During the 1950s and early 1960s, nonviolent protesters challenged legalized racial segregation and discrimination in the only two places on earth where such blatant manifestations of white supremacy could be found—the southern United States and the Union of South Africa. Comparing these movements gives us a better perspective on the recent history of black liberation struggles in the two societies.
The African National Congress’s (ANC) “Campaign of Defiance Against Unjust Laws” in 1952 resulted in the arrest of approximately eight thousand blacks (including Indians and Coloreds as well as Africans) and a handful of whites for planned acts of civil disobedience against recently enacted apartheid legislation. The campaign did not make the government alter its course, and it was called off early in 1953 after riots broke out in the wake of nonviolent actions in the Eastern Cape. Repressive legislation classifying deliberate transgression of the law for political purposes a serious crime made the ANC wary of attempting another nationwide campaign of civil disobedience, but it could not prevent the congress and other black or nonracial organizations from protesting nonviolently in other ways. School boycotts, bus boycotts, noncooperation with the program of removing blacks to new townships, and mass marches to protest efforts to force black African women to carry passes* were among the actions of the mid-to-late fifties that the ANC led or supported. In 1960, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC)—a militant faction that had recently seceded from the ANC launched a campaign of civil disobedience against the pass laws that ended with the massacre of sixty-nine unarmed protesters at Sharpeville. Chief Albert Lutuli, presidentgeneral of the ANC, showed his sympathy for the Sharpeville victims by publicly burning his own pass, and the one-day stay-at-home that the congress called to register its solidarity with the PAC was well supported. But the government quickly suppressed all public protest, and both the ANC and the PAC were banned and driven underground. After Sharpeville, nonviolent direct action no longer seemed a viable option for the liberation movement, and in 1961 some ANC leaders, in cooperation with the South African Communist party, inaugurated the era of armed struggle by establishing a separate organization to carry on acts of sabotage against hard targets.
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