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Speaker: Debt owed to slave descendants

The TransAfrica Forum leader argues his point today at USF.

By WAYNE WASHINGTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


TAMPA -- Should the descendants of slaves receive reparations for the suffering of their ancestors?

It's a question Randall Robinson, president of the Washington, D.C.-based TransAfrica Forum, will explore tonight as the keynote speaker for The Institute on Black Life's fifth annual symposium on race at the University of South Florida.

His speech, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Phyllis Marshall Center, will draw from his new book, The Debt, which argues in favor of reparations.

"Let me try to drive the point home here," Robinson writes. "Black people worked long, hard, killing days, years, centuries -- and they were never paid. The value of their labor went into other pockets -- plantation owners, northern entrepreneurs, state treasuries, the U.S. government."

Robinson came to prominence in the 1980s as a fierce opponent of South African apartheid. He excoriated American leaders for meeting with their counterparts in South Africa while black citizens of that country were denied basic human rights.

In addition to his work fighting apartheid, Robinson has tried to influence American policy toward Haiti. Six years ago, to protest American repatriation of Haitian refugees, he went on a 27-day hunger strike. The Haitians who had fled to America on rickety boats were eventually reclassified as political refugees.

As president of TransAfrica Forum, he promotes a greater understanding of Africa.

Robinson's book on reparations augments the theme of the two-day symposium, titled "The Color Line: Past, Present and Future."

St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell will chair the first session of the symposium, which deals with how the media cover race. The 90-minute session is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. today.

Other sessions deal with minority health issues, black spiritual traditions, transportation and closer ties between Africans and black Americans.

The symposium is free and open to the public.

For information, call (813) 974-4014.

- Wayne Washington can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or washington@sptimes.com.

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