No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000

Edited by William Minter,
Gail Hovey, and Charles Cobb Jr.
Published by Africa World Press.
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Front matter

Foreword by Nelson Mandela

An Unfinished Journey by William Minter

The 1950s: Africa Solidarity Rising by Lisa Brock

The 1960s: Making Connections by Mimi Edmunds

The 1970s: Expanding Networks by Joseph F. Jordan

The 1980s: The Anti-Apartheid Convergence by David Goodman

The 1990s: Seeking New Directions by Walter Turner


Back matter

Featured Text

The following text is excerpted from No Easy Victories for web presentation on allAfrica.com and noeasyvictories.org. This text may be freely reproduced if credit is given to No Easy Victories. Please mention that the book is available from http://noeasyvictories.org and http://africaworldpressbooks.com.

From Campus to Statehouse: East Lansing Connections

William Minter

March in East Lansing, Michigan March in East Lansing, Michigan, organized by the Southern Africa Liberation Committee based at Michigan State University. Photo courtesy of Frank Beeman and Dave Wiley.

Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing housed both the largest African studies program in the country and a host of specialized study centers in agriculture and other development issues. There the antiapartheid divestment movement found fertile ground. The university’s location adjoining the state capital made it ideal for the move from campus to local to state action. David Wiley has directed the MSU African Studies Center since 1977. William Minter spoke with him and edited this brief account of the Southern Africa Liberation Committee (SALC), which led anti-apartheid efforts at MSU.

The Southern Africa Liberation Committee (SALC) was founded by campus minister Warren (Bud) Day and political science doctoral candidate Carol Thompson in 1972. Never large, it was made up of faculty and students at MSU, with a sprinkling of others from the local community. Day and Thompson moved away from Michigan in 1976 to continue their academic and activist work on Africa over the next decades in Los Angeles, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Flagstaff, Arizona. But the group they had started found both continuity and a solid link to national organizations through the involvement of activists at MSU’s African Studies Center.

From the start these included anthropologist Bill Derman, who had already been involved with divestment campaigns in Toronto. In 1977 he was joined by African Studies Center director David Wiley and outreach coordinator Marylee Crofts, who moved from the corresponding positions at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In the early 1960s Wiley and Crofts had worked with the interracial Student Christian Movement in then-Rhodesia, and in covert support for the then-emerging Zimbabwean nationalist groups. They were eventually declared prohibited immigrants by the white minority regime.

Michigan had other assets for mobilization on Africa. Detroit’s strong African American congressional delegation, headed by veterans Charles Diggs and John Conyers, made the state a natural base for anti-apartheid action. Former governor Mennen Williams, a liberal Democrat, had headed the Africa desk at the State Department under President Kennedy, although his policy initiatives then received little support from more conservative administration officials. Elsewhere in the state, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and many smaller institutions, African students and Americans who had worked in Africa were well represented. And in 1979, Howard Wolpe, a professor in African studies at Kalamazoo College, was elected to Congress to represent the district to the west of Lansing. He would later head the House Africa Subcommittee and play a key role in the adoption of sanctions against South Africa.

Within this mix, East Lansing’s SALC played a key catalytic and communications role. And critical to the success of the group, its members concur, were Frank and Patricia Beeman. The Beemans, who grew up in Michigan and worked there all their lives, never visited Africa during the years they were active with SALC, though Frank Beeman was finally able to visit South Africa in 2001. He was the tennis coach and director of intramural sports at MSU from 1947 until his retirement in 1987. As director of intramural sports, he successfully spearheaded a national effort to block South African teams from intramural sports at U.S. universities. Patricia Beeman was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1999 for her anti-apartheid work in Michigan. Their initial connection to Africa was through Patricia’s brother Rick Houghton, who had been an Episcopal missionary in Namibia and was expelled by the South African authorities.

Patricia and Frank Beeman were the ones who always showed up with a literature table, posters, and films on South African apartheid and other liberation struggles in Southern Africa. Their message, repeated in dozens of demonstrations and meetings and hundreds of private conversations, was not a political or ideological argument but a moral one: apartheid was wrong, and therefore any collaboration with the apartheid regime was also wrong. Claiming no status as experts but speaking as members of the community, they had credibility that came from their persistence and their integrity.

