n Journal of Public Administration - Martin and Mandela : two leaders, two continents and a singular goal

Volume 50 Number 3
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



The civil rights and anti-apartheid movements produced two iconic leaders, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Both leaders confronted white supremacist regimes with no resources beyond the volunteers who participated in organised protests. They ultimately prevailed against tremendous odds. Segregation and apartheid shared a common purpose. They rigidly controlled each country's black population. Laws and practices determined where blacks could reside, where they could work and where they could attend schools. Under apartheid, every South African was classified into one of three racial groups: white, coloured and black. Blacks could not own property in 80 percent of South Africa's land area. Racial segregation was enforced in all public areas including buildings, services and transportation.

In America's southern states, schools, restaurants, hotels, theatres, public transportation and waiting rooms were segregated, as were elevators, parks, public restrooms, hospitals, drinking fountains, prisons and places of worship. In the northern states, many restaurants, theatres and hotels would not serve black patrons. Segregated neighbourhoods were perpetuated by the real estate industry. Blacks were confined to occupations such as maids, cooks, chauffeurs, porters and labourers.
This article examines the ways in which segregation and apartheid were fought with marches, boycotts and demonstrations and, in the case of South Africa, armed resistance. King and Mandela took courageous stands against unjust laws. Mandela was banned by the South African government and subsequently imprisoned for 27 years. King gave his life to the struggle when he was assassinated in 1968. Despite the many obstacles, both leaders were able to lead the decades-long struggle to end segregation and apartheid. The Civil Rights Movement in America culminated with the federal legislation of the 1960s. South African apartheid lasted for a generation longer, ending in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as president. In both countries, justice eventually prevailed. "[T]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice".

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