The History Of TransAfrica With Ron Williams
October 20, 2020 | Sophia Ramos
Assistant Professor Ron Williams (Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies) discusses his current book project on the advocacy organization TransAfrica.
Philip Hollingsworth 00:04
Welcome to The Institute, a podcast on the lives and work of Fellows and friends of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I’m Philip Hollingsworth. In this episode, I speak with assistant professor of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, Ron Williams. In our conversation, Professor Williams discusses his latest book project an institutional history of the US based foreign policy organization, “Trans Africa.” But yeah, Ron, thanks for joining me today to talk about your work and what you do at in the triple-A D [AAAD] department at UNC. To start off, can you just give a general overview of your research interests and what you study and do at UNC as a professor?
Ron Williams 01:04
Yeah, um sure. So I came here in 2013, as a result of a search that the department was doing in contemporary African American politics. So my background, you know, I did a BA and MA in political science. And then I have a PhD in African American Studies. And I ended up sort of be doing more work involving the historical method in grad in the Ph. D. program. So I didn’t have like a breakup with political science, but it was more of you know, that’s how I ended up personally doing my doctoral studies. And I think, you know, there was always a historian in me, I had just done the political science path. Because that was what I had always done. And that was what I knew. And so I, and so I came here. And so I teach courses in African American politics. So the two courses are African American politics, which is a survey. And then the other course is race in public policy, which are both crosslisted with political science. So kind of like half of my teaching life. I’m a political scientist. And then half of my teaching life, I’m a historian, because I teach Introduction to African American and Diaspora Studies, which covers the history of the Diaspora in the Americas until 1899. And then when you least do the abolition of, you know, the full abolition of slavery. And then I teach African American history since 1865. And so, so that half of my life, I’m a historian, and my research kind of brings both of those together, sort of looking at African American political history broadly. But in that, that’s my peer group in the profession. And the My research looks at African Americans and US foreign relations, so sort of brings together African American history, African American politics and the histories of American foreign relations. And it crystallizes around a project that you heard me talk about, you know, which is a institutional history of the African American foreign policy lobbying organization, trans Africa, that was founded in 1977. And dissolves in 2014. And it, you know, so that those are the, it’s years, but it really grew out of the era of decolonization, you know, marked by its commencement beginning with Ghana, in 57. And, you know, although some discourses would say, the decolonization of Africa, you know, was more or less complete by the end of the middle of the 70s. I think, sort of that’s conventional wisdom. But, you know, my work kind of join scholars who show how decolonization, you know, really began with Ghana on 57, and picked up with the independence of Anglophone and Francophone Africa throughout much of the 1960s, but was really not complete until the independence of South Africa in 1990. Subsequently, the election of Nelson Mandela as President of the Republic of South Africa in 1994, when they held their first democratic elections. And so my study looks at the efforts of African Americans to influence US foreign policy towards Africa and the Caribbean, during this period, as told to the story of the rise and fall of trans Africa, and at the same time, noting that transacfrica story does not end in 94 when Nelson Mandela becomes president of South Africa, but because it was a never intended to be a single issue, organization, the story goes for another 20 years. And you really get to see, you know, over the arc of the project, the organization’s rise, its zenith, in the 1980s, and into the 90s. And eventually, its decline. And you, you know, I sort of consider the domestic factors that contributed to that, as well as the international factors that precipitated, it’s, you know, the organization’s decline, you get to see the ways in which the the world was changing in the, in the 19, you know, really 1970 Set 1977, it’s found that although, although, although organizations, you can point to a sort of formation date by documents, really, you know, they are coming together before they’re actually founded. And so although the organization’s origins are difficult to the origins of any institution are difficult to pinpoint, with any kind of accuracy. The, you know, I situate trans Africa’s development in the early 19, in early 1970s, late 1960s, like this idea of a black foreign policy lobby, and the idea that black folks should be working to, you know, influence the policies of their government in the United States, comes together in the EU. It was it was prevalent, really, throughout the 60s. But it really crystallized in the 1970s. Because by the end of the 60s, despite significant conversations amongst civil rights leaders, and short lived organizations, like the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa, Malcolm X was very brief