Last month’s blog post discussed a press release written by Gwen Patton of the Southern Regional Africa Peace Coordination Network that summarized an anti-apartheid candlelight ceremony held at the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1992. In part, the press release related the history of two members from the church who shared a past of civil rights activism and also led anti-Apartheid efforts in Alabama, Gwen Patton and Alvin Holmes. It goes on to highlight previous opposition by Patton and Holmes press release to the visit of Zwazulu Chief Mangosutho Buthelezi to Alabama in 1989. Together, Patton and Holmes helped persuade Montgomery public officials to not meet with the South African leader when he came to town because of Buthelezi’s opposition to American sanctions against South Africa.
While many of the state action files in the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) Records Addendum discuss sanctions and divestment against South Africa, the debate of Buthelezi’s visit is illustrative of the arguments for and against the economic policies that many consider a strong factor in ending apartheid. Additionally, the frustration shown by Patton and Holmes in this situation demonstrated how they believed it was necessary to end apartheid abroad while continuing to address race relations in Alabama, more than 20 years after the Civil Rights Movement they both participated in as activists.
Buthelezi visited Alabama in 1989 after receiving an invitation from a professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. After Buthelezi received word that Black leaders in Alabama refused to meet with him, he told The Citizen on September 2, 1989, that he found it “ridiculous that Americans can be so arrogant as to pontificate about what I do in South Africa.” According to Buthelezi, American economic sanctions against South Africa “hurt poor Blacks who work in foreign-owned factories.” In response to the Zulu Chief’s remarks, Alvin Holmes responded, “If he thinks we’re arrogant, he’s an articulate, educated Uncle Tom.” Both Holmes and Patton disagreed with Buthelezi and stated that “he is an apologist for Pretoria” and a “puppet of the South African government.” Furthermore, in an article in The Montgomery Advertiser on August 31, 1989, Gwen Patton accused Buthelezi of coordinating with the apartheid system and argued that “The apartheid system, itself, is anethema to democracy. Any collaboration is unacceptable.”
In the same Montgomery Advertiser article, Patton drew a link between fighting for anti-apartheid policies in South Africa and continuing the fight for racial equality in Alabama. Specifically, Patton told the newspaper that “Apartheid is reprehensible, and we here in Alabama, and particularly in Montgomery have worked out similar grievances and we’re not moving forward in this state. There is a historical link between the two countries.” In this statement, Patton suggested that African Americans in Alabama still did not have equal rights or equal opportunity.
This sentiment is backed up in several additional news clippings within the Alabama State Action file in the ACOA records. For example, on February 13, 1987, the New York Times reported that Black democratic leaders asserted that “blacks have been systematically excluded from positions of power” and they “called for a protest march on the capitol” in response to appointments made by Governor Guy Hunt. Additionally, on February 20, 1990, William King, a councilman and teacher in Selma, Alabama, told the New York Times that “we’re still two separate and paranoid communities, even though the blatancy of the racism has gone.”
Posted by Diane Galatowitsch
(Images from American Committee on Africa Records Addendum. May not be reproduced without permission.)