Activist Randall Robinson kicks off Black History Month activities

Feb. 9, 2001 5:32 p.m.

Randall Robinson, author of "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks," kicked off Princeton's Black History Month activities Thursday, reminding listeners that minority-group members soon would make up the majority of the U.S. population and calling on the audience to remember the often sordid details of America's past.

"A lot of clean, well-respected money has a stained history," Robinson told the audience in Dodds Auditorium, citing the slaves who built the United States Capitol building. "If you have no past, you cannot imagine a future. Human beings need to practice ancestor-worship."

"The Debt," published in 1999, advocates reparations to African Americans for their years in slavery and the racism that followed.

As the founder and director of TransAfrica, a Washington-based lobbying group, Robinson has been credited with helping to change U.S. policy toward nations such as South Africa and Haiti.

In his Princeton address, he was sharply critical of Clinton administration policies toward Africa and the Caribbean. Partly because of those policies, Robinson served as co-chairman of Ralph Nader's campaign for president, a role he said cost TransAfrica millions of dollars in support from labor unions.

"Never was there a president so contemptuous of Africa and the Caribbean," Robinson said. "But we fell for symbols and he played the saxophone." He accused President Clinton of "decimating" the economies of small Carribean countries by lobbying the World Trade Organization to stop buying Carribean bananas, in favor of the Chiquita Banana Company.

Robinson is best known for leading a campaign to cut U.S. economic ties to South Africa during the time of apartheid. In Nov. 1984, he was arrested at a demonstration at the South African Embassy in Washington, and over the next year, more than 5,000 people -- including politicians and celebrities -- participated in daily protests there. Those protests and others played a leading role in the decision by Congress to impose economic sanctions on South Africa.

In 1994, Robinson conducted a hunger strike to protest the Clinton administration's policy of sending Haitian refugees back to Haiti without hearings. Clinton later changed the policy.

For information on other Black History Month activities, click here .

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601