African Americans, Pan-Africanism, and the Anti-Apartheid Campaign to Expel South Africa from the 1968 Olympics
Blackman, Dexter, Journal of Pan African Studies
In a 4 March 1968 article, Jet magazine journalist Simeon Booker credited the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) 16 February 1968 decision to allow the Republic of South Africa to send a team to the 1968 Olympics with raising African Americans' awareness of the United States government's support of South Africa's apartheid regime. Booker used the article to elaborate on U.S./South African relations and concluded that the United States Olympic Committee's (USOC) support for South Africa's participation in the games was typical of American foreign policy toward Africa. Although the U.S. State Department recently condemned apartheid, South Africa's racial segregation laws, U.S. aid and investment continued to strengthen South Africa's economy and white supremacist government. As of 1968, American investment in South Africa exceeded $800 million, and despite its pronouncements, the State Department did not support calls for disinvestment or sanctions against its Cold War ally. Booker argued that the state continued to support South Africa because African Americans had not demonstrated consistent interest in combating apartheid. The awareness stimulated by the international campaign to expel South Africa from the 1968 Olympics, however, presented a promising opportunity for African Americans to join the anti-apartheid movement in mass. Booker wondered, however, if African Americans would defy the U.S. Cold War consensus and urge American athletes to join a developing international anti-apartheid boycott of the Olympics. (1)
Booker's assessment of African American involvement in the international anti-apartheid in sports campaign exemplified the politics of Pan-Africanism among U.S. civil rights activists in the late 1960s. By the time Jet published the article, its first detailed discussion of the issue, nationalists and Black Power intellectuals had been active in the campaign for several months. Although their involvement was typical of nationalists' uncompromising support of African liberation, their role in the campaign was absent from the traditional African American press's discussion of the development. For instance, JET's article did not reference the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), a Black Power effort to raise awareness of institutionalized racism by organizing an African American boycott of the 1968 Olympics. In late 1967, the OPHR also endorsed the anti-apartheid in sports movement. The vast majority of liberals, although sympathetic, initially opposed the OPHR because the American public patriotically followed the U.S.' Olympic competition against the Soviets, its Cold War counterpart. (2) After SAOC's was invited to the games in February 1968, these Cold War concerns continued to shape liberals' response to the call to protest apartheid's presence at the Olympics.
Like many liberals, Booker and Jet read nationalists and Black Power as separatist, and thus antithetical to integration, the perceived dominant objective of the Black Freedom Movement. Consequently, as historian Francis Nesbitt notes, nationalists were often summarily dismissed and their activism viewed as insignificant. Likewise, Booker's omission of their involvement, intentional or not, belittled the influence of nationalists, whose efforts during the early Cold War were one of the few challenges to an ambivalent U.S. foreign policy toward Africa and raised awareness of Pan-African issues.
By the mid-1960s, they were joined by the Black Power generation and progressives who shared their Pan-African sensibilities. (3) Contrary to Booker's omission, nationalists were influential in the rejuvenation of public African American interest in African liberation in the 1960s, including the anti-apartheid in sports campaign.
As notable, Booker hinted that the catalyst for the development of widespread African American interest in the campaign was a pledge by thirty-two African nations to boycott the Olympics, if SAOC was allowed to participate. Indeed, the political unity amongst African nations in the 1960s had a significant influence on the Black Freedom Movement. Black Power activists argued that the political and socioeconomic self-determination of African American communities was necessary to ameliorate institutionalized racism, the effects of poverty and structural and cultural racism that continued to denigrate minority lives and communities. (4) The prevalence of African liberation movements, many of which were engaged in armed struggle for the control of land and economies, further legitimized such Black Power arguments. As a result, Pan-Africanism, the belief that the liberation of one people of color further delegitimized the subjugation of other peoples of color, expanded among African Americans. The resulting activity included African American participation in a sports boycott, which was initiated by the international campaign to bar SAOC from the 1968 Olympics.
This article examines African American participation in the anti-apartheid campaign to expel SAOC from the 1968 Olympics as a lens into the influence of Pan-Africanism on the development of Black Power in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. The first two sections demonstrate that continental Pan-Africanism rejuvenated racial Pan-Africanism among African Americans, including participation in the anti-apartheid in sports campaign. Many U.S. civil rights activists hoped that by allying with the African bloc, they would strengthen their own movements. The latter sections explain that although most nationalists and liberals' agreed that African liberation was critical to the legitimacy of the Black Freedom Struggle, their responses to African liberation movements, such as the anti-apartheid in sports campaign, differed, primarily because of Cold War concerns. The situation was emblematic of the differences between Cold War liberals, those advocating working through the federal government and courts as the best means of civil rights advancement, on one hand, and Black Power and nationalist-minded intellectuals, who suggested that eliminating institutionalized racism required socioeconomic reforms that exceeded gradual liberalism, on the other.
Additionally, this article fills a void in the historiography of the international anti-apartheid in sports movement. Several scholarly works have examine the importance of African Nationalists in the 1960s and the activism of the western New Left in isolating South African sports in the 1970s. While these works are essential to understanding the success of the anti-apartheid sports movement, they often regulate African Americans' participation in that movement to the periphery. The historiography asserts that the campaign against SAOC's participation in the 1968 games was a seminal event in attracting international attention to the issue of apartheid in sports, motivating the international Left to eventually participate in the isolation of South African sport.
