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On returning to Washington, Hill and a small group of

fellow activists—almost all women—founded a small

group called the Southern Africa News Collective,

which grew into the Southern Africa Support Project

in 1978.They were clear in defining their top priority

as the local community. . . . developing a local base

of support for African liberation was essential. 



Books by William Minter

No Easy Victories  / Apartheid’s Contras


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Sylvia Hill Post 6th PAC

From the Sixth Pan-African Congress to the Free South Africa Movement

By William Minter


2 October 2007

Sylvia Hill and her fellow local activists in the Southern Africa Support Project were at the heart of the Free South Africa Movement that brought demonstrators to be arrested at the South African Embassy in the United States in 1984 and 1985. Hill was also one of the key organizers for the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar es Salaam in 1974, and for Nelson Mandela's tour of the United States following his release from prison in 1990.

Today Hill is professor of criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia. She serves on the board of TransAfrica Forum. This profile draws on interviews with Sylvia Hill by William Minter in 2003 and 2004.

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At the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar es Salaam in June 1974, Sylvia Hill didn't have much time to follow the speeches and debates about race and class, the African diaspora, and the current status of the liberation movements. As one of the key U.S. organizers of the event, she had to focus instead on a host of logistical questions, from finding typewriters to transcribe the sessions to negotiating with translators demanding to be paid in U.S. dollars.

"Six PAC," the sixth in the series of Pan-African congresses initiated by W. E. B. Du Bois, came more than two decades after the historic Fifth Congress in Manchester, England in 1945. It was the first to be held in Africa. Hill is aware that many observers discount the congress because of the heated disagreements that were aired, particularly among delegates from the United States and the Caribbean.

But there were positive outcomes, she insists. "I've read and I've heard people say that the conference didn't produce anything, and I'm like, wait, wait, wait," she said in a 2003 interview. "It was really Six PAC that led me to return and work on Southern Africa. There were a group of us who committed ourselves that we were going to work against colonialism, and it was based on the investment in this congress and the agenda of the national liberation struggle."

Hill and many of the other organizers wanted to establish direct connections between African liberation movements and African Americans. Tanzania, which hosted the event and had fostered wide participation from the United States through its embassy in Washington, was the key venue for bringing people together.

Tanzania's President Nyerere was keenly aware of the importance of people-to-people contact and of the critical contribution made by those who work behind the scenes. When national delegations to the congress were scheduled to meet with Nyerere, the all-male group of leaders of the U.S. delegation chose themselves as the five to go, despite a suggestion from veteran activist Mary Jane Patterson that Hill should be included. That night, Hill recalls,

Ambassador Bomani [the Tanzanian ambassador to the United States] came and said to me, "There will be a car to pick you up to take you to the president. You will meet with the president alone, and when the gentlemen get there, you will already be there." I was there half an hour before they got there. I was already on my second cup of tea when they walked in and they were so stunned to see me sitting there.

On returning to Washington, Hill and a small group of fellow activists—almost all women—founded a small group called the Southern Africa News Collective, which grew into the Southern Africa Support Project in 1978. They were clear in defining their top priority as the local community. While they recognized the complementary role of national organizations focused on and developed particularly close ties with TransAfrica, they argued that developing a local base of support for African liberation was essential.

They raised assistance for Zimbabwean refugees in Mozambique and for the ANC exile school in Tanzania through annual " Southern Africa" weeks with radiothons, public meetings, and speaking engagements in churches and schools. It was this systematic work, Hill says, that built "a kind of social infrastructure of ties to institutions and sectors in the city" and that would later pay off in the Free South Africa Movement demonstrations.

The relationship between local groups and other groups working on different aspects of solidarity was dialectical, Hill stresses. If it had all been one large bureaucracy, "we could have never done what was ultimately accomplished." It was local organizing in combination with national media attention to South Africa—and particularly TransAfrica's presence in the national media - that enabled the Free South Africa Movement coalition to sustain daily demonstrations at the South African embassy for a year, in 1984-85. Around the country, coalitions of local activists came together and took their own initiatives, inspired by the growing publicity and informed by resources from national groups.

"People have a range of ways they express support. It's everything from sitting in front of the TV and saying, 'right on,' to physically being there. Now if you want them there, you've got to work to get them there," Hill reflects.

What is significant, from the organizer's point of view, is that the person expresses public opposition instead of private disdain for policies. The challenge for the organizer is to find that creative space that will permit ordinary citizens to express collective opposition. It is the task of the organizer to create venues for internal feelings to be expressed publicly. This the Free South Africa Movement accomplished. And therefore, one of our profound lessons of this movement is that one should never underestimate the power of symbolic protests to create a climate for political change.


Photo above left: Sylvia Hill, center, and Gay McDougall were among African American activists invited by Nelson Mandela to visit South Africa in October 1991 on what was called a " Democracy Now" tour.  Photo courtesy of Sylvia Hill.

William Minter taught at the secondary school of the Mozambique Liberation Front in 1966-68 and 1974-76. An independent scholar and activist, he is the author of Apartheid’s Contras and other books.

