Interview with Mary Frances Berry

November 21, 1984, demonstration took place at the South African embassy in D.C. Describe why this demonstration was so significant, or maybe even necessary, and describe why you felt it was important for you to take part in it.


Um, I had been involved in the anti-Apartheid struggle for a number of years, and in issues related to freedom and justice in Africa in general. The struggle for freedom in Zimbabwe, and other issues for a long time because I considered it as part of our responsibility as a Black person in the diaspora in the United States. But, it seemed in 1984 that there was a particular need to respond to the crisis in South Africa. We had heard in the news and in messages from friends and from colleagues in South Africa about the repression that was taking place. That people were being detained, there was a new constitution which explicitly said again to Blacks, "You will not be able to vote here in the land of your birth." And so, ah, there was a need for us to show that we had solidarity with the people that were there. And they keep saying to us, the leaders there, that one of our problems is that the United States keeps supporting the regime. We have to have the West say to them, "No more! We will not stand for it." And the question came, "How can we get, how can we find a way to get the Congress of the United States and the President of the United States to in fact take this position?" And it was in really the belly of the whale. It was right after Reagan had just been reelected. There was wide-spread despair in the community of progressives all across the country about both domestic issues and foreign policy issues. People were saying, "Well, we got through one Reagan term, we're not sure we can make it through another one." And the question was, "How could you have the temerity to do anything that would be civil disobedience or direct action in that kind of climate?" But we felt that we had to do something to dramatize the issue. And we understood that we had to do it in a smart way, as smart as possible, for the people who were involved because we didn't want it to fail. And so what better to do but to go to the South African embassy and to meet there with the ambassador and then to just simply say, "We will not leave." Now the ambassador could have thrown us out, ah, and, um, or simply put us out on the doorstep without engaging in argument with us and keeping us in the embassy and then having us arrested, but that was his arrogance that le--put him in the predicament that we were able to proceed and fail, ah, without failing. And so we went there to show our solidarity, and we went there to try to change American policy and to try to start a movement that would do that, and I felt it was absolutely essential to do so.