This article demonstrates that the threat of African American athletes joining the proposed boycott of the Olympics, which was viewed in the U.S. as a symbolic yet important Cold War event, was critical to attracting international attention to the seminal campaign to bar SAOC from the 1968 Olympics. (5)
The Anti-Apartheid in Sports Movement
This section examines the emergence of African Americans' participation in the early anti-apartheid in sports movement. In general, post-WWII civil rights activists opposed colonialism and apartheid, but the state-enforced U.S. Cold War consensus, which asserted that the spread of Soviet influence in the Third World posed an imminent threat to U.S. economic growth, tempered African American involvement in movements that contradicted the state's foreign interest. As a result, prior to the mid-1960s, African American anti-apartheid activity was sporadic: following instances of anti-apartheid resistance and repression in South Africa that attracted international attention, civil rights supporters joined international calls for an end to apartheid, but with the exception of nationalists and leftists, few of these entities sustained their anti-apartheid involvement. The solidification of a continental African movement to eradicate apartheid in the early 1960s, however, broadened and organized civil rights activists and African American involvement in the anti-apartheid movement by the mid-1960s. This examination suggests that African American involvement in the anti-apartheid in sports campaign was indicative of many civil rights activists' efforts to align themselves with an emergent African political bloc, whose influence challenged the legitimacy of racial discrimination across the globe.
The question of SAOC's participation in the Olympics was first raised by Russian IOC delegate Aleksei Romanov in May 1959. Reginald Honey, South Africa's delegate, responded that SAOC choose its team by merit and that past South African teams had been all white because few nonwhites had developed into international-caliber athletes. IOC president Avery Brundage declared that without sufficient evidence of discrimination, the IOC would have to accept Honey's assurances and uphold the SAOC's invitation to the 1960 games. Although several observers suggested that Romanov's query was another Soviet attempt to gain favor with Third World nations, the question likely resulted from the agitation of the South African Sports Association (SASA), a South African anti-apartheid organization campaigning for integrated sports, and its secretary, Dennis Brutus.(6)
Brutus, a poet and socialist of mixed African and European heritage, had been fired from his teaching post in his native Port Elizabeth, an industrial hub on South Africa's central coast, by the government in the 1940s for leading local resistance to apartheid laws. As a teacher, Brutus organized school sporting events, which eventually led to his election to national offices in several nonwhite sports organizations.
In 1958, in response to the refusal of South African sports federations to admit nonwhites, which subsequently denied South Africans of color access to international sports competition, Brutus and approximately twenty nonwhite organizations formed SASA and initiated an international campaign to raise awareness of apartheid in South African sport. (7)
A respected activist and socialist theoretician, Brutus's memberships in the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party garnered SASA international legitimacy and as significant, He began sending information detailing apartheid in South African sport he anti-racist groups and sports federations globally, including the IOC. By 1959, when the Soviets raised the question of the SAOC's Olympic participation, SASA's lobbying had already resulted in South Africa's all white team being suspended from the International Football Federation (FIFA), a prominent soccer federation, in 1958, and motivated several IOC delegates to privately express concerns about the SAOC's participation in the games. Although SAOC weathered the initial query, Russian interest and Brutus's diligence motivated Brundage to tell a colleague that apartheid would become a significant issue in the Olympics' near future. (8)
In the interim between the 1960 and 1964 games, the Sharpeville Massacre, the South African government's repression of a March 1960 protest of racist identification laws that killed sixty-nine Africans in cold-blood, raised international awareness of apartheid. The massacre wrought international condemnation, including a mild censure of the apartheid regime in the United Nations (U.N.). The South African government responded by banning anti-apartheid resistance, including the ANC, SASA, and Brutus. The brutal repression radicalized Many anti-apartheid groups to end collaboration with the government as a means to ameliorating apartheid and adopt armed resistance. Likewise, SASA evolved into the South Africa Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC) and the adoption of "Olympic" indicated SAN-ROC's intent to replace SAOC as South Africa's official IOC representative. In September 1963, Brutus contravened his banning by attempting to travel to an IOC meeting in Baden, Baden, Germany, where he was to press for the permanent suspension of SAOC from the Olympics. He was detained in Mozambique, however, and transferred to the South African police. Fearing that he would disappear into South Africa's notorious prison system, he attempted to escape, but was shot and eventually imprisoned. In his absence, Soviet delegates presented the case against SAOC. They argued that the apartheid laws that barred non-whites from South Africa's Olympic team violated Principle I, Clause 25 of the Olympic Charter, which forbade racial discrimination. SAOC, which in theory was the IOC branch in South Africa, but in practice directed and funded by the South African government, defiantly refused to condemn the government's apartheid policies. Consequently, the IOC barred SAOC from the 1964 Olympics. (9)
Civil Rights' Anti-Apartheid in Sports Activism
Although Sharpeville increased African American awareness of apartheid, the early anti-apartheid in sports movement received scant coverage amongst civil rights activists. Only Africa Today, the news organ of the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), provided consistent coverage and involved itself in the campaign against apartheid in sports. Initially founded in 1953 as the Americans for South African Resistance by Fellowship of Reconciliation activists George Houser and Bill Sutherland to garner U.S. support for anti-apartheid resistance, over the next two decades, the ACOA raised funds for anti-apartheid campaigns and organized U.S. speaking engagements for African nationalists. Its contacts with liberation spokesmen like Brutus allowed Africa Today to become an important source of information on African liberation struggles. Jackie Robinson, the pioneering baseball player, often collaborated with the ACOA and in June 1963 suggested that if the IOC failed to expel SAOC from the 1964 games, he would urge athletes to boycott. Although the few traditional African American periodicals that covered the issue urged that South Africa be barred, Robinson and the ACOA were alone in suggesting Americans protests if SAOC sent an all white team to the 1964 games. (10)
In contrast, by the early 1960s, African nations were already protesting the presence of South Africa's all white teams in international sports. For example, in November 1963, the IOC had to relocate a scheduled meeting from Nairobi to Baden, Baden because the Kenyan government refused visas to South Africa's all white delegation. Two years later, South Africa and Rhodesia, which was also governed by a white supremacist settler regime, were barred from the African Games, a continental sports festival held in the Congo in July 1965. (11)
The developing African-led international anti-apartheid in sports movement was a product of continental Pan-Africanism. Concomitant with the rapid decolonization of the continent in the early 1960s, Africa's newly independent nations founded several political organizations dedicated to the total liberation of the continent. At the urging of South African resistance groups like the ANC, the African bloc, aided by the Soviets and Third World, pressed for international sanctions against apartheid. For instance, shortly after its founding in 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), a compact of thirty-eight independent nations, warned the Kennedy Administration that verbal condemnation of apartheid would no longer be sufficient to retain African allies. As a result, President John F. Kennedy banned U.S. arms sales to South Africa and supported a U.N. resolution, ultimately unsuccessfully, calling for an international ban on arm sales to the apartheid regime. Although Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson's administrations supported mild sanctions against apartheid, they were largely ineffective and South Africa's apartheid regime, because of its vigilant anti-communism, retained significant American support into the 1980s. Nevertheless, by 1964, the African bloc achieved the expulsion of South Africa from several important international organizations, including the International Labor Organization, and initiated debate about South Africa's participation in others, including the U.N.