Gail Hovey was among the founders of Southern Africa magazine in 1964 and worked in South Africa in 1966-67. She served as research director for the American Committee on Africa/The Africa Fund, as managing editor of Christianity and Crisis, and as executive director of Grassroots International.

Charles Cobb Jr., senior correspondent for, was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi in 1962-67. His books include Radical Equations (with Robert Moses) and On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour to the Civil Rights Trail.


Dr. Sylvia Hill is a scholar activist who focuses on community organizing and social movements in her activism and writings. She participated in the civil rights, Black power, and anti-war movements of the sixties and seventies. In 1974, following in the Pan African tradition of W. E. B. Du Bois, she was one of the primary organizers of the Sixth Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

She returned to the United States and began organizing support for the struggles against colonialism and apartheid in the southern African region. In 1984 she was one of the architects of the Free South Africa Movement that led the campaign of civil disobedience against US foreign policy in South Africa. In 1990 she was the Associate Director of the historic first USA visit of Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela. Her most recent writing is a history of the USA anti-apartheid movement from 1945-1994, which she co-authored with William Minter in 2008.

She is currently professor of Criminal Justice at the University of the District of Columbia with an emphasis in community organizing for public safety. She is also a Nationally Certified counselor.

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"There were outcomes to the [Sixth Pan African] conference. I've read and I've heard people say that the conference didn't produce anything, and I'm like, wait, wait, wait. . . . . It was really Six-PAC that led me to return and work on Southern Africa. There were a group of us who committed ourselves that we were going to work against colonialism, and it was based on the investment in this congress and the agenda of the national liberation struggle." —Sylvia Hill

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Pan African Conference in 1900

Pan-Africanism (Minkah Makalani; Rutgers University) / The Pan-African Congresses 1900-1945

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Soul of a People

The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America

By David A. Taylor

Soul of a People is about a handful of people who were on the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930s and a glimpse of America at a turning point. This particular handful of characters went from poverty to great things later, and included John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Studs Terkel. In the 1930s they were all caught up in an effort to describe America in a series of WPA guides. Through striking images and firsthand accounts, the book reveals their experiences and the most vivid excerpts from selected guides and interviews: Harlem schoolchildren, truckers, Chicago fishmongers, Cuban cigar makers, a Florida midwife, Nebraskan meatpackers, and blind musicians.

Drawing on new discoveries from personal collections, archives, and recent biographies, a new picture has emerged in the last decade of how the participants' individual dramas intersected with the larger picture of their subjects.

This book illuminates what it felt like to live that experience, how going from joblessness to reporting on their own communities affected artists with varied visions, as well as what feelings such a passage involved: shame humiliation, anger, excitement, nostalgia, and adventure. Also revealed is how the WPA writers anticipated, and perhaps paved the way for, the political movements of the following decades, including the Civil Rights movement, the Women's Right movement, and the Native American rights movement.

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The River of No Return

The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC

By Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell

Among histories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s there are few personal narratives better than this one. Besides being an insider's account of the rise and fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it is an eyewitness report of the strategies and the conflicts in the crucial battle zones as the fight for racial justice raged across the South.  This memoir by Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC volunteer, traces his zealous commitment to activism from the time of the sit-ins, demonstrations, and freedom rides in the early '60s. In a narrative encompassing the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), the historic march in Selma, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, he recounts the turbulent history of SNCC and tells the powerful story of his own no-return dedication to the cause of civil rights and social change.

The River of No Return is acclaimed as a book that is destined to become a standard text for those wishing to perceive the civil rights struggle from within the ranks of one of its key organizations and to note the divisive history of the movement as groups striving for common goals were embroiled in conflict and controversy.

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Southern History Across the Color Line

By Nell Irvin Painter

The color line, once all too solid in southern public life, still exists in the study of southern history. As distinguished historian Nell Irvin Painter notes, historians often still write about the South as though people of different races occupied entirely different spheres. In truth, although blacks and whites were expected to remain in their assigned places in the southern social hierarchy, their lives were thoroughly entangled.

In this powerful collection, Painter reaches across the color line to examine how race, gender, class, and individual subjectivity shaped the lives of black and white women and men in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century South. Through six essays, she explores such themes as interracial sex, white supremacy, and the physical and psychological violence of slavery, using insights gleaned from psychology and feminist social science as well as social, cultural, and intellectual history. — Southern Literary Journal

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No Easy Victories

African Liberation and American Activists over Half a Century, 1950-2000

Edited by William Minter, Gail Hovey and Charles Cobb Jr.

Tell no lies; claim no easy victories—Amilcar Cabral, 1965. African news making headlines in the U.S.A. today is dominated by disaster: wars, famine, HIV/AIDS. Americans who respond from Hollywood stars to ordinary citizens are learning that real solutions require more than charity. This book provides for the first time a panoramic view of U.S. activism on Africa from 1950 to 2000, activism grounded in a common struggle for justice. It portrays organizations, individual activists, and transnational networks that contributed to African liberation from colonialism and from apartheid in South Africa. In turn, it shows how African struggles informed U.S. activism including the civil rights and black power movements. Intended for activists, analysts, students, researchers, teachers, and anyone concerned with world issues, the authors draw on interviews, research and personal experience to portray the history and stimulate reflection on international solidarity today.

