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Part Two: Action Against Apartheid

Flyer, Appeal for Action against Apartheid

The "Appeal for Action Against Apartheid" flyer was created by the American Committee on Africa as part of an international anti-apartheid movement 

Courtesy of Southern Christian Leadership Conference Records, 1954-1970, Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., Atlanta, Ga.


Using the “Appeal for Action Against Apartheid” flyer, ask students to focus on the two sections that begin with “We Can Act” and “We therefore ask all men of good will to take Action Against Apartheid.”  Ask students to answer the following questions:

  • What actions did the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) want individuals to take?

  • Do you think these actions were effective? Why or why not?

  • Why were boycotts and economic sanctions a chief strategy of the American Committee on Africa? 

Place students in pairs and give each pair the American Committee on Africa letter.  Ask students to answer the following questions:

  • What type of document is this?

  • Who is the author of the document?

  • When was the document created?

  • Who is the intended audience?

  • What is the purpose of the document?

Ask students to read the document carefully and choose one quote from the document that helps to answer each of the following questions:  

  • Why were civil rights leaders in the United States concerned with the human rights violations of apartheid in South Africa?

  • King stated in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:  “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” How is this idea represented in the document?

Optional Activity:

The documentary film, Have you Heard from Johannesburg? Apartheid and the Club of the West, captures the grassroots movement in the United States against apartheid during the 1980’s. The national campaign of civil disobedience, campus protest, and legislative action grew from the civil rights activism of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Ask students to examine what ways the strategies have changed from the 1950’s and what ways they have remained consistently the same. 

Extension Assignment:

Ask students to examine the following quote from the “Appeal for Action Against Apartheid” flyer: “Let us recognize that each of us, of whatever race, from whatever nation, makes apartheid possible as long as we fail to take action against it.” Ask students to replace “apartheid” with “human rights violations.” Do students agree or disagree with the statement and why? They may use the lesson’s documents, the quotes listed below and the film, Have You Heard from Johannesburg? to support their answer. 


  • “The only solution to South Africa’s crisis is for whites to accept blacks as human beings.”
    The Right Reverend Desmond Tutu, Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, 14 August 1985

  • “Racism is no mere American phenomenon… The classic example of organized and institutionalized racism is the Union of South Africa.  Its national policy and practice are the incarnation of the doctrine of white supremacy in the midst of a population which is overwhelmingly black.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  ("Where Do We Go From Here?," 1967)

  • “If I lived in South Africa today in the midst of the white supremacy law in South Africa, I would join Chief Luthuli and others in saying break these unjust laws.  And even let us come up to America.  Our nation in a sense came into being through a massive act of civil disobedience for the Boston Tea Party [and] was nothing but a massive act of civil disobedience.” 
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  ("Where Do We Go From Here?," 1967)

  • “For it is we, through our investments, through our governments’ failure to act decisively, who are guilty of bolstering South African tyranny.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“On South African Independence,” given on 7 December 1964 in London, England while en route to Oslo, Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize)

  • “We can join in the one form of nonviolent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa, the action which African leaders have appealed for, in a massive movement for economic sanctions.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“On South African Independence,” given on 7 December 1964 in London, England while en route to Oslo, Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize)

  • “Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates. Let the strivings of us all, prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.”
    From Nelson Mandela's Nobel Peace Prize Address in Oslo, Norway on 10 December 1993