Why Randall Robinson Matters in Life and Death

Randall Robinson, an American activist, lawyer, and author, founded TransAfrica Forum, an institution focused on US policies towards Africa and the African diaspora. Robinson gained prominence for his activism and protests against discriminatory policies in South Africa and the Caribbean. The TransAfrica movement began in 1984 and continued until Mandela was released from a South African prison after 27 years. According to an LA Sentinel article, “Known as The Free South Africa Movement or FSAM it was born when Dr. Mary Frances Berry, then commissioner and later chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, D.C. Congressman Walter Fauntroy, and TransAfrica’s Executive Director Robinson were arrested at the South African Embassy for attempting to stage a sit-in to protest against the South African apartheid government.”

Randall Robinson not only served as an activist for people of the African diaspora outside of the United States, his work also centered the political, social and economic needs of African-Americans. He authored the book, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, advocating for reparations to address historical discrimination against African Americans. I was a longtime fan of Randall Robinson and his work and can honestly say he is the one writer I had hoped to meet while serving with the literary arts organization I currently work at as executive director. So, when I logged into social media this past Friday to come across the Facebook post by Dr. Ray Winbush announcing the death of Randall Robinson, great sadness followed.

Dr. Winbush’s post on March 24, 2023

Winbush, a scholar on African American history and politics is one of the leading voices today on reparations for people who are the descendants of the African-descended victims of American slavery. It was most appropriate to trust his posted words that stated that he had learned of the recent death of Randall Robinson although there were no news outlets reporting on this tragedy yet. In fact, at the time of this writing, major news outlets have yet to pick up the story. Only those on social media who follow Winbush or Robinson’s adult children were able to gather information about his death at age 81 on March 24, 2023.

It is not surprising that in life and in death, the mainstream media has failed to acknowledge the majestic legacy of such a titan of a man. But, it is with high fidelity that the people with who his life and work has impacted most and resonated with on the highest vibration, have come together in mourning and remembrance as we reflect on the impact of his presence.

Randall Robinson As Writer of Historical Nonfiction

As an scholar of African American studies and education, I find Randall Robinson’s nonfiction work to be most valuable when delving into the historical impact of systemic racism on Black people in America. This past December, I posted one of Randall Robinson’s books as a book recommendation in the Facebook group I manage for my education group, Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars, LLC. In that Facebook group, many Black parents post questions regularly asking where to find curriculum that teaches Black history. I recommended Randall Robinson’s book, The Debt, as a starter book for parents who needed to build their own historical reference point regarding African Americans and our relationship to this country. Robinson’s book offers a cogent argument for reparations while highlighting specific historical facts that the average attendee of public schools in America is less likely to know. I earned a college undergraduate degree that included African American studies and there were things that I did not know before reading the book. He added a stellar reference list at the back of the book as well to encourage further research and knowledge-building.

This is the photo of the book from the post I posted in my FB group in Dec 2022

Randall Robinson’ other nonfiction books include the books: An Unbroken AgonyThe ReckoningQuitting America, and Defending the Spirit.

An Unbroken Agony brings alive the memory of the Haitian revolution and the impact of US intervention on the political stability of a still struggling Haiti. The Reckoning examines crime and poverty in urban America, drawing from Robinson’s interviews with Black men and women heavily impacted by the systemic inequities in US policy. Defending the Spirit and Quitting America are both memoirs; the first being Robinson’s memoir on his time with TransAfrica and the later exploring his reasons for leaving the United States.

Randall Robinson as a Writer of Historical Fiction

In full transparency, although I have read Robinson’s nonfiction and find him a role model in thought and scholarship, the work by him that I discovered first was his masterpiece, Makeda, a work of fiction. I became aware of this book a few months after it came out in 2011. In fact, I learned about it from someone’s recommendation on Twitter. Their description of the book sounded like a mix of historical fiction meets Afrofuturism meets time travel — all of the things that I love. The online bookstore, AALBC.com describes the book as, “Part coming-of-age story, part spiritual journey, and part love story, Makeda is a universal tale of family, heritage, and the ties that bind. Randall Robinson plumbs the hearts of Makeda and Gray and summons our collective blood memories, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey of the soul that will linger long after the last page has been turned.”

I downloaded the book and read it first on my Kindle as an e-book. This book, along with Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, are in my top three of favorite books of all time. The book literally had me gasp out loud, cry, and pause throughout my time reading it. It cemented by respect for the mind of Randall Robinson. I immediately purchased a paperback version of the book, misplaced it and then bought it again and kept on a crystal altar I kept in my office until recently. The book is a perfect example of Toni Morrison’s concept of “re-memoring” — remembering memories. The relationship between the book’s main character, a young man growing up during the Civil Rights era, and his ailing grandmother was the type of familial love relationship that I had never seen depicted before and it was deeply moving.

Randall Robinson As Ancestor

Our ancestor Randall Robinson has left behind fine examples of how to navigate this tenuous relationship that we have with this world as human beings of the African diaspora. During his life, he used his privileges and platforms to engage in and amplify the abolition work taking place in the areas that disproportionately impact(ed) Black people. He lived out loud as a thinker, artist and community member. We have been blessed by his presence.

May he rest well.

Dr. Khadijah Ali-Coleman is a playwright, essayist, and the founding director of Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars. She is co-editor of the book Homeschooling Black Children in the US: Theory, Practice & Popular Culture (IAP, 2022). Learn more at KhadijahAli-Coleman.com

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I write, I research, I create. Learn more at KhadijahAli-Coleman.com

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