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On the Road to Freedom

A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail

By Charles E. Cobb

This in-depth look at the civil rights movement goes to the places where pioneers of the movement marched, sat-in at lunch counters, gathered in churches; where they spoke, taught, and organized; where they were arrested, where they lost their lives, and where they triumphed. Award-winning journalist Charles E. Cobb Jr., a former organizer and field secretary for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), knows the journey intimately. He guides us through Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, back to the real grassroots of the movement. He pays tribute not only to the men and women etched into our national memory but to local people whose seemingly small contributions made an impact. We go inside the organizations that framed the movement, travel on the "Freedom Rides" of 1961, and hear first-person accounts about the events that inspired Brown vs. Board of Education.

An essential piece of American history, this is also a useful travel guide with maps, photographs, and sidebars of background history, newspaper coverage, and firsthand interviews.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The Fiery Trial

Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

By Eric Foner

A mixture of visionary progressivism and repugnant racism, Abraham Lincoln's attitude toward slavery is the most troubling aspect of his public life, one that gets a probing assessment in this study. Columbia historian and Bancroft Prize winner Foner (Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men) traces the complexities of Lincoln's evolving ideas about slavery and African-Americans: while he detested slavery, he also publicly rejected political and social equality for blacks, dragged his feet (critics charged) on emancipating slaves and accepting black recruits into the Union army, and floated schemes for colonizing freedmen overseas almost to war's end. Foner situates this record within a lucid, nuanced discussion of the era's turbulent racial politics; in his account Lincoln is a canny operator, cautiously navigating the racist attitudes of Northern whites, proddedand sometimes willing to be proddedby abolitionists and racial egalitarians pressing faster reforms.

But as Foner tells it, Lincoln also embodies a society-wide transformation in consciousness, as the war's upheavals and the dynamic new roles played by African-Americans made previously unthinkable claims of freedom and equality seem inevitable. Lincoln is no paragon in Foner's searching portrait, but something more essential--a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience. 16 pages of illus., 3 maps.—Publishers Weekly

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Natives of My Person

By George Lamming

Natives of My Person focuses on slave traders of the sixteenth century. The novel reconstructs the voyage of the ship Reconnaissance, which is led by a character known as the Commandant. To atone for his past cruelties and barbarism, the Commandant plans to establish a Utopian society on the island of San Cristobal. The enterprise fails for many reasons: fighting amongst the crew, loss of interest, greed, and an inability to erase the past. The novel argues that an ideal society cannot be built by those who have committed moral atrocities and unnecessary bloodshed in their past. . . . Although Natives of My Person has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.

George Lamming: Contemporary Criticism

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have "pawned their future to possessions" and those "condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth." The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, "loud as gospel to a believer's ears," and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.

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Tomorrow's Tomorrow: The Black Woman

By Joyce A. Ladner

Tomorrow’s Tomorrow is a pioneering sociological study of black girls growing up in the city. The author, in a substantial new introduction, considers what has changed and what has remained constant for them since the book was first published in 1971. . . . Joyce A. Ladner spent four years interviewing, observing, and socializing with more than a hundred girls living in the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. She was challenged by preconceived academic ideas and labels and by her own past as a black child in rural Mississippi. Rejecting the white middle-class perspective of “deviant” behavior, she examined the expectations and aspirations of these representative black girls and their feelings about parents and boyfriends, marriage, pregnancy, and child-rearing.

Ladner asked what life was like in the urban black community for the “average” girl, how she defined her roles and behaviors, and where she found her role models. She was interested in any significant disparity between aspirations and the resources to achieve them.

To what extent did the black teenager share the world of her white peers? If the questions were searching, the conclusions were provocative. According to Ladner, “The total misrepresentation of the Black community and the various myths which surround it can be seen in microcosm in the Black female adolescent.”

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 Death of White Sociology

By Joyce A. Ladner

In the 1970s, the battle for racial equality being waged in the streets an d the legislatures took the ivory tower. Black students, researchers and instructors had long been witness to the distortion of their history, their communities, and their identities in the classroom and in the field. The Black community had long borne the brunt of academia s failings. But many, like the contributors to Joyce A. Ladner s The Death of White Sociology, took up their pens and raised their voices against mis-education and bias in social science research. The Death of White Sociology offers brilliant descriptions of black identity with excellent essays from writers like Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, who take aim at the "social science fiction" of Euro-American sociological analysis, as well as political scientist Ron Walters's "Toward a Definition of Black Social Science" and E. Franklin Frazier's unsentimental critique, "The Failure of the Negro Intellectual."

In a new foreword, Ladner notes that when the anthology was originally published in 1973, it "provoked healthy debates over a range of issues: Does Black sociology exist? If so, what are its theoretical assumptions, and what is the range of subject matter it covers?" The writers gathered within these pages provide diverse answers to those questions, examining--and refuting--Eurocentric distortions of what and who black people are.—Eugene Holley

The Ties That Bind: Timeless Values for African American Families

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 27 July 2012




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