Ithaca Anti-Apartheid demonstrations at Cornell inspired by Mandela: Matt's Memo

Cornell University, 1986.

The student passions ran high inside the packed Day Hall administration building on the campus of Cornell University. The demonstrations on the Ithaca campus included sit-ins, marches and the building of a Shantytown designed to pressure university administration to take a financial stand against apartheid in South Africa.

Much of the inspiration of the movement that spread across American college campuses in the mid-1980's was an aging leader sitting in a jail cell in South Africa. Nelson Mandela's ideas and principles spread around the world.

I recall covering these intense protests that rivaled anti-war demonstrations from a decade before. Student leaders wanted Cornell's trustees to divest in global companies that did business in South Africa which had been under decades of control by the white minority. Cornell's endowed funds were measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars of which some twenty percent included companies that had implicitly allowed apartheid to stand.

Nearly 30 years later the jailed leader has passed away. We now know he was released from jail. He ascended to the presidency of his nation. He made the world take notice of one of the great injustices of human rights in the 20th century.

Mandela's death provides an opportunity for us to read and learn about his life and beliefs. It's also worth noting his influence hit close to home inspiring demonstrations as intense as any we have seen in the decades since Cornell's Shantytown stood in the center of campus.

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