As I continue to engage connections between the struggles for Black Liberation in South Africa and the United States, I came across a great resource in the Michigan State African Activist Archive. It was here that I was able to learn more about Civil Rights Movement Activist George Houser and the connection to the Defiance Campaign in South Africa.
George Houser started out as a civil rights activist fighting Jim Crow in the 1940s and was one of the founders of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). CORE was a nonviolent interracial organization that advocated for black equality. In 1947, Houser and 15 black and white men went on the Journey of Reconciliation – bus trip through the Upper South that tested a court ruling banning racial segregation during interstate travel. The Journey of Reconciliation served as a model for the famous 1961 Freedom Rides and was documented in the 1947 report We Challenge Jim Crow!
Five years later in South Africa, the African National Congress’s leading members- Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and Albertina and Walter Sisulu- lead the Defiance Campaign, a series of non-violent protests against the apartheid laws of South Africa. Having heard about the planning of a Defiance Campaign, Houser began corresponding with Walter Sisulu to learn more about what was happening in South Africa and how he could help. Houser was impressed by their commitment to nonviolence in the face of violent oppression and incensed by that oppression of Black South Africans through Apartheid. He was one of the many early Civil Rights activists who had informed the American public about South Africa’s version of Jim Crow, as well as the other national liberation movements simultaneously taking place across the continent of Africa. He spread info and a call to action through the founding of the Americans for South African Resistance (AFSAR) and the American Committee on Africa (ACOA).
George Houser’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and dedication to the anti-Apartheid movement, as well as his personal friendships and connections to the leaders in South Africa, is an early example of how our struggles became forged into one. In a statement regarding the very essence of the work he did with the organizations he founded, he said, “We always conceived our work as part and parcel of the civil rights struggle…The struggle in Africa was to us, as Americans, an extension of the battle on the homefront.” This is the kind of politic that created the sense of connection and solidarity between two oppressed communities and those fighting for justice. It was this kind of connection through oppression and language that fueled Americans to keep fighting for South Africa and South Africa to keep fighting knowing they had the American people on their side.
Houser dedicated 50 years of his life to the fight against racism, oppression, and imperialism. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 99 years old.
Below are some great archival items available in the African Activist Archive:
Dedication to George Houser
Bulletin of the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws
Non-Violent Revolution in South Africa