How ending apartheid became a dominant civil rights issue

Eleanor Holmes Norton was an experienced civil rights activist. While in college and graduate school, she was active in the civil rights movement and an organizer for SNCC. By the time she graduated from Antioch College, she had already been arrested for organizing and participating in sit-ins in Maryland, Ohio, and Washington, DC. While in law school, she traveled to Mississippi for the Mississippi Freedom Summer and worked with civil rights stalwarts like Medgar Evers. Her first encounter with a recently released but physically beaten Fannie Lou Hamer forced her to bear witness to the intensity of violence and Jim Crow repression in the South. Upon graduation from law school, she clerked for Judge A. Leon Higginbotham. She was a litigator at the ACLU, head of the Human Rights Commission of New York City, and head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, named by Carter. She then was a professor at Georgetown and a member of FSAM.

A key activist who was not in the room at the meeting with the ambassador when we started the protest, because she was not as obviously newsworthy at the moment, was an academic, Professor Sylvia Hill of the University of the District of Columbia. She had been a leader working for the liberation of southern Africa since the 1970s. She had been the North America regional secretary general for the Sixth Pan-African Congress, held in Tanzania, which I attended. At that time, she was a professor at Macalester in St. Paul, Minnesota, and some of her students helped with the conference and the movement. She and her husband, James, had been in SNCC in Mississippi and moved to Minnesota, which was his home. After SixPac, they moved to Washington, DC, bent on organizing to help the liberation of southern Africa. She and Joseph Jordan, Sandra Hill, Cecelie Counts, Adwoa Dunn-Mouton, and others founded the Southern Africa Support Project (SASP), which did a study of local churches and other organizations to find out which ones were most likely targets for organizing. They gave presentations and formed a network of local volunteers interested in the liberation cause. In 1980, Sylvia persuaded ANC head Oliver Tambo, who visited with SASP while in Washington, that Americans could be as responsive to the antiapartheid movement as Europeans, who were its major supporters. Tambo began to allocate resources in the United States. Thereafter, Lindiwe Mabuza, who was assigned to Washington, DC, and Johnny Makatini, serving at the United Nations, gave our movement knowledge and a sense of the ANC’s visions and goals. They traveled, met, and talked with people and collaborated with antiapartheid, traditional civil rights, and women’s groups and appeared in the media wherever they traveled. Adwoa Dunn-Mouton, a SASP member, was the group’s most important black staffer on the Hill serving on the Subcommittee on Africa. SASP organized and delivered the core daily demonstrators, drummers, and picketers when the movement started and as it continued in Washington.