Outrage about apartheid in South Africa was not limited to the people of South Africa; citizens of the United States–particularly those who were fighting for equal rights in their own country–also sought to end systematic racial discrimination that was apartheid. At the same time as apartheid in South Africa, African Americans experienced segregation and racial discrimination in America. The anti-apartheid and civil rights movements overlapped in many ways, and many of those involved adhered to ideas of Pan-Africanism. In Dallas, Texas, many of the people who fought for justice saw themselves as part of a bigger movement that included both Civil Rights and anti-apartheid activism. This can be seen through the works of individuals who participated in the movements in Dallas, Texas, such as Pan-Africanist Arthur Riggins (Baba Ifayomi), former Dallas City Councilwoman Diane Ragsdale, Reverend Peter Johnson and former Southern Christian Leadership Council member Reverend Charles Stovall.
Apartheid in South Africa and the Emergence of a Movement
After the creation of the apartheid system in 1948 by the National Party (NP) government in South Africa, Indian, Coloured, and Black South Africans experienced racial discrimination and went through countless hardships throughout the apartheid era. Numerous segregation laws, including the infamous pass laws, were formed, designed to isolate the population, decrease black urbanization, and assign migrant labor and cheap work among South Africans, especially South Africans who were not white. The system of apartheid led to more horrifying occurrences and events, such as the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and the 1976 Soweto Uprising. In the midst of the hardships and destitution that plagued the country of South Africa, many South African leaders and organizations stood together to fight against apartheid, such as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and Nelson Mandela, just to name a few. The South African leaders mentioned above were extremely determined to end a system that plagued the people and country of South Africa. Unfortunately, the National Party government banned, exiled, and imprisoned majority of the leaders and organizations that were involved in ending apartheid in South Africa. Nonetheless, Americans – especially African Americans, or the African diaspora – responded to the treatment of South Africans and decided to take a stand against apartheid.
This response led to a massive anti-apartheid movement in the United States, including in Dallas, Texas. Politicians, community leaders, and organizations responded to the hardships and the treatment of South Africans and were highly frustrated with the participation of the United States and the countless companies and businesses that supported South Africa and apartheid. Individuals sought out and called for divestment by anyone who funded South Africa and fueled the apartheid system created by the National Party. Activists such as Reverend Charles Stovall, Arthur Riggins (Baba Ifayomi), Reverend Peter Johnson, Councilwoman Diane Ragsdale and Councilman Al Lipscomb, work at city hall and participated in and led numerous protests and demonstrations against apartheid. These events helped take down apartheid in South Africa, along with ending the participation of many Dallas companies and institutions.
Pan-Africanism among Civil Rights and Anti-Apartheid Activists
Pan-Africanism was a powerful all-inclusive intellectual movement among Africans on the continent and in the disapora; it was initially developed by Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams in 1900 (Moses, 1980). Pan-Africanism impacted numerous American scholars and historians, such W.E.B. Du Bois, who is known for organizing and conducting the First Pan-African Congress in Paris, France in 1919. This collaboration of Africans and the African diaspora formed a powerful bond – connecting Africans in the diaspora to the history, culture, and heritage of their people, along with advocating for the rights of Africans and African Americans.
Though the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the fight for civil rights in America were in different locations, many activists envisioned them as part of the same struggle. Pan Africanist, Arthur Riggins, better known as “Baba Ifayomi”, believed that the Civil Rights Movement and Pan-African movement went hand in hand. “We didn’t see the movement as one organization,” he stated. “It wasn’t just the Black Panther Party. The movement wasn’t just SCLC, or wasn’t just the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was SNCC. The movement was all of these groups of people coming together” (Ifayomi, 2017). As Baba Ifayomi highlighted in his interview, many organizations partnered together to fight against the discrimination of blacks in America and South Africa. Former SCLC member Reverend Charles Stovall discussed in his interview the many collaborations with numerous organizations such as SCLC, NAACP, Black Panther Party and Pan-Africanists coming together to fight against the issues that were taking place in South Africa during apartheid and here in Dallas regarding the Civil Rights Movement and the call for divestment throughout the City of Dallas (Stovall, 2017). Even Reverend Peter Johnson highlights in his interview that there are many similarities of both civil rights in America and apartheid in South Africa, starting that the Jim Crow era was just “American apartheid” (Johnson, 2017).
