On Saturday, June 24, 300 individuals gathered at the historic Shiloh Baptist Church to bid farewell to Randall Robinson. A world-renowned lawyer, author, humanitarian and civil rights activist, Robinson passed away on March 24 at the age of 81 in St. Kitts and Nevis from aspiration pneumonia.
Inside the church were movers and shakers of Washington’s governmental, political and diplomatic society.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) attended the memorial service and offered reflections on Robinson’s life, including the District’s Democratic Delegate in Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Maxine Waters (D-CA). Reflections were offered by other notables, including Mary Frances Berry, former Chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Ed Lewis, founder and former CEO of Essence Communications, and James L. Hudson, former Counsel for TransAfrica.
Letters of condolences were also extended to Robinson’s widow, Hazel Ross-Robinson, by President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and President Cyril Ramaphosa, Republic of South Africa.
“Randall was a passionate leader, whose unwavering commitment to democracy, justice, and human rights lifted up countless lives in America and around the world,” said President Biden. “I witnessed firsthand his deep conviction that everyone deserves to be treated with decency and respect as well as his talent for shifting perspectives and changing hearts.”
President Ramaphosa noted Robinson’s activism in South Africa.
“Through TransAfrica and the South Africa Movement, Randall Robinson fought for a free South Africa in which all South Africans would enjoy democratic rights, and a South Africa that could take its rightful place in international forums and in the world economy,” said President Ramaphosa.
Founded on July 1, 1977, by Robinson, the TransAfrica Forum (now TransAfrica) is an advocacy organization that seeks to influence U.S. foreign policy African, Caribbean and Latin American countries and all African diaspora groups. Under Robinson’s leadership, TransAfrica, through the Free South Africa Movement, is credited for its role in the anti-apartheid through activism, which included letter-writing campaigns, legislation on Capitol Hill, hunger strikes, and protests against apartheid to compel action in the U.S. Government, American companies and academic institutions investing in South Africa.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, on July 6, 1941, in a rat-infested home — lacking heating, a television, or telephone — Robinson was the third of four children born to Maxie and Doris Robinson, both of whom were teachers. Growing up in the segregated South shaped him from an early age.
Years later in an interview with The Progressive Magazine, Robinson recalled, “The insult of segregation was searing and unforgettable. I decided a long time ago to join the social justice movement.”
He went on to win a basketball scholarship to Virginia Union University and graduated from Harvard Law School.
Rep. Lee remembered Robinson as a world-changer.
“His brilliance, his vision, and his passion persist through the long-lasting legacy of his work,”
Lee said. “He changed the world.”
Vivian Derryck, former president of the Africa-America Institute and assistant administrator for USAID, reflected on Robinson’s influence after the memorial service. She recalled her children, Amanda and David, then sixth and eighth graders, standing in the cold in 1986 at the South African Embassy along with several of their classmates and parents chanting: “Free Nelson Mandela.” They were arrested.
“We tend to eulogize Randall, the brilliant strategist, committed activist, fearless leader speaking truth to the U.S. government. But equally important, children saw an unbowed Black man of rock-ribbed integrity and clear vision, an eloquent speaker committed to basic justice.”