (2002).

In “Quitting America” (2004), he explored his determination to depart the US for St. Kitts, the place he lived for greater than 20 years earlier than his dying. “I’ve tried to like America,” he wrote, “however America wouldn’t love the traditional, full African complete of me.”