organization, the organization of Afro American unity, which really died with him. And the NAACP having an interest in Africa. You know, you didn’t, you didn’t, and several other organizations, you know, too, I mean, it was very much a part of the civil rights discourse, but in terms of crystallizing into a sort of organizational anchor, that didn’t happen. And so by the end of the 60s, there’s this question of, well, black folks still need to work to influence US foreign policy towards Africa. And what does that look like how do black folks, you know, aid in the liberation of, you know, what was now southern Africa was the major kind of area that black folks in the US began began to hone their energies on. And there’s a variety of reasons for that, you know, including kind of an inability to fully understand the complicated nature of the politics of, you know, in the black world, right, you know, you had changing, you know, nature of life, political life in post colonial Africa, so, and then also the capacity issues as well. But a lot of folks came to crystallize their commitment and involvement in this around Southern Africa, in the early 1970s. But there was still no organizational anchor. And there was this. And then so in so there’s, there’s a series of attempts to start organizations, and some of them were short lived, the African liberation support committee. And then yeah, that’s like ’72 to ’75. And then the black forum on foreign policy ’75 to like ’77. And then, you know, with the Soweto massacre, in 1976, and then the inability of the Ford administration to really get a handle on Rhodesia, black elite start to come together again and say, Okay, we need to have an organizational anchor, would they say an institutional mechanism, if you will, and they start to come together, and that eventually precipitates trans Africa’s formation in 1977.
Wow. Okay. Well, thank you for that. And you mentioned some of the things that led to its kind of fall, are it it? And what what kind of what were some of the factors that led to that? Was it just like,
Well, I think before we get to that, like, we really have to get to the story, right. Yeah. You know, I don’t I don’t want to talk about it. Because really, what I’ve kind of showed you was its origins, what I’ve described here, and the that you’re really going to and then I want to touch back a little bit on what I talked about how black folks in the US trying to figure out ways to aid in the liberation struggles in Africa because, you know, it has to be reflected in all conversations about the relationships between African and African American leaders, right, that, that their liberation struggles as they took place in Africa. In the 1960s, and into the 70s, you know, and those in the US they inspired each other. And it wasn’t that, you know, one was, you know, helping the other per se, it wasn’t a situation where black Americans were aiding, aiding, you know, they’re they were folks increased conversation with one another. They were looking for ways to work together and to support each other struggles from across the pond, if you will, the Atlantic. But I think it’s important to note that they were not so much reciprocal relationships, but they certainly inspired each other. But I want to get to before we could talk about trans Africa’s decline, I think we need to talk about its remarkable rise. And actually, even before that, I’m going to talk about Yeah, talking about a Super remarkable rise. And can we even you know, what I was gonna say here is that trans Africa, you know, the working title of the book is black embassy, trans Africa and the struggle for foreign policy, justice. And foreign policy Justice is not a term that I came up with. But it’s actually a term that the late political scientists Ron Walters came up with in a essay that he wrote, I think, in 2002, or three, Julianne Malveaux and Regina green, co edited a book called The Paradox of loyalty African Americans in the war on terror. And he talks about, you know, this concept of foreign policy, justice and Ron Walters matters because he was, I think, there are a couple, there’s a book that Robert Smith at San Francisco State, he’s emeritus there he published a few years ago, I think it I don’t know if it’s solely authored or co authored, but it’s a biography of Ron Walters. And there’s another edited collection that he did, I believe, with Cedric Johnson, and who’s at University of Illinois at Chicago, and maybe somebody else. It’s an edited collection, called What’s this got to do with the liberation of black people? And it’s essays you know, about Ron Walters, and there’s some that he had wrote that he had not published on others, maybe they reprinted in there. And Ron Walters matters to this, because he is really, I think, in one of those books, they describe him as the Dubois, the WEB DuBois of our generation. He is, you know, he was Ron Walters, I think, is born in 1938, dies in 2011, I believe, or 10 2010. And he was active in the students sit in movement. In you know, actually in Wichita, Kansas, you know, when we’re most people don’t really think of just students sit in movement, but he was active there, it goes on to the I think he went to Fisk, and then he went and did a PhD at American University, and was really one of the forerunners in black studies. But he’s a political scientist, and he studied, you know, all areas of black politics, you know, domestic policy, foreign policy, and he was a foreign policy adviser to the Jesse Jackson campaigns, I believe, in 84, and 88. But even before then, Dr. Walters