Although political differences often hindered the African bloc's effectiveness, continental Pan-Africanism, a post-WWII political and racial unity based on achieving the liberation and socioeconomic self-determination of all Africans, unified African nationalists through the 1970s. As the number of sub-Saharan African states participating in international sports increased in the 1960s, African nationalists, following the advocacy of SAN-ROC, began to use international sports as an anti-apartheid forum. (12)
Continental Pan-Africanism rejuvenated Pan-Africanism throughout the African Diaspora, including the U.S., where it had been curtailed by the state-enforced Cold War consensus in the two decades following WWII. Political scientist Ronald Walters notes that continental Pan-Africanism altered the diasporic relationship from one in which African Americans believed they would have a prominent role in leading Africans to independence to one of African Americans seeking the African bloc as an international political ally in the Black Freedom Movement. Civil rights activists discontented with the gradual results of the liberal civil rights movement sought allies among African nations in their attempt to internationalize their struggle. For instance, following his exit from the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1964, Malcolm X pursued Third World allies in his attempt to sue the U.S. government for the persistent violation of African Americans' human rights in the international courts of the U.N. In general, nationalists and some progressives argued that African Americans were a colonized people whom shared a history of racialized socioeconomic exploitation with Third World peoples at the hands of Europeans and that the U.S. supported continued colonialism of the Third World as a means to prevent the spread of Communism. By 1967, for instance, SNCC, CORE, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the late Malcolm X, all opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, articulating that under a U.S. backed government, the Vietnamese, former colonial subjects of the French and Japanese, would continue to be denied self-determination. Their arguments were legitimized by the prevalence of African nationalists who were fighting to rid southern Africa of apartheid and the continent's last colonial regimes. (13)
In addition to the achievement of continental Pan-Africanism, U.S. opposition of apartheid was also stimulated by well-publicized instances of resistance and repression in South Africa. Throughout the period, however, most liberals continued balancing their advocacy of anti-apartheid with the state's conservative anti-communism. The NAACP, for instance, supported decolonization, but distanced itself from leftists and nationalists like the Paul Robeson-led socialist-oriented Council on African Affairs (CAA), who condemned the U.S. government for providing aid that Europeans used to maintenance colonial regimes. By the mid-1950s, state harassment led to the demise of the CAA and effectively silenced most Cold War critics. Despite state repression, the South African government's heinous repression of Africans continued to motivate opposition to apartheid. Following Sharpeville, for instance, civil rights activists issued unmitigated calls for an end to U.S. support of South Africa's government. Additionally, despite their own commitments to non-violence, many civil rights groups sent aid to South Africans adopting armed resistance.
In 1962, in the wake of Sharpeville and simultaneous with the founding of continental African political organizations, seventy-five civil rights groups, including nationalists and liberals, formed the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa (ANLCA), a liberal-directed compact, to lobby for benevolent U.S. foreign policy toward Africans, especially South Africa. Although the ANLCA disbanded in 1968 because of ideological partisanship, it represented the beginning of a sustained effort by activists across ideological boundaries to coordinate anti-apartheid activism in the U.S. (14)
Similarly, a well-publicized development in the anti-apartheid sports campaign stimulated U.S. civil rights activists' participation in that movement. Following its expulsion from the 1964 games, SAOC began an attempt to reenter the Olympic movement by announcing that it would send a multiracial team to the 1968 games. The South African government would still not allow interracial competition domestically, but a multiracial committee would choose the team by holding separate trials for racial groups, and if necessary, once the athletes were abroad conduct interracial trials to determine its Olympians. The plan also suggested that white and nonwhite athletes would travel and lodge together and wear South Africa's yellow and green "Springbok" emblem. The plan was unprecedented; South Africans participated in integrated competitions abroad, but apartheid laws prevented Afrikaners and Africans from competing against each other in foreign competitions and nonwhites had never worn South Africa's colors and emblem. As notable to apartheid's opponents, however, was that while SAOC would field a multiracial team at the games, within South African sport and society, apartheid would continue to be observed. (15)
In December 1966, in response to SAOC's multiracial plan, SAN-ROC and the thirty-two African nations with Olympic committees formed the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) and pledged to use every means available, including a boycott, to prevent SAOC from participating in the 1968 games. The SCSA's formation was pivotal, according to Brutus, because "It meant there was a unified body for sports in Africa that could take action" against SAOC and the IOC. (16)
The formation also served as the catalyst for activists in the diaspora. In the U.S., African American newspapers began consistent coverage of the campaign and a number of African Americans voiced opposition of SAOC's participation in the Olympics. In June 1967, for instance, Arthur Ashe, Jr., Ruby Dee, Bayard Rustin, and Floyd McKissick, Jr., were among thirty signatories on an ACOA letter asking the USOC to oppose the SAOC. The following July, at the first National Black Power Conference in Newark, NJ, Dick Gregory, an activist and satirist, and McKissick lead a resolution urging a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in support of Muhammad Ali, who had been stripped of the world's heavyweight boxing title in April 1967 for condemning U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Although the resolution did not explicitly link Ali to the anti-apartheid campaign, observers like columnist Howie Evans understood that it was connected to the SCSA's potential demand "that black men in every country in this world will be asked to boycott the coming Olympics" if SAOC was invited. (17)
In October 1967, Harry Edwards, an activist and part-time sociology instructor at San Jose (CA) State College (SJS), citing the conference resolution and widespread African American student-athletes' participation in Black Students' movements, launched the OPHR. Initially publicized as a Black Power campaign to raise awareness of institutionalized racism in the U.S., the OPHR also supported the international anti-apartheid movement.(18) Initially, most liberals opposed the OPHR because its Black Power association allowed the mainstream press to demonize it as Communist-inspired. Because of its association with everal prominent Likely Olympians, however, the OPHR seem to lead and would have to be intimately involved in any organized African American boycott effort. The vast majority of U.S. liberal supporters of the anti-apartheid boycott, however, continued to distance themselves from the OPHR. The development suggests that although continental Pan-Africanism rejuvenated Pan-Africanism amongst African Americans in the 1960s, which often resulted in both liberals and nationalists articulating uncompromising opposition to apartheid, Cold War concerns continued to prevent liberals from Working with nationalists on Pan-African issues.
