Chicago Anti-Apartheid Movement

Document Type



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Publication Date

Spring 2010


Zimbabwe African National Union, Mozambique, Nelson Mandela, Joseph McCarthy, South African Secret Service, RENAMO (Organization), Johannesburg (South Africa), Chicago


African American Studies | African History | African Languages and Societies | Civic and Community Engagement | Cultural History | History | International Relations | Political History | Political Science | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Social History | Work, Economy and Organizations


Length: 50 minutes

Oral history interview of Helen Shiller by Jacob Martin Lingan

Ms. Shiller first outlines the path that led her to forming the Anti-Apartheid Ordinance, beginning with her work with the Minister of Information for ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and a trip to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa, which led to her interest in the latter. She recalls how, when she returned to Chicago, she was motivated to strengthen legislation against the Apartheid government. She describes the process they went through to force Chicago banks to divest from South Africa, which happened to coincide with Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. She details that earlier trip to Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where she learned of the violence perpetrated by RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana), financed by the South African Secret Service. She changes direction to discuss her time teaching middle schoolers, realizing how little the students knew about Africa or apartheid, and her efforts to include Africa in their social science education, comparing civil rights in America to anti-Apartheid efforts in South Africa. She then reflects on what young people need to remember about this history and how to understand and treat other people to avoid such circumstances, comparing it to McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Biography and Comments

Born in 1947 and raised on Long Island, Helen Shiller first moved to Chicago with her husband and infant son 1972. She holds a BA in history from the University of Wisconsin Madison and a master’s in public policy from DePaul University's School for New Learning. She served as alderman for the 46th ward in Chicago and served on the Chicago City Council from 1987 to 2011. She has been a strong advocate for affordable housing, the AIDS crisis, and for the disinvestment from Apartheid South Africa.

The interviewer conducted this oral history as part of his/her coursework for the Spring 2010 class, Oral History: The Art of the Interview. This interview supports the scope and content of the Chicago Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection at the College Archives & Special Collections department of Columbia College Chicago. Contact for more information and to view the collection.

Additional Files

Interview with Helen Shiller.pdf (187 kB)



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