In Memoriam: Randall Robinson, 1941-2023

Randall Robinson, a lawyer, civil rights activist, and educator died from aspiration pneumonia on March 23 in Basseterre, St. Kitts, where he had lived for the past two decades. Robinson was 81 years old.

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Robinson attended what is now Norfolk State University but left to join the U.S. Army. After military service, Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Virginia Union University. He held a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School. At Harvard, it was the first time Robinson had ever sat in a classroom with White students.

After law school, Robinson worked as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill. In 1977, he established the TransAfrica Forum. According to the group’s website, TransAfrica is a “research, educational and organizing institution for the African-American community, offering constructive analysis concerning U.S. policy as it affects Africa and the African Diaspora in the Caribbean and Latin America.” While leading TransAfrica, Robinson became one of the strongest voices in the United States against South African apartheid. In 1994, Robinson went on a 27-day hunger strike to protest U.S. policy toward Haiti.

Robinson worked at Penn State jointly as a professor of law at the University Park campus and as a professor at the Penn State School of International Affairs from 2008 to 2016. He was the author of seven books including Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America (Dutton, 1998). In the book, Robinson stated “I am obsessively Black. Race is an overarching aspect of my identity. America has made me that way.”

“Randall Robinson was an intellectual giant,” said Victor Romero, a professor of law at Penn State. “His pathbreaking work in the area of international human rights and social justice, especially regarding the history and condition of Africans and African-Americans, was particularly influential and still resonates today.”

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  1. To the Robinson Family:

    Please accept my heartfelt condolences. Randall was a giant as a lawyer and civil rights activist.

    He will be deeply missed but greatly remembered.


    James A. Johnson

  2. I was so sad to hear this. Randall Robinson’s The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks should be required reading for all lawmakers.

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