SALC’s efforts first paid off in the passage of the East Lansing Selective Purchasing Resolution in 1977, which prohibited the city of East Lansing from using suppliers that were operating in South Africa. In 1978 SALC successfully campaigned for MSU to divest its stock from companies with subsidiaries in South Africa, making it one of the earliest major universities to take such action.

That same year, SALC member David Wiley met with Representatives Lynn Jondahl of East Lansing, Virgil Smith of Detroit, and Perry Bullard of Ann Arbor and developed a decade-long plan to seek state of Michigan sanctions on South Africa. They supported a Michigan state legislature resolution calling for national sanctions against South Africa, and then a series of three sanctions bills for the state of Michigan.

These acts prohibited the state from depositing its funds in banks making loans in South Africa (1979); prohibited state university and college investments in firms operating in South Africa (1982); and divested the $4 billion state employees’ pension fund of any companies operating in South Africa (1988). And at MSU in 1986, SALC won their demand that the MSU Foundation divest its holdings of stocks of companies operating in South Africa.

Frank Beeman, one of SALC’s most consistent activists over the years, spoke with David Wiley and MSU Africana librarian Peter Limb in 2003.

Frank Beeman

March in East Lansing, Michigan March in East Lansing, Michigan, organized by the Southern Africa Liberation Committee based at Michigan State University. Photo courtesy of Frank Beeman and Dave Wiley.

I came as a freshman in 1939 and graduated from Michigan State and went in the service. I came back and started as an intramural director and tennis coach in 1947. And we got involved in civil rights. We got involved with a program called STEP, Student Teacher Education Program. A group of students, in fact from Michigan State, met and went down to Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. That started because Bob Green [former dean of urban affairs at MSU, who had worked with Martin Luther King] had been down through there and had been involved in voter rights.

The James Meredith march occurred in 1966 and we joined that march at Tuskegee and marched all the way to Jackson. As we turned the corner in the neighborhood, we saw the Capitol and the Capitol was ringed by soldiers in at-ease position with their shotguns. And so we marched up to the Capitol and Bob Green and other people spoke. It was quite an adventure.

Back in East Lansing, we were involved in a number of demonstrations. At that time East Lansing had a housing covenant, and they wouldn’t allow any Native American or nonwhite people to move in. So our daughter and 46 other students sat in front of the police station and blocked the traffic in East Lansing.

And it just seemed to be a natural shift from civil rights to apartheid. It came about partially because of Pat’s brother, who was an Episcopal priest who went to Africa and taught in Africa. He was in South Africa and in Namibia and kept us informed on how unjust things were. He gave us the straight scoop on what was happening there. So we got involved, figured that that wasn’t right, that our country shouldn’t be involved that way in supporting apartheid.

SALC was always a combination of students and faculty and community people. Any event that was on, the general rule was that if three people would show up then we would stay there and leaflet and hand out information. The idea behind SALC was that people would do what was right if they knew the truth, if they knew what was actually happening. And so most of this stuff that we put out was informative and educational.

It was kind of interesting, because generally, jocks weren’t so much involved in civil rights and things. So we kind of stood out. When I would say it as a coach, people would stop and think about it, and wonder about what was all this activity. . . . maybe there must be something to this if Beeman is saying it.

SALC generally generated, at these weekly meetings that we had, probably six to 10 people really. But it became evident that with persistence, and constantly bringing this to the fore and getting the student newspaper to cover things, that the word was going out. One of the things we had was a shanty that we built out in front of the administration building, trying to get the MSU Foundation to divest. Students would come by and we had stickers that were cut out, with “No to Apartheid” and “Support Mandela.”

We would have a representative at every meeting on the campus, whether it was the trustees or the faculty group and so forth. We would have a representative there to speak on the divestment proposal, so that it was constantly kept in front of their noses, actually. I can remember, in one of the trustee meetings, one of the trustees said, well, if we use the word slavery, they’d know what we were talking about. So it was constantly in front of them.

We had prepared a green book folder with a lot of information on apartheid and divestment, it must have been 20 pages. We went in early and put one at each of their places. And so they thought that that was part of the official documents that they were supposed to talk about that day.

At our literature tables very rarely was there anybody that really argued about this is wrong or this is right. One South African from the Lansing area came by and said, well, this is propaganda that you’re handing out. I said, well, it may be so but it’s true whatever it is. That was what made the arguments easy—because it was true. It was so wrong to have enslaved a whole nation of people, how do you argue for it?

This page is part of the No Easy Victories website.