worked as a, he was on the, he had moved from Boston to where he was on the faculty of Brandeis, he comes to DC to be on the faculty and chair of the political science department at Howard. And there he becomes a policy adviser to Charles Diggs. And Charles Diggs was the congressman from Michigan, who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa. And in many ways, trans African origins are traced to his office, because what I talked about earlier was the conceptual origins, but the practical origins really are set to trans Africa’s, you know, rises out of Charles Diggs is office and Ron Walters was one of the cofounders of trans Africa. And, you know, not only was he a scholar or a theoretician, if you will, but he was involved in the practical work of it. And so he had been involved in, you know, really in every area of black politics as a non elected official, right, as a, as a scholar and a policy wonk. You know, from 19, you know, for the greater part of, you know, almost 40 something years. And so, he comes up with this term foreign policy, justice, and, you know, with the idea, which is the idea that it shouldn’t just be about justice, in domestic policy, but it should also be about foreign policy, and our foreign policy should reflect our proclaimed values and our commitments to, you know, to racial justice. So he talks about, you know, in a different way from where he puts it as racial justice in foreign affairs, because the truth, as I see it is, and I’m sure he would agree, because we, you know, we had conversations and did interviews for this project, and a couple years before he passed away. And in fact, I have an interview of him from like, a month before, three weeks before he he passed away. And, you know, we talked about how, you know, this, this notion of a foreign policy, justice, and how, you know, it’s been a key strand in black politics, you know, really, you know, throughout, certainly will certainly gaining momentum in the six picking up in the 60s and then gaining, you know, real momentum in the 1970s, leading up to the formation of trans Africa. And so trans Africa’s work is founded in this notion of commitment to foreign policy justice, which is a type of strand of Pan Africanism is, you know, focused on influencing the policies of the state. And so that’s that I wanted to mention that because I, as I, you know, talk more about the project as it comes together. And when it’s published, you know, I want to make sure to give appropriate credit to Dr. Walters, because, I mean, he is literally one of the greatest of all times in terms of the depth and breadth of his activism and his scholarly contributions. But again, before we get to talking about trans Africa’s demise, we need to deal with its remarkable remarkable rise. So trans Africa’s founding executive director is a gentleman by the name of Randall Robinson. And Randall Robinson is born in 1941. He’s still very much alive. He lives in St. Kitts Randall comes of age in the, you know, in the American South, he’s born in Richmond, you know, in to a poor family, his parents were teachers. And he, he goes to goes to a historically black college in Virginia, the same one that his parents went to, he drops out for a stent and goes to the army comes back and finishes and then goes to Harvard Law School, and was involved in the student divestment movement at Harvard. And him and his wife at the time, Brenda Randolph Robinson. They were so this is his former wife, and a gentleman South African exile named Chris and teta in T e. T. A, is how you spell that they were involved with starting a couple organizations in the Boston area. Randall had graduate when he was a student, he started one and when he graduated, they started another one, he, he remained in the area. And so he, they start what’s called the southern Africa relief fund. And this is housed out of the Black Law Students Association office at Harvard. And they’re raising money to contribute to the— to send to the Liberation Front fighting for independence in southern Africa, you know, so they’re doing that. And then you know, the, then you go to 1970, he gets a Ford, he graduates in spring of 70. Then he gets a Fort Polk Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, to go to do research in Dar Salaam, Tanzania. And he’s over there for six months, they come back early. But they come back and get there and fall and come back and December’s the night, December, January 1970 71. And, you know, one of the things that he discovers out while he’s there, is that the best way that he can help Africa because that’s this period, where there’s a lot of young black folks who were like, how do we help Africa? How do we help Africa. And one of the best ways to go about doing that is to build a movement in the United States, to help to challenge us foreign policy that has continually found itself on the side of the oppressive minority regimes in southern Africa. And this is the the geopolitics of the Cold War, right, you know, that that anything African is associated with communism. And so we need we as the United States need to be anti communist, and even if it means being at the expense of the best interests of black world citizen reads, who, whose countries were largely non aligned, but nonetheless, looked to external sources for restor- for resources as they made the difficult you know, as they either made the difficult transition from you know, colonies to independent republics, keeping in mind that a lot of them found themselves in debt. You know, I mean, the former French colonies still