Place of Protest: Chicago's Legacy of Dissent, Declaration, and Disruption

Bronzeville, 1989

Connecting Chicago to South Africa

Anti-apartheid activists raise awareness and funds through a neighborhood walkathon.

"We designed a walkathon, a booklet. We had people decide they were going to walk. We decided on a process of 10 kilometers, which is 6.2 miles--a nice easy walk, something that kids could do, people could do. I remember the first couple, when my daughter was in stroller, as well as Carol's, and now they're both graduated from college. And each person who was walking had this thing where you would get pledges--you know, "I’m going to pledge a dollar for every kilometer,"… and each year we raised over ten thousand dollars for direct support." - Basil Clunie


ON A WARM SUMMER DAY IN 1989, FAMILIES WALKED THE STREETS OF BRONZEVILLE, singing, dancing, and chanting in the tradition of South African toyi-toyi. The demonstration was part of a robust local anti-apartheid movement active in Chicago through the 1980s until the legal end of South African Apartheid in 1991. Activists associated with groups like the Chicago Committee in Solidarity with Southern Africa, the Church World Service, and the Illinois Labor Network Against Apartheid advocated for economic sanctions and company boycotts, frequently staging protests in front of the South African Consulate in downtown Chicago. The walkathon in Bronzeville functioned as a fundraiser for direct support for anti-apartheid groups in South Africa. By undertaking a walkathon in the heart of Chicago’s African American community, anti-apartheid activists evoked a pan-African identity and demonstrated solidarity with those struggling against racial oppression.

THE WALKATHON TOOK PLACE NEAR THE ANNIVERSARY OF SOWETO DAY, which commemorated the 1976 protests in Soweto, South Africa when students objected to Afrikaans being made the official school language. Police responded violently to the student protestors, causing at least 176 deaths. Advocating for equal education and self-determination while being met with police brutality and racism resonated with Chicagoans. In 1989, the walkathon raised funds for the South African Council of Churches and the National Medical and Dental Association of South Africa (NAMDA). Community organizing at home to support causes abroad connected local protests with a worldwide anticolonial and anti-apartheid movement.
SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID ENDED IN 1991, due in part to the global anti-apartheid movement. As in the United States, however, dismantling legal segregation proved one step in a longer struggle against colonialism and structural racism. Many members of Chicago's anti-apartheid movement continued to remain active in the city as educators and activists.

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