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Introduction

CEDRIC J. ROBINSON’S PASSING this summer at the age of seventy-five went virtually unnoticed in the media. Professor emeritus of political science and black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Robinson was one of the most original political theorists of his generation, yet no major U.S. newspaper devoted a single paragraph to his memory. Although he deliberately avoided the pitfalls of intellectual celebrity, his influence was greater than perhaps he may have realized. Today’s insurgent black movements against state violence and mass incarceration call for an end to “racial capitalism” and see their work as part of a “black radical tradition”—terms associated with Robinson’s work.

Born on November 5, 1940, Robinson grew up in a black working-class neighborhood in West Oakland. Educated in public schools, he spent hours in the library absorbing everything from Greek philosophy and world history to literature. Soft-spoken but never “quiet,” he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in anthropology and rose to prominence as a campus activist. He helped bring Malcolm X to campus and protested the Bay of Pigs Invasion, for which he received a one-semester suspension. After graduation in 1963 and a stint in the army, Robinson worked briefly for the Alameda County Probation Department, encountering both a racially biased criminal justice system and fellow employees determined to change it—including his future wife, Elizabeth Peters. By 1967, inspired by the urban rebellions and the antiwar movement, the couple chose to join those determined to change the world, pursuing a life of activism and intellectual work.

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Winter 2017
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