Widespread African American support of the anti-apartheid in sports movement was typical of the influence of continental Pan-Africanism on African American activists in the U.S. Nesbitt notes that South African internal movements like SAN-ROC were "the catalyst for actions at the international level and the critical link that gave coherence to the movement as a whole." In turn, continental movements like SCSA provided legitimacy and political support for the internal movements like SAN-ROC, and movements in the diaspora, like those including African Americans, aided the advocacy for anti-apartheid sanctions by garnering international attention. (19) Continental Pan-Africanism attracted significant attention amongst civil rights activists, because many, especially nationalists, hoped that the African bloc would lend their burgeoning political influence to the Black Freedom Movement.
Opposition to the Boycott(s)
Despite the SCSA's threat to lead a boycott, on 15 February 1968, the IOC formally invited the SAOC to the 1968 summer Olympics to be held in Mexico City that October. The IOC justified the invitation by asserting the myth of sports' altruism. Brundage, the IOC's executive director, explained that for the first time a multiracial team would represent South Africa and "Only the power of the Olympic movement could have secured this change." (20) He further explained that SAOC's plan, despite the apartheid inherent, provided South Africans of color an opportunity to advance their group. Brundage was experienced at disseminating the myth; for the previous three decades, he lead the IOC's efforts to include all nations in the games, regardless of geopolitical tensions, by arguing that the fair play and individualism inherent in the rules of competitive sports provided combatants, who were represented in the games by athletes, an opportunity for empathy.
For instance, Brundage justified his successful effort to secure Germany's Aryan supremacist regime as the host of the 1936 games by publicizing the resulting record-setting performance of Jesse Owens, an African American sprinter, as an example of the racial goodwill generated by the Olympics. Owens's accomplishments were historicized as representative of African Americans' contribution to the U.S.'s successful WWII effort. Invoking the memory of Owens, Brundage implied that the invitation provided the nonwhite South African with a similar opportunity "to show his qualities and win his rights." He acknowledged that apartheid continued to influence the SAOC team, but suggested "let one non-white South African win a medal at Mexico City and he will be a national hero" like Owens. (21)
The U.S. mainstream press seconded his argument, but further expressed concerned that the developing anti-apartheid boycott strengthened the OPHR. An African American boycott would likely result in both a points and propaganda victory for the Russians, who, to the concern of many Americans, had bested the U.S. at the three previous games. Consequently, the OPHR was overwhelmingly condemned as unpatriotic in the mainstream press. To subvert both boycotts, columnists seconded the myth of sports altruism and berated Africans for not accepting or seemingly understanding the West's gradual liberalism. The New York Times, for instance, declared that the boycott was "one more example of the refusal of African nations to live by accepted rules of international conduct" and thus, justification for further Western contempt.(22) These pronouncements were indicative of prevailing white liberal opinions during the early decades of the Cold War, including the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, which, with few exceptions, concluded that Africans' uncompromising anti-apartheid stance, rather than the West's accommodation of apartheid, was the greater detriment to relations between Africans and West. (23)
African nationalists did not share Brundage and the mainstream's faith in the West's liberalism and in the week following the IOC's vote, both the OAU and SCSA endorsed a boycott, thus ensuring an all-African boycott of the 1968 games. The endorsements prompted the Soviets and other Third World nations, including communist China, which did not field an Olympic team, to declare their support of the boycott. (24) African Americans' participation in the campaign sparked a debate concerning Pan-Africanism and Third World solidarity versus patriotism and traditional advancement means.
Civil Rights Activists and SAOC
In Brutus' organization of anti-apartheid forces to bar South Africa from international sports competition, he reached out to anti-apartheid activists in the U.S. Although U.S. civil rights activists opposed colonialism, their responses to the anti-apartheid in sports campaign were influenced by the Cold War consensus.