paid pay, they had to mortgage their debts to France, right? Independence didn’t come just because the UK and France, Belgium and the like wanted to, you know, like, they just got off the good ship lollipop and said, Let’s go and, you know, let’s release our colonies. No, like it was it was it was, you know, what was financially prudent. And, and, you know, me sort of fiscal considerations, practical considerations guided those decisions. And in the European, many of the European nation, France, in particular found themselves in, in financial ruin after the Second World War. And so they released their colonial holdings as a way of helping to deal with that. And at the same time, they still kept them within their economic sphere, through debt. And through these this realities of economic dependency, and infrastructure dependency, because all the roads and railways were designed for to facilitate the extraction of goods into European markets. And so they did what, you know, the Guyanese historian Walter Rodney called, you know, the underdeveloped Africa grossly, and so in even those who earn their earn, renew, negotiated their independence in the 60s, you had vestiges of colonial rule, which included the states in southern Africa, that found themselves fighting against settler colonialism. So we’re talking about the people of Zimbabwe, in their struggles against eon SMIS, illegitimate, you know, state of Rhodesia. And the then you’re dealing with South Africa, you’re dealing with, you know, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and the other Portuguese colonies in southern Africa. And so this is, when you’re in the 70s, you’re in this moment, you know, South Africa’s illegal occupation of, you know, the sovereign state of Namibia, over the objection of the UN, right, you know, and then even in the UN, you have the US abstaining or voting no, on resolutions that would call for the independence of, you know, Namibia and, and, you know, aboring apartheid, and the like. So now,
Why was the US, why was the us doing that? Was that connection to these, like other European countries that had these debts to be paid? Or some?
The US, you know, this, I can’t we’re in the Cold War. Right. So there’s this theory of the spread of communism here and the East West conflict, and really, what the US did, and its allies, you know, the nations of Western Europe sought to use these African nations as, as pawns in the East West conflict. And I said that already. And so, you know, it was a, you know, and many of them were, they were, by and large, non aligned. And so, but they were also in deep need. And so like, you know, with the US development assistance came with expectations of political allegiance, as opposed to development assistance for humanitarian sake. And the UN. And so that’s kind of what you what you had there. And it was, it was really awful, because part of the, you know, what’s at issue in Africa in this moment, is, first you have the issues of the lack of the infrastructure was not designed to facilitate the long term sustainability of African societies, which is one thing, so they’re dependent on, you know, these Western nations, and some of them look to the Soviet Union, because the Soviets might also help them. And so they are about how do we, how do we set up sustainable societies? How do we, you know, look out for our people, not all of them were this way, right. I mean, there were some very, you know, corrupt African leaders. I don’t want to romanticize that, you know, in in many ways, the the, you had African leaders of African nations who were in in bed, if you will, with the colonizers, and so they get rich off of off of this, and then their families are protected and provided for, you know, for generations to come. But they were, it was at the expense of the well being of societies as a whole. You had some leaders like Julius Nyerere Ray and Kenneth Copeland. And Kwame Nkrumah, you know, who were very principled leaders, and committed to the well being of their people, but you had a lot o f others who were not who were committed to themselves and you You know what’s so you have that right there’s another factor at play in post colonial Africa is that the colonizers, when they left, they built the they erected these boundaries, these nation state boundaries without regard for geographic, excuse me for ethnic differences. And so you in the result is that you have, you know, places in Africa that are, you know, you, when you draw these boundaries without regard for ethnic differences, then you have people in civil war. And what you do is it gives the impression that African people are incapable of governing themselves, thereby justifying, you know, the European, and the American, you know, in their sort of civilizing, their further continued, civilizing mission. So, all of these things are at play, but you get to the 1970s, you really looking at Southern Africa. And in terms of the main issue, the other issue or other issues that were still there, that trans Africa and other black organizations and white organizations to, like the American Committee on Africa, were very much invested in trying to tackle but the sort of most protruding, you know, item was an issue with Southern Africa. And so you, you had, again, you can think about that in three areas. One is Portugal, right, and the, their colonial holdings in southern Africa. And then, and then this is settler colonialism. Right. So this is, you know, white majorities. You know, certainly white minorities, maybe a fraction, maybe 5%, or 10% of the population