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    Author: America owes for slavery

    At USF, Randall Robinson says the nation should compensate the descendants of slaves.

    By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 5, 2002


    TAMPA -- Slavery was carried out with the complicity of the U.S. government, and that is the strongest argument in support of reparations for the descendants of slaves, author and activist Randall Robinson said Thursday.

    "Think of it as restitution, American compassion," said Robinson, who spoke at the University of South Florida. "(It will) lift the floor of the dispossessed, the shutout and the hopeless."

    Robinson was the keynote speaker at the Institute on Black Life's annual symposium on race. He is the author of several books, including the bestseller The Debt -- What America Owes to Blacks, and his most recent work, The Reckoning -- What Blacks Owe to Each Other.

    Robinson, the past president of the Washington-based TransAfrica and TransAfrica Forum, is known for his efforts to help end apartheid in South Africa and to spur the U.S. government to change its policies toward Haiti.

    During his hourlong speech Thursday, he spoke little of current affairs. Instead, he focused on how black Americans have been deprived of their history.

    Black History Month has always troubled him, he said, because it leads black Americans to believe that their story started with slavery.

    "For most of us, we assume that is all the story we have to tell," he said. "They didn't tell us our story, because our story is empowering. Instead, they told a story that didn't fit us."

    He used a visit to Washington, D.C., with his young daughter as an example of how blacks are overlooked in U.S. history. As they walked along the National Mall, Robinson and his daughter noticed that there were few blacks strolling near the nation's great monuments.

    "We're not at the mall, because there is nothing there to do with any of us," he said. "Why are we unremarked in this place . . . that tells American stories?"

    In the Capitol, along with the art that lines the walls, the statues and the marble frieze that documents the history of America, there is "no Tubman, no Douglas, no Sojourner Truth," he said. "It's as if slavery never happened."

    But the Capitol's sandstone was mined in Virginia by slaves, Robinson said, and the bronze statue named "Freedom" that sits atop the building was cast by slaves.

    "The important buildings and institutions found their beginnings on the backs of uncompensated blacks," he said.

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