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Randall Robinson

Author of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks

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Mar
15
Randall Robinson
Booknotes, Sunday, March 15, 1998
Randall Robinson discusses Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America.

A moving and provocative memoir by a distinguished statesman offers a revealing and devastating portrait of racism. TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson chronicles a controversial, behind-the-scenes look at American foreign policymaking with African and Caribbean nations. Randall Robinson is one of America's most prominent—and controversial—political figures. As the founder of TransAfrica, the first organization to lobby for the interests of African and Caribbean peoples and to influence foreign policy initiatives in those areas, he has been at the forefront of the crusade to fight racism on national and international levels. In this stunning and inspiring memoir, DEFENDING THE SPIRIT: A Black Life in America, Randall Robinson chronicles his amazing journey and the obstacles he overcame, rising from a poor childhood in the segregated South to infiltrate the white infrastructure of Washington politics. Although racism was nothing new to Robinson when he arrived at Harvard Law School from Virginia Union University, he found himself straddling the color line on another level: a black student from a poor liberal arts college attending the nation's oldest and wealthiest, and mostly white, institution—"the school that gave the term 'self-absorption' institutional meaning," he writes. It was here that Robinson first discovered bagels, and where he was mistaken for a janitor in the law school library. As a witness and recipient of racism's pervasive hand in both the community at large and academia, Robinson realized he couldn't practice the corporate law for which Harvard Law School traditionally prepares its students—it seemed far removed from the interests and issues of African-Americans. Since his founding of TransAfrica in 1977, it has grown from a two-person, one-room organization to a national lobby with more than 15, 000 members and international influence. It became the galvanizing force behind the anti-apartheid boycott of South Africa, the efforts to secure the release of Nelson Mandela, and the fight to reinstate President Aristide and restore democracy in Haiti. Robinson's story is more than an autobiography. It takes a highly charged behind-the-scenes look at some of the most significant moments in American and world history over the past 30 years, including the fights to end apartheid in South Africa and to restore democracy in Haiti. Candidly discussing the politics of leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, Bob Dole, President Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Charles Rangel, and Roger Wilkins, Robinson asserts that American foreign policy is indifferent, if not hostile, toward the interests of Africa's people. DEFENDING THE SPIRIT offers a tragic commentary on the United States' endeavors in African and Caribbean nations, where racism still plays an unfortunate role. At the same time, it heralds a compelling call to activism in order to redirect future American policies. Impassioned, charismatic, and unwavering in his convictions, Randall Robinson emerges as an inspiring and empowering example of a great American leader of our time. —from the publisher's website (timspalding)… (more)
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