are denying black people the basic rights to self determination. And so it wasn’t just in South Africa, I was in the region as a whole. And the and, but they all they look different in each setting. So he’s first you had what was going on in Portuguese Africa. And then, you know, the folks in Angola and Mozambique, you know, are really fought, you know, like hell, to liberate themselves. And they did like they by 1974, they had won, and they’re successful liberation struggles have brought about the collapse of the Portuguese empire. And that is huge. Like, that was a huge, huge development, that needs far more attention in our discourses around, you know, liberation struggles, right. I mean, this was black folks who brought down the Portuguese empire. And that is, that is huge. But then after that you’re dealing with Okay, what about what’s going on in Rhodesia? Right. And the, you know, you had black folks in Zimbabwe who were fighting for, you know, their independence. And that went rages on through the end of the decade, to the end of the 70s. And you had the independence of Rhodesia, finally, in 19, the celebrations in 1980. But yeah, and then with that, what’s remaining a South Africa and Namibia. And, you know, we, and this is, this is a party, this is a, again, 90, some odd percent of the population is black, but you’re non white. And then, you know, you had this handful of this small fraction of white people who are controlling the whole society, apartheid was awful. It was grossly inhumane. It wasn’t just about the denial of the right to vote and the like, but it was about, you know, wreaking havoc and having control over the lives of black people. And the sort of fundamental entitled one of the fundamental sort of exercises of citizenship is the right to vote, and beyond. And then apartheid, you know, was engineered to perpetuate itself. Through these various laws and policies, that restricted movement among Black people, you had to carry an internal passport that tells you where you can and cannot go, you had unchecked violence living on black people by the South African Police and defense forces. You know, the night by 1976, you had the sweater massacre where you know, so upwards of maybe 10,000 I forget the exact number 10,000 Children marched in the streets and were shot at by by South African Police for peacefully demonstrating they were they were protesting the imposition of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in South Africa’s public schools. And what happens here is you have the advent of the TV, and the more widespread availability of the print media that puts this on display in in a certain way. That makes it difficult To, to ignore. And this inspires anti apartheid activists around the world, I’m including, and in particular, the United States to really rise up and to help the South Africans in their efforts to liberate themselves. So you had anti apartheid activism springing up in the, in the US in the late 70s, and early 80s, in the Nordic countries, and the UK, Japan, all over the world. And this was really the moment where trans Africa becomes most significant, because it plays a role in helping to bring African Americans into the fold in a systematic way, black folks have been organizing around and concerned about apartheid for many years. But it had not crystallized into a movement really, until the early 1980s. And so Randall Robinson is head of trans Africa, and this is the organization that is whose work becomes you know, as a foreign policy lobby broadly, really, his work starts to crystallize around Southern Africa. And then by the by with the collapse of Rhodesia, it’d become a crystallized around South Africa and Namibia in the foreground, although it was working on other things in the background, in trans Africa, you know, comes out of the Congressional Black Caucus holds a leadership conference on Africa in the spring, in the fall of 76. And, you know, like, we need to organize black folks around, you know, around foreign policy, towards Africa. And really, this is a moment where, you know, when you say, we say that the Congressional Black Caucus organized this, and they did, but really, this was actually a bunch of congressional staffers who were driving the work of their members. These are things that their members cared about, no doubt. But you know, they were actually doing the work. And one of those congressional staffers was Randall Robinson, he was cheap. He was administrative assistant, which is modern day chief of staff to Charles Diggs. And it was him, Ron Walters, who was at Howard, but an advisor, this guy, Willard Johnson, who is at MIT, but an advisor, and then, and James Turner at Cornell University. And her shell challenge or who was, who worked for Charles Diggs, she was staff director to the House Subcommittee on Africa, in a woman named Golar butcher who had worked for Diggs previously, and was still active in the DC area. So these are kind of the real architects, if you will, of trans Africa’s trans Africa as the organization. So again, the first thing they become involved in is to returning back to the point of this about their rise, the first thing they become involved in is an effort to pressure the Carter administration to maintain sanctions on Rhodesia until such time as they gave a clear indication that they would hold democratic elections. And so and they were and I think they really cut their teeth on that, in that was the early success that really put them on the map in DC, and their work on South Africa. benefited from from those early successes.
