Chicago Anti-Apartheid Movement

Document Type



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Publication Date

Fall 2009


Harry Belafonte, Rivonia trial, Congress of Racial Equality, Preston Wilcox, City University of New York, Students, Political activity, Northwestern University, South Africa, Soweto Uprising, Nigeria, Coalition for Illinois' Divestment from South Africa, Prexy Nesbitt, Carole Thompson, Kevin Thompson, Ora Schub, Carol Moseley-Braun, Chester A. Crocker, AFSCME, Charlie Hayes, African National Congress, Salih Booker, Randall Robinson, Chicago Defender, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Trinity United Church of Christ, Arthur Ashe, Arthur, Athletes and Artists Against Apartheid, Chicago Committee in Solidarity with Southern Africa, Lisa Brock, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Black Metropolis Research Consortium


Political Science | Political Theory | Race and Ethnicity | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Work, Economy and Organizations


Length: 57 minutes

Oral history interview of Cheryl Johnson-Odim by Carrie Armbruster

Johnson-Odim describes her introduction to South African Apartheid in junior high school through her music teacher, S. Carol Buchanan, who was good friends with the musical director for Harry Belafonte. After auditioning and being chosen to sing on his album, “The Streets I’ve Walked,” Belafonte took Johnson and the other singers to watch South African Boot Dancers, who later went to teach the students about the apartheid regime in South Africa. She describes how her involvement in the civil rights of African Americans and the rights of women in the United States was interwoven with her involvement in the Anti-apartheid movement. She mentions movements to boycott South African lobster tails and Krugerrands from being sold in the United States and assisting students’ efforts to push Northwestern University to divest funds from South Africa. She recalls her time as a leading member of the Coalition for Illinois Divestment from South Africa, as both an educator and an activist, and how she traveled with others to hold meetings about the Chicago divestment efforts. She also describes working with legislators, union workers, church leaders, South Africans, and political representatives from the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC) as hosts to unify efforts. She describes acting as a key figure in organizing the Free South Africa Movement in response to the arrest of TransAfrica leaders. She mentions working with the American Federation of County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), TransAfrica, and CCISSA.

Biography and Comments

Cheryl Johnson-Odim is an activist and educator. She was born in 1948 and raised in New York City. Johnson-Odim enrolled in Youngstown State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history, and later enrolled in Northwestern University, where she earned her PhD in history. Johnson-Odim would later become the assistant director of the African Studies program at Northwestern and was the first woman and first African American to chair the history department at Loyola University Chicago. She served as the first dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Columbia College Chicago. During her time at Northwestern, she became involved in the divestment movement and joined students protesting Northwestern to divest from their South African pension funds. In the 1980s, she continued her activism as an early member of CIDSA and the Free South Africa Movement.

The interviewer conducted this oral history as part of his/her coursework for the Fall 2009 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 Cheryl Johnson-Odim.pdf (219 kB)



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