Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Connecting the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Apartheid Movement



March 1992 press release
regarding anti-apartheid
vigil at Hutchinson Missionary
Baptist Church in Montgomery,
Alabama.
The American Committee on Africa (ACOA) records at the Amistad Research Center are not only a rich source for anti-apartheid and anti-colonial movements across the African continent, but they also document the strong connections between liberation movements in various African countries and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as continuing support in the United States to end apartheid up into the 1990s. While processing the research files for United States-South Africa relations found in the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) Records Addendum, I came across many folders related to actions in various American states against apartheid in South Africa.   

Although many states had multiple folders or boxes related to divestment legislation and local community organizations that formed in protest of apartheid, I was particularly drawn to the single folder that highlighted state actions in Alabama, a state that was central to the Civil Rights Movement.  The photograph and press release highlighted here connect two members of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, Gwen Patton and Alvin Holmes, who started their activism during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and continued their fight for racial equality by leading Alabama’s anti-apartheid efforts.

On March 29, 1992, the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, held a candlelight vigil dedicated to peace in South Africa. According to a press release written by Gwen Patton, the Regional Facilitator of the Southern Regional Africa Peace Coordinating Network and member of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, during the ceremony children of the Church’s Youth Ministry, ages 5 to 14, walked to the altar carrying lit candles. Associate Minister Vernon L. Davis stated, “God, make a special trip into South Africa and touch those and say, ‘War No More.’ We pray for peace in South Africa and at home.” Following the ceremony, Reverend Dr. G.W.C. Richardson offered a closing prayer to those in attendance: “Let’s pray that swords will become plow-shares for the sake of our children and generations thereafter.” After summarizing the Youth Ministry candlelight ceremony, the press release discusses further anti-Apartheid efforts led by Patton and Holmes.

Young members of the church take part in the
candlelight vigil. Photo by Ms. Jessie Williams.
In 1987, Gwen Patton helped organize the Southern Regional Africa Peace Coordination Network at a conference in Epes, Alabama, in order to help coordinate anti-apartheid efforts.  After the conference, Patton became the Regional Facilitator for eight Southeastern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  Patton began her fight against racism as a student at the Tuskegee Institute during the 1960s. There, she was the Direct Action Chair for the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, which focused on desegregating Macon County, Georgia. Additionally, following the Selma-to-Montgomery march, Patton led students in sit-ins and picketing to help end segregation. Patton was also an active member with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Alvin Holmes, an Alabama state representative and history professor at Alabama State University, helped lead legislative action against apartheid.  As a state representative, Holmes called for economic sanctions against South Africa through legislation. During the 1960s, Holmes was a member of SNCC and learned non-violent protest methods under Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy.  According to Holmes in a 1993 Times Daily article, he was beaten in Montgomery at the Greyhound bus terminal in a confrontation between the police and other civil rights activists.  In 1974, Alvin Holmes was elected to the state legislature from the poorest part of Montgomery as one of the first Black legislators and remains in state legislature to this day in Alabama’s 78th district.
 
In addition to materials documenting the efforts of Gwen Patton and Alvin Holmes, the American Committee on Africa records are a rich source for further study of the connections between the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Posted by Diane Galatowitsch

(Images from American Committee on Africa Records Addendum. May not be reproduced without permission.)