I had a quick question, because you said you mentioned like they had this early success during the Carter administration. And then I guess a few years after that, you said they kind of you know, they had this explosion of success and influence. How did that work during Reagan, who I would imagine would be maybe it might that that administration might have clashed with the goals of trans Africa?
Yes, so I’m the Fast Forward 1980. So what happens is in 1980, people again, people become to know at least in DC, and elsewhere in the nation to become to know about trans Africa through its work in the Carter administration. This is a chapter I’m revising now, Chapter Four, where I’m talking about how you know, trans Africa becomes known in this period, Randall Robinson becomes known. And in the beginning of 1981, you know, everybody was, who cared about justice in the world were stunned that Reagan won. And so the beginning of 1980, the spring of 81. Rather, Randall is at home at his house in Silver Spring, and a official from somebody calls and they say, you know, have some documents, you know, from the Department of State as some documents you know, to leak to you regarding the Reagan administration’s plan to open a new chapter in relations with South Africa. In the end, so they agree that the person will meet, come by, you know, Randles house, you know, and they do it at seven o’clock, I think the next day, he looks outside, there’s no car in the driveway, but the person is there really sort of, you know, encrypted kind of way of transmitting, you know, documents and person comes inside. And, you know, he or she puts everything on the table gives it gives, you know, Randall, all the documents, and, you know, he said, I can’t, my name can’t come into this mess. Why I say he or she because, you know, Randall to date has not revealed who this person was. And so and so Randall leaks these to the press. And, you know, and then that sort of puts them on the map again. And really what happens between 81 and 84, is there’s this, this has appeared for trans Africa, where they’re trying to organize around the party trying to organize around, you know, these other foreign policy issues, trying also to build national and that national network of chapters around the country. And, you know, there’s a point in which it really by the end of the 80, by the end of the first Reagan administration, there was little despite all their agitating trans Africa in its own right, and in partnership with many of the other anti apartheid organizations, because there were there were a number of them working on this, you know, Randall describes it well, he says, You know, I will soon come to learn that the talk about the fight against apartheid was the fight against apartheid. And folks were just disappointed even more that Reagan won reelection. So that’s innovating for, and then what happens is the, you know, when you get into 19, you know, that fall, you know, folks have been talking about civil disobedience for quite some time. And, you know, and, and they were desperate, right, you know, like, like Reagan one hot, how do we bring about change in this moment. And so, Randall has a series of meetings with people that lead up to a protest at the South African Embassy. The day before Thanksgiving, 1984. He goes into the embassy along with Mary Frances Berry, who was chairman, Chairwoman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was on the faculty at Georgetown Law Center. But her chair the I think she chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and then Walter Fontenoy, who represented DC and Congress. So they go into this, they have this meeting with Bernardus Forry, who is the South African ambassador to the United States, and he, they go in into the embassy to meet with him and they staged protests. They say we refuse to leave until certain demands are met. And among those were, the immediate release the release of all South Africa’s political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Galvan, Mbeki, and 13 