The same people who led efforts to diversify Dallas’ city council also spearheaded efforts to have the city divest monies from companies working in South Africa. Throughout her interview, former Dallas City Councilwoman Diane Ragsdale discusses her participation in the anti-apartheid movement during her appointment as one of the Dallas City Council members in the 1980s, in addition to some of the conflicts and disagreements that some of the council members had regarding the objective of the anti-apartheid ordinance. With the leadership of Marvin Crenshaw, Ragsdale mentions that Crenshaw “pulled some language and communicated with other cities throughout the country about ordinances that can move to divest public monies from those institutions, from those businesses, that did business in South Africa” (Ragsdale, 2017) . In order to divest, the Dallas City Council needed six votes, which Ragsdale says that it was a “major struggle” to gain those votes for divestment. Believing that apartheid was about “pure capitalism”, Ragsdale – along with the support of Al Lipscomb and Marvin Crenshaw – worked together to pertain an ordinance to end divestment in Dallas.
The ways that these activists demonstrated their Pan-African connections can be seen outside of social justice work. Many African American politicians and councilmen showed their pride of their African heritage by wearing African dashikis and hats during their installation as city council members (Ifayomi, 2017). In addition to seeing Dallas politicians showing their African pride for their culture and heritage, they established institutions for members of the community to learn more about their African history and heritage, such as the Pan African Connection Bookstore, Art Gallery and Resource Center and the South Dallas Cultural Center (SDCC) here in Dallas. Baba Ifayomi established an organization called EGEBE EEGUNJOBI, a cultural body whose purpose is to “serve the community and helping to revitalize the African ways in the Diaspora” (Ifayomi, 2017). This goal was accomplished by planning and organizing numerous events, such as City Wide Egungun Celebration, Third Eye Awaking Conferences, and the annual Malcolm X Community Festival that still takes places every year in South Dallas. These events were a way to allow the African diaspora to understand their heritage and culture, in addition to understand the importance of their rights as citizens of this nation and the rich history that they have as descendants of Africans. Not only did Dallas’ city council members and community leaders showed their pride of their heritage, but Civil Rights leaders such as Reverend Charles Stovall and wife, Denise Stovall, took the initiative to learn more about apartheid and the history of Africa by traveling to Africa during numerous occasions just to understand the importance of knowing your history and why it is important to fight for the rights of others (Stovall, 2017).
Ideas about social justice and Pan-Africanism permeated discussions about civil rights and apartheid. Even today, many individuals who fought side by side against the apartheid in South Africa and segregation in America are still advocating change in both countries and educating others on how they can use their voice to make a difference and create change within their communities and other countries, such as South Africa. This alone shows the impact of standing together to fight against the issues that are plaguing the world and allows others to be part of the change to make the world a better place for future generations to come.
Johnson, Peter. Interview by Hope Anderson and Camille Davis. Dallas, March 6, 2017.
Moses, Wilson J. Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 49, no. 1 (1980): 83-84. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42973745.
Ifayomi, Baba. n.d. EGEBE EEGUNJONI. Dallas. 2017.
Ragsdale, Diane. Interview by Kyle Carpenter and Alyssa Sheraden. 2017. Dallas, March 24, 2017.
Riggins, Arthur (Baba Ifayomi). Interview by Jackie Lara and Brianna Hogg. Dallas, March 30, 2017.
Stovall, Charles. Interview by Brianna Hogg and Jackie Lara. April 3, 2017.