The section examines civil rights activists' responses to the SAOC issue and reveals that while Pan-Africanism influenced many liberals to join nationalists in superordinating their support for African liberation by the late 1960s, Cold War concerns influenced their collaboration with nationalists on the issues. (25)
Amongst the first to respond to Brutus's call were the younger generations of nationalists in the Black Power and Black Students' movements. Radicalized by institutionalized racism and the resulting riots, many young African Americans believed that the liberal civil rights strategy of appealing to white Americans' conscious had produced very limited gains and by the mid 1960s was bankrupt. Like leftist African Americans in the immediate post-WWII period, they sought progressive means to advance African Americans' socioeconomic equality, including internationalizing their struggles by allying with Third World movements fighting for control of land. Indeed, Edwards and Brutus desire to formerly link their struggles was emblematic of the Pan-African interests that attracted nationalist's movements on both sides of the Atlantic to work together in the 1960s. A brief examination of OPHR activists' responses to the anti-apartheid in sports campaign further demonstrates the influence of continental Pan-Africanism on Black Power and Black Student activists. (26)
The racial discrimination that Edwards experienced as a student-athlete at SJS in the early 1960s stimulated his interest in the Black Freedom Movement, which he eventually concluded was successful due to the direct-action protests of the African American masses, television coverage of the reactionary white South, and colonialism's demise, which "particularly in the continent of Africa provided a new source of dignity and pride for Afro-Americans." The uncompromising struggles, he noted, "accelerated the new militancy" among younger African Americans, many of whom, like Edwards, believed that the "gradualism" produced by the civil rights discourse "was too slow." (27)
Edwards's internationalism was also influenced by Malcolm X, who served as an ideological bridge to nationalism and Pan-Africanism for much of the Black Power generation. Following his exit from the NOI in 1964, Malcolm X initiated an effort to sue the U.S. federal government for the persistent violation of African Americans' human rights in the international courts of the U.N. He founded the Organization of African American Unity (OAAU), the ostensive U.S. branch of the OAU, to facilitate the plan and under its auspices lectured internationally stressing the Pan-African belief that African Americans shared with the Third World a common history of racialized socioeconomic exploitation. In July 1964, he was admitted to the OAU's conference in Cairo, Egypt, where his appeal to the African states resulted in a mild resolution condemning the U.S. government for allowing the continuation of racial discrimination. Although liberals, as he accurately predicted, distanced themselves from the initiative, Malcolm X's campaign attracted the attention of the State Department, which was concerned that if U.S. race relations were discussed in the U.N., it would hinder U.S. diplomacy with Third World peoples.
On 21 February 1965, approximately a year after the campaign begun, Malcolm was murdered. His advocacy of linking the Black Freedom Movement to African liberation movements, however, aided the evolution of Pan-Africanism amongst the Black Power generation, including Edwards. (28)
In the spring of 1964, Edwards graduated SJS and the following fall,began graduate studies in sociology at Cornell University in upstate New York. From there, he periodically traveled to OAAU meetings in New York City. The purpose of the meetings, according to Malcolm X, were to expand African Americans' strategy from appealing to whites and the state, which had only produced gradualism, into a human rights struggle, which could be supported by Third World nations waging similar struggles against Western imperialists. The OAAU meetings had a profound influence on Edwards. He later wrote that "more than merely stimulating new ideas for me, Malcolm X incited, inflamed and legitimized a passion to act on deeply felt convictions." (29) Indeed, after completing a Master's degree in 1966, Edwards returned to San Jose, where over the next two years, he participated in an open housing campaign, the Black Students' movement at SJS, and the OPHR. Throughout the OPHR, Edwards consistently situated the campaign in the same international context as Malcolm's proposed suit against the U.S., especially during the course of the anti-apartheid boycott campaign. In March 1968, he told a reporter that he hoped the OPHR would lead to "international recognition for the plight of 30 million black people in this country and then [allow us to] take our case to the United Nations." (30)
The apartheid issue was equally important in the motivations of Lee Evans, an Olympic hopeful associated with the OPHR. In 1966, while at a track meet in England, he befriended several Africans who convinced him to attend "a South African resistance meeting," where Brutus spoke. Evans remembered that "They said a prayer for the brothers that had fallen during the week and I didn't even know there was a war going on down there." (31) The encounter, he later noted, motivated his involvement in the SJS students' movement, the OPHR, and the anti-apartheid in sports campaign. Indeed, a year after the meeting, in a November 1967 interview, Evans asserted that competing against SAOC would be approval of racism and as such, he was offended at being expected to participate in his own subjugation. After SAOC was admitted to the 1968 games, many African Americans voiced similar pan-African sentiments. (32)
As evidenced by Edwards and Evans, the OPHR genuinely supported the anti-apartheid campaign, but foremost, Edwards attempted to use the development to attract support for the OPHR's goal of building an African American boycott to protest domestic discrimination. In his criticisms of SAOC, for instance, he reserved his strongest criticism for Brundage, an American, and the USOC for supporting the SAOC. Their actions, he explained, justified the OPHR's demand that African Americans be added to white-controlled institutions like the USOC as a means of ameliorating the unconscious racism of those institutions. Edwards's focus on the U.S. was indicative of many civil rights activists increasing interest in Pan-Africanism as foremost a means to further legitimize their own struggles.
His prioritization briefly became a point of contention between he and Brutus and is exemplary of what Walters describes as the tensions between committed nationalists' struggles in the period. Despite the disagreement, Edwards enthusiastically supported the anti-apartheid campaign, because, as he correctly predicted, the Pan-Africanism inherent in the issue rallied support for the OPHR. As such, during the anti-apartheid campaign (February-May 1968), Edwards attempted to situate the OPHR as the principal vehicle of U.S. opposition to the SAOC's invitation. His efforts were embodied in an OPHR poster disseminated during the period; two dark fists, one emerging from the U.S. and the other from Africa, clasping. The caption read "BLACK AMERICA & AFRICA UNITED, 32 Black African Nations Have Voted To Boycott The '68 Olympics, Can We Do Less?" (33) Indeed, civil rights activists of all ideologies were debating the question.