other labor leaders who had been recently imprisoned without charge. And then they say, they will also wanted a commitment to it to the immediate end of apartheid with a timeline for its dismantling. And they knew they weren’t going to get these demands met. But they sat there. And there’s a point in the meeting where Eleanor Holmes Norton gets up and goes out. She excuses herself from the embassy, and she goes outside and is talking to the press with a swarm of You know, a throng of a gaggle of protesters, you know, standing there. And, you know, these are processors organized by this DC based organization called the southern Africa Support Project. And they brought together you know, grassroots activism. This is an organization predominantly led by black women. They, they got protesters out there. This woman, Cecily counts who was on the staff of trans Africa. She’s standing out there holding a sign, you know, in there, she’s leading the protests as they’re all yelling freedom. Yes. Apartheid. No. You know, and other slogans are chanting. And Eleanor Holmes Norton basically tells the press she’s like, you know, we were here because we had no choice. She’s like, if we thought that if we thought that there was a government in Pretoria, who would be willing to use his pressure even diplomatically on this issue, we wouldn’t be here tonight. So they so there they were there thinking when they got in there was there hoping that the ambassador would order them arrested for the three that remaining in there and he did. So they he ordered them arrested. They were all spent the night in jail they waterfall into a wave congressional immunity they all I refuse to post bail, they want to stay the night to make a statement. And next day they hold a meeting and they get out the release, they hold a meeting at Randles house in DC. And, and then the next and then the day after Thanksgiving, they have a press conference on Capitol Hill, one of the office buildings. The Rayburn House Office Building, and they announced the formation of the free South Africa movement. And the free South Africa movement is really what put trans Africa on the map. Its goals were sweeping but simple. They wanted to bring an end to apartheid. They wanted to literally free South Africa. And they would do that by again demanding that the political prisoners be released. And the tangible or concrete demand of policymakers in the US would be the imposition of sanctions on South Africa by the government of the United States. The protest strategy would be to staged demonstrations at the Embassy in Washington daily, where people get arrested. And so over the course of a year or so they and they held those and then able to demonstrate some could take place at consular offices around the country. And over the course of the year between November 1984, in November 1985, November 27 to 26. So the following year, there was only one day that a person was not arrested at the embassy. But even that day, there was a protest. Then the battle raged on for another year, when they were involved in a campaign to push sanctions legislation through Congress. And the result was the enactment in October of 1986, of the comprehensive anti apartheid act of 1986. That became law upon a congressional override a veto by Reagan that made I think it’s probably the second time in American history when the 20th century that a veto was overridden on a matter of foreign policy. And so this was a huge triumph for foreign policy justice, it was a huge triumph for African American foreign policy activism. And trans Africa was at was at the center of that.
I just had a couple more questions, if that’s all right, you’re obviously working on this comprehensive history of this organization as so many interlocking and weaving parts in several countries involved in everything and individuals. But what with this particular book project? How do you envision this shaping your field of study or shaping society in some way? Or or, you know, what impact do you hope to have with this history project?
