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Randall Robinson tirelessly pushed world leaders toward equity before his death at 81

<i>Bettmann Archive/Getty Images</i><br/>Randall Robinson (center) is seen here during a demonstration against South African government's apartheid policies at the South African Embassy in Washington
Bettmann Archive
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Randall Robinson (center) is seen here during a demonstration against South African government's apartheid policies at the South African Embassy in Washington

By Nicole Chavez, CNN

Randall Robinson went from growing up in segregated Virginia to spending decades promoting equity for people of African descent from all over the world.

The human rights advocate and lawyer led the fight to end the apartheid in South Africa, lobbied for humane policy for Haitian refugees and called for reparations for Black Americans.

Last week, Robinson died at 81 years old of aspiration pneumonia in the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts, his wife Hazel Ross-Robinson told CNN.

“Apart from his work as a public figure, he was a very loving, dependable, protective, caring husband and father. He was a joy to know and a joy to love,” Ross-Robinson said. “He was as committed to being a source of stability and security to his family as he was to being a force for fairness and justice in the wider world. He shall be missed very, very much by me and by his family.”

Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1941, Robinson grew up experiencing racial discrimination and attended segregated schools. He graduated from Harvard Law School and became a civil rights attorney in Boston. For Robinson, those early years were the catalyst of a life dedicated to political activism and his fervent passion to speak up against racism.

“America has made me this way. Or, more accurately, White Americans have made me this way. They marred an otherwise unremarkable Southern childhood and, with the long-running effluvium of US attitudes and policies toward the Black nations of the world, preselected my adult career in global human rights advocacy,” Robinson wrote in his 1998 book “Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, Robinson took his work to Washington DC, where he founded the lobbying and research organization TransAfrica to influence US foreign policy toward apartheid — South Africa’s period of legislated segregation. At that time, Robinson became known for participating in a sit-in at the South African embassy to call for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

In the 1990s, Robinson advocated in favor of allowing Haitian refugees in the US and published the book “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks,” which supported reparations for descendants of enslaved Black Americans.

After decades of work to achieve equity, Robinson decided to leave the US for St. Kitts, where he lived for more than two decades before his death. In his 2004 book “Quitting America,” he explains he relocated out of a need to find a more peaceful and welcoming place to live as a Black person.

Since Robinson’s passing, several US lawmakers, foreign policy experts, human rights advocates and scholars have expressed their condolences to his family and praised his work toward social justice.

“Randall Robinson improved the lives of millions and advanced the cause of justice. In his memory, let us continue to fight to build an America worthy of his efforts — and never forget that people have the power to change the world. Today, Doug and my prayers are with his family,” Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted on Wednesday.

Janai S. Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, described Robinson as having an “unwavering commitment to achieving racial justice” and said he fueled an “inspiring fight for change.”

“He will be missed, and his example will echo across generations of the sacrifices from great men and women like him, who helped this nation live up to its best ideals,” Nelson said in a statement.

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