Brutus and the campaign also found ready allies amongst older nationalists, many of which, despite the Cold War consensus, had uncompromisingly supported African liberation over the last two decades. Brutus's organizing had stimulated awareness of the SAOC issue amongst these nationalists. In April 1967, for instance, Muhammad Speaks, the NOI's news organ and the largest circulating African American newspaper of the period, covered a Brutus speaking engagement and approved of his Pan-African argument that achieving racial equality in one country delegitimized the repression of people of color in others. From its founding in the 1930s, the NOI condemned the U.S. government as incorrigibly racist for its history of allowing the brutality and socioeconomic exploitation of African Americans and during the early Cold War, argued that the state's support of colonialism was motivated by a similar greed and racism. Muhammad Speaks also forwarded this anti-colonial critique. In addition to carrying articles sympathetic to both the OPHR and the anti-apartheid boycott, it focused on the heinousness of apartheid. The NOI argued that the greatest offence in the history of man was the West's perpetration of chattel slavery, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Africans and left millions more stupefied by a racial inferiority complex. Commentary and cartoons in Muhammad Speaks' equated apartheid with slavery and Jim Crow and as such, endorsed the OPHR as protests of both the U.S. and South Africa's versions of the peculiar institution. (34)
Although African American participation in the anti-apartheid in sports movement occurred in an era when nationalists and liberals increasingly articulated similar positions on African issues, the Cold War consensus continued to influence liberal articulation of Pan-Africanism. Many traditional liberals were conspicuously silent on the SAOC issue. Contextualizing that silence within their response to the increasing influence of Pan-Africanism on civil rights activists in the era, however, provides insight into their thoughts about the SAOC. A decade earlier, the state-enforced Cold War consensus had effectively tempered Pan-African activism in the U.S. In particular, the consensus allowed conservatives and segregationists to discredit civil rights activists by disparaging them as Communists.
Consequently, many liberals who worked through the executive branch and courts to advance civil rights like the NAACP and Urban League professed an ardent anti-communism and limited their foreign policy critiques to suggesting that Jim Crow contradicted U.S. claims as the moral leader of the free world and urged state support of decolonization as a means of limiting Soviet appeal in the Third World. Despite state harassment, however, nationalists continued to link their campaigns for racial equality with criticisms of U.S. foreign policy toward peoples of color. As nationalist groups like the NOI grew in response to disappointment with gradualism and the prevalence of African liberation movements, their increasing popularity influenced many liberals to join nationalists' challenges of U.S. support of colonialism. Those liberals who continued privileging working through the government to advance civil rights, however, usually continued limiting their critiques of U.S. foreign policy. (35)
As such, most liberals initially opposed the OPHR for the same reasons they opposed the anti-war movement; because it would provide the Soviets with a significant instance of racial propaganda, which would allow conservatives to slander the Black Freedom Movement as unpatriotic. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP noted that while the OPHR was "commendably impatient" with discrimination, charges that a boycott was disloyal would overshadow its effort to highlight continued inequality. (36) Several months earlier, fellow Black moderate Whitney Young, Jr. of the National Urban League also noted that while the "strong" anti-war opinions among African Americans were justified, he opposed draft resistance and an "Olympic Games boycott" because opponents would publicize such actions as traitorous. (37)
In an attempt to combat the OPHR, traditional liberals asserted the "myth of the black athlete," a belief similar to the altruistic myth of international sports. Following Owens and former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis's defenses of the nation's reputation of superior manliness against athletes from Nazi Germany, civil rights liberals disseminated the belief that the presence and accomplishments of African Americans athletes demonstrated their race's capacity for a superior manliness capable of participating in the defense of the nation, which supposedly improved whites' image of African Americans, thus advancing race relations. A boycott, liberals articulated, would generate mainstream accusations that African Americans were unpatriotic and insufficiently manly. Influenced by this argument, the majority of liberals, including many sympathetic African Americans, initially condemned the OPHR. After the SAOC issue emerged, liberals like Young and Wilkins, despite opposition to apartheid, continued to oppose a boycott because they believed that regardless of motivation, it would be construed as unpatriotic. Indeed, according to Brutus's files, Wilkins never responded to his communications asking the NAACP to make a public statement opposing the SAOC's entrance into the 1968 games. (38)
While many traditional liberals took an ambiguous position on the anti-apartheid in sports campaign, the rejuvenation of Pan-Africanism lead other liberals to unequivocally support it. For instance, following the IOC's invitation to SAOC, the vast majority of African American newspapers uncompromisingly supported the international boycott.