Yeah, I’ve covered we’ve talked through 1986 In the story goes on another 28 years. And I’m hoping that in terms of content, right, so I think their content, and there’s method, and I think that, I’m Hope, because you know, it’s not just about the organization, but it’s about the times, right, you think about when you read biography, is someone’s life and times. And so I think about that, and how you really do learn both. And so there’s that. And so I think I want people to know, learn trans Africa story, I think it’s a rich story. I think it’s a complex story. You know, and institutional histories are hard to do, which is why it’s not common for, I mean, people don’t take them on because it’s a lot to do. And honestly, I, when I started out on this project, I could not have imagined this, you know, ballooning into a 9018 19, potentially 20 chapter book, depending on how I break it up. And so I’m hoping people will learn through trans Africa story, to your question about that there was this struggle in the United States in recent history, that black folks were a central part of that became a that was supported by a wide range of people who were not black, that was successful in helping to realize foreign policy justice, that South Africa was a major part of that, but there was this broader commitment to it, that this organization advanced. I think that and I think it’s I think it’s a rich story to cut that really looks at you know, 70s 80s 90s 2000s and into the 2010s I hope that the readers will come to see the value in that story, the ways in which, you know, black folks and supporters right you know, because this because free South Africa became a thing you know, Randles wife, Hazel Ross Robinson was very much you know, this is the woman who married in 1987 was very much you know, one of his partners in this work and you know, she said this to me, either in person or it was either over the phone or an E Female, she’s like, You have to remember that free South Africa was like an emotional wave that swept the country. So many people were invested in. I mean, you had students on college campuses, including our own. You know, you ask people who were students in the 80s, Claude Clegg. And you know, Professor Claude Clegg in my department will tell you about being a student in the 80s. And remembering and being a part of the student anti apartheid demonstrations. And all those things are touched on in this story, and how these folks were a part of this significant moment. So I’m hoping that people get to see that also want people to see the the, you know, because I think you can learn about it. And for people who think about contemporary social reform movements, you also get to see the ways in which that challenge to Reagan was huge. Right. And if you want to challenge, you know, I mean, I don’t know what people’s political proclivities are, I’m anti Trump. And so if you want to challenge Trump, yeah, you know, you want it, you should look at how folks challenge Reagan. And what they did is they were out there every day. I mean, these people were like, policymakers like, whoa, they weren’t going anywhere. I mean, it’s it is no small feat, that this organization was at the forefront of this movement. And black folks were at the forefront of this movement that overturned a foreign policy veto by Reagan, remember, you know, the Republicans, Reagan had won reelection with 49 states. Right, right. I mean, so this was huge. This was a huge moment. The Republicans had taken the Senate for the first time, you know, in quite some time I forget the and then it switched back democratic. You even had, there’s this part where I talk about how, you know, the people that trans Africa and Randall Robinson worked with in sort of the lobbying effort. And I talked about, you know, Lowell Weicker, a Senator from Connecticut, Nancy Kassebaum, of Kansas. And, you know, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and I said, and Mitch McConnell, and then I say, in parentheses, you read that correctly. Yeah. Right. And you got these folks to break ranks with Reagan, like there’s, and there’s this speech that Mitch McConnell gives on the floor of the Senate, he’s like, you know, I stand with my president on all these things, and I’m breaking from him on this matter. I mean, that was huge. Because he was a, he was a junior senator, he was just seen it. And so and so, you know, you get to see these complex dynamics around this issue. But I also, you know, want to help readers, you know, and students of the subject get a chance to see that there was a movement in the 1980s, there was a movement in the 1980s, there was, you know, we we think about a lot of think about, oh, the good old days, right, you know, the good 60s, the bad 60s, you go into the 70s, you know, civil rights, black power, and the lines between those are blurred. But there was a movement in the 1980s. And anti apartheid became the black civil rights issue and the American civil rights issue in the 1980s, because it was about human rights, it was about foreign policy justice. But I hope readers also come away with an appreciation for the ways in which the world has changed. And the world really changed between the 80s and the 90s. And that’s the part I’m writing about next, I should be hopefully into the part where Nelson Mandela’s released, and does this tour of the United States is supposed to been there six months ago, but we had a pandemic they were still in. So those are some of the things that I hope people come to come away with from and I think, also, I hope methodologically that the book invites a conversation about, you know, through what I do well, and what I don’t do so well about how we write about recent history and the ethics of it. And yeah, sort of the methodological considerations of it. Yeah, those are some things.
Well, thank you very much. That’s it. It’s really fascinating project. And I think it’s, it’s amazing how expansive it is. And just the you can just tell like the despite previous conversations, the amount of work that’s been put into it and the amount of research that’s needed to be done, so I really look forward to see it. And I’m sure you are to to see in the final product.
I look forward to it as well.
All right. Well, Ron, thank you very much for the time and I really enjoyed hearing about your work.
Thank you, Phyllis.
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