A columnist for the Washington D.C. Afro-American initially listed six reasons for opposing the OPHR; "But," he noted, "when the IOC had the audacity to even reconsider a vote to readmit segregationist South Africa to the Olympics ... I could immediately think of nothing else.boycott." (39) Ultimately, the African American press and many of its readers rejected the argument that the participation of South Africans of color would improve their status. They also rejected the state's rationale that prioritized its Cold War allies before that of the Africans' liberation. In a letter to the Afro-American, Robert Moore suggested that if the U.S. government "really" supported democracy, "it would begin placing economic sanctions against South Africa" that would "end apartheid in one swoop." Moore also suggested "that any of my brothers who are athletes join their African brothers in boycotting the Olympics." (40) The Chicago Defender, Cleveland (OH) Call and Post, and Jet also explicitly supported the anti-apartheid boycott. None of these entities, however, endorsed the OPHR, which probably reflected concerns that the Black Power group was duped by Communists. (41)
Such Cold War concerns motivated many liberals to direct their opposition of the SAOC through the ACOA. Although the ACOA worked with African Nationalists like Brutus, who was a Marxist, it was avowedly anti-Communist and often refused to work with socialist and nationalist oriented U.S. groups, and as such, became a vehicle for Cold War liberals to oppose apartheid. In its first two decades, the group maintained working relations with A. Phillip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt amongst other prominent anti-Communist liberals. In 1966, following SAOC's announcement of its multiracial plan, the ACOA co-sponsored Brutus's international tour. Characteristic of its modus operandi, the ACOA also brought moral celebrity to bear against SAOC. In May 1967, the committee collected the signatures of thirty prominent Americans, including Ruby Dee, Langston Hughes, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Oscar Robertson on an open letter to the USOC, urging opposition to South Africa's invitation. The letter was representative of many liberals who shared the same position as nationalists on African issues in the period, but remained reluctant to openly work with them. (42)
Despite mainstream condemnation of the OPHR as unpatriotic, the ACOA collaborated with the group. On 8 February 1968, a week before the expected IOC vote on the SAOC's invitation, Robinson headlined an ACOA press conference announcing that twenty-five prominent American athletes, including OPHR-related activists Evans, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos, signed a petition opposing the SAOC's participation in the games. Houser also read an Edwards' statement condemning the expected invitation. The ACOA likely decided to work with the OPHR because like Brutus, they recognized the publicity value associated with the group. Indeed, the signatures of the three, all among the nation's most promising Olympic hopefuls, were widely interpreted as pledges that African American athletes would boycott in protest, and thus garnered international headlines. The decision to work with the OPHR was further indicative of nationalists' influence on the increasing awareness of Pan-African issues in the U.S. (43)
Pan-Africanism and Black Power
Those liberals who prioritized protest over participating in the games articulated a Pan-African explanation. Prior to SAOC's invitation, the traditional African American press had debated the OPHR and overwhelmingly concluded that Olympic participation was a better means of advancing the race than a boycott. After the apartheid issue emerged, however, the African American press overwhelmingly declared participation complicit in the subjugation of all peoples of color and would negate any advancement that might result from helping the U.S. best the Russians at the Olympics. Dick Edwards (no relation to Harry Edwards), a New York Amsterdam News columnist, concluded that any African American that competed against the SAOC team an "Uncle Tom," complicit in maintaining racial inequality. Lewis P. Bohler, Jr., a minister, agreed, when he declared that it was comparable to "fighting beside a companion in Vietnam, only to discover that you cannot live beside him when you return home." (44) Accommodating apartheid, African Americans seemingly concluded, would betray their own struggles.
Bohler's Vietnam analogy, as well as the Black Power Conference's resolution that lead to the OPHR, reflected continental Pan-Africanism's influence on the emergence of Black Power. Historian Robert Mullen notes that African American opposition to the war was not only driven by belief that the U.S.' war aim of establishing democracy in Vietnam was hypocritical considering the extent of racial discrimination domestically, but also that by the late 1960s fewer African Americans believed that military service, athletics, or other acts that supposedly demonstrated manliness and patriotism advanced African Americans. Consequently, from 1966 to 1969, African American opposition to U.S. involvement in the war increased from 35 to 56 percent, the highest of any U.S. ethnic group, and virtually all segments of African Americans, except older liberals like Wilkins, opposed the war. Although military or athletic service, as well as anti-communism, historically provided opportunities to trumpet the race's claims to equality, by the Black Power era, many African Americans, nationalists and otherwise, articulated that participation in the war and/or against SAOC bolstered white supremacy, even if unintentionally, and therefore, were detrimental to their advancement. (45)
The SAOC issue further motivated some liberals to question the traditional African American advancement belief, "the myth of the black athlete"--a belief that the African American press had participated in disseminating since the 1930s. L. I. Brocknenbury of the Los Angeles Sentinel termed the myth--"that the best way to fight racism is to prove one's superiority in athletic competition" against whites--"bunk, pure and simple. Negroes in this country have been proving athletic superiority for years and there is more racist thinking rampant in America than ever before." He concluded that the virulence of white supremacy, which often invented rationalizations of African inferiority, suggested that no amount of achievement, athletic or otherwise, would reap African Americans equality; therefore, protest should remain an option. Although not as explicit, this sentiment echoed through much of the African American press. (46)
The challenge of the myth was indicative of Black Power's challenge of traditional African American advancement beliefs. Since the 1930s, many African Americans advocated that accomplishments in white-controlled sports institutions, such as Owens' four gold-medal winning performance at the 1936 Olympics, demonstrated that their race possessed a sufficient manliness, which further suggested their race was worthy of complete citizenship. Black Power challenged such traditional uplift notions by arguing that a discourse of attempting to demonstrate manliness and morality consequently rationalized the discrimination that many minorities continued to endure even after they entered integrated institutions. Stokely Carmichael, for example, argued "integration had to be based on the assumption that there was nothing of value in the Negro community and that little of value could be created among Negroes, so the thing to do was to siphon off the 'acceptable' Negroes into the surrounding middle-class white community." (47) Integration, the entrance of racial minorities into white-controlled institutions, as many nationalist-minded activists understood it, resulted in a few minorities obtaining previously denied opportunities, but the vast majority remained ghettoized and denigrated by discrimination and cultural racism. Black Power movements like the OPHR declared that improving resources in minority communities and the equal treatment of African Americans within institutions were as important as integration. As it concerned the anti-apartheid boycott, many progressives echoed Black Power activists in articulating that accommodating white supremacy, either by competing in events against or sponsored by racists, including the Olympics, demeaned their humanity. Jackie Robinson, who began as a critic of the OPHR and endured racial humiliations during his sojourn in white-controlled sports institutions, for instance, agreed that integration was an underdeveloped belief, if African Americans within integrated institutions had to endure discrimination as he had. (48)
Although most civil rights activists supported the anti-apartheid boycott as a means to protest apartheid's presence at the Olympics, most also expressed hope that the SAOC would be expelled so that all Africans peoples would compete at the games. The Call and Post, for instance, lectured that "Any Olympic contest in which the superlative black athletes of the world are not represented will become a farce, and there should be enough sincere and decent people on the [IOC] to realize it before its too late." (49) It is worth reiterating, however, that African Americans, liberals and otherwise, overwhelmingly articulated that Olympic participation would not occur at the expense of accommodating racism. African nationalists and other veteran anti-apartheid forces recognized this as African Americans' commitment to Pan-Africanism. The ANC and ACOA, for instance, sent letters to Edwards thanking him for raising American's awareness of apartheid. (50)
Despite the lack of support by key civil rights liberals, African American participation in the anti-apartheid campaign was ultimately significant. On 29 February 1968, three worried officials from the Mexican Olympic Organizing Committee (MOOC) flew to Chicago to meet with Brundage. Initially, MOOC noted that it would honor the outcome of the IOC vote. As the number of boycotting nations increased to more than thirty and the Russians continued to intimate withdrawal, however, MOOC became increasingly critical of the IOC's decision. In an effort to raise the nation's international business profile, the Mexican government and private sector had invested approximately $100 million to host the games. The vast expenditure invigorated protest movements whose mobilization because of a depressed economy and rural famine were already disrupting the stable image of the state the Mexican government attempted to present as the games' October start date approached. Additionally, MOOC worried that a U.S. team depleted of African American talent and a Soviet withdrawal would annul the storyline of Cold War competition, a compelling issue expected to generate profits and international attention. In late February, MOOC's position became transparent when it announced that it opposed the SAOC's team attending the games and that it had scheduled a meeting with Brundage to discuss the matter. (51)
Brundage's meeting with MOOC prompted the IOC's nine-man executive committee to meet and on the 21 April 1968, the committee sent telegrams to its other sixty-two delegates urging them to vote in support of withdrawing SAOC's invitation. Brundage refused to acknowledge that protest influenced the decision. Instead, he blamed the reversal on the "international climate," which one executive later explained was meant to suggest that Africans might attack Afrikaners at the games. (52)The assertion played on mainstream fears heightened by the wave of civil unrest in the U.S. that followed the 4 April assassination of King and escalating students' protests occurring across the globe, including Mexico City. The implications again, were that Africans refusal to accommodate apartheid, rather than the West's accommodation of it, was the greater detriment. For the Defender and several others, however, Brundage's obstinacy confirmed he was "a racist at heart" and they hoped that he would retire from the IOC. (53)
In addition to being a tactical victory against apartheid, the expulsion of SAOC was further significant because the campaign attracted leftists from across the globe into the anti-apartheid in sports movement, including the U.S. left. In 1970, the international movement forced the permanent expulsion of SAOC from the Olympics and by 1971, South Africa's all white teams, with the exception of rugby, were isolated from the international sports community and would not return until the end of apartheid in the early 1990s. U.S. activists contributed to this isolation. In the months following the reversal, they supported Brutus's successful efforts to obtain U.N. resolutions that barred Rhodesia from the 1968 games and another that urged all nations to end sports, entertainment, and academic exchanges with South Africa.
African American interest in the anti-apartheid in sports movement peaked again in 1969-70, after South Africa's government barred Ashe, the world's top-ranked male tennis player, from competing in international tournaments in the country. The incident resulted in most U.S. organizations ending competition with South African teams. After South Africa's isolation in sport solidified, civil rights activists also forced Ali to decline a lucrative fight offer in the country in 1972. Over the next two decades, civil rights activists, joined the international New Left in uncompromisingly supporting the anti-apartheid in sports movement as a component of the sanctions that were necessary to terminate apartheid. (54)
Widespread support of the anti-apartheid in sports movement was emblematic of the increased importance of Pan-Africanism amongst African Americans and civil rights supporters in the Black Power era. In the late 1960s, nationalists led the formation of the national African Liberation Day Steering Committee, which replaced the liberal-led ANLCA. Although the committee did not have a significant lobbying presence, its organizing of African Liberation Day parades in cities like New York and Atlanta drew thousands annually and became the prime expression of Pan-Africanism in the U.S. through the 1970s. Although the Cold War consensus remained a factor, the increased number of elected African American officials in the period also carried the challenge of anti-apartheid and Third World liberation into the federal government. In 1969, Rep. Charles C. Diggs of Michigan was appointed Chairman of the House Sub committee on Africa and with the support of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) used the committee to press Congress for sanctions against apartheid. Additionally, the CBC convinced President Jimmy Carter, who took office in 1977, to morally condemn South Africa's apartheid regime and appoint anti-apartheid supporters as U.S. ambassadors. Many of these officials also supported TransAfrica, a lobby founded in 1977, whose work led to anti-apartheid becoming a plank in the Democratic Party's platform and ultimately to the Reagan Administration's agreement to sanctions against the regime. (55)
Although most civil rights activists supported the anti-apartheid in sports movement, using sport to contest domestic discrimination remained contested. Immediately following the IOC's reversal of SAOC's invitation, liberal support for the OPHR dissipated. As Arthur Daley noted, with SAOC expelled, there was an absence of clear and presence discrimination in the Olympics and as a result, concerns that a boycott would be construed as disloyal trumped the boycott as a means of protest. In the remaining months leading up to the Olympics (May-October 1968), the traditional African American press sympathized with the OPHR, but ultimately deemed a boycott too extreme an action. The dissolution suggests that while Black Power challenged the "the myth of the black athlete," traditional advancement beliefs that suggested that African Americans must demonstrate a worthiness to have their equality recognized retained legitimacy. Edwards later suggested as much in a post-movement analysis, when he wrote that the OPHR's boycott failed to materialize because African Americans, especially older generations, "had been brainwashed so long and so completely about sport's supposed uniquely beneficial role in their lives that the very idea of using sport as a protest vehicle ... seemed to most as quite mystifying, to some ludicrous, and to yet others criminal, or worse, treasonous." (56)
Although liberals withdrew their support, Edwards continued to organize the OPHR. From the outset of the collaboration with the anti-apartheid campaign, he sensed their support was conditional and as such, had refused to subordinate the OPHR's goals. He declared that the ouster of SAOC would have no effect the OPHR; "Our fight is with the racists in this country--in the White House, in the Congress and on college campuses. We don't live in South Africa. We live in these United States." (57) Over the remaining five months until the Olympics, despite mainstream assertions that