American activists who challenged South African apartheid during the Cold War era extended their opposition to racial discrimination in the United States into world politics. US antiapartheid organizations worked in solidarity with forces struggling against the racist regime in South Africa and played a significant role in the global antiapartheid movement. More than four decades of organizing preceded the legislative showdown of 1986, when a bipartisan coalition in Congress overrode President Ronald Reagan’s veto, to enact economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Adoption of sanctions by the United States, along with transnational solidarity with the resistance to apartheid by South Africans, helped prompt the apartheid regime to relinquish power and allow the democratic elections that brought Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to power in 1994. Drawing on the tactics, strategies and moral authority of the civil rights movement, antiapartheid campaigners mobilized public opinion while increasing African American influence in the formulation of US foreign policy. Long-lasting organizations such as the American Committee on Africa and TransAfrica called for boycotts and divestment while lobbying for economic sanctions. Utilizing tactics such as rallies, demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience actions, antiapartheid activists made their voices heard on college campuses, corporate boardrooms, municipal and state governments, as well as the halls of Congress. Cultural expressions of criticism and resistance served to reinforce public sentiment against apartheid. Novels, plays, movies, and music provided a way for Americans to connect to the struggles of those suffering under apartheid. By extending the moral logic of the movement for African American civil rights, American anti-apartheid activists created a multicultural coalition that brought about institutional and governmental divestment from apartheid, prompted Congress to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, and increased the influence of African Americans regarding issues of race and American foreign policy.
David L. Hostetter
America’s tremendous diversities of faith, region, and ethnicity complicate efforts to generalize relationships between religious groups and the labor movement. Americans’ historic and widely shared commitment to Christianity masks deep divisions: between white Christians and black Christians, between Catholics and Protestants, between northern Protestants and southern Protestants, and between “modernist” Protestants (who view the Bible in metaphorical terms as a source of ethical guidance and emphasize social justice) and “fundamentalist” Protestants (who view the Bible literally and eschew social activism in favor of individual evangelizing). Work, class, and the role of the labor movement add extra dimensions to these complexities, which are multiplied when considering non-Christian traditions such as Judaism or the other world religious communities that have grown in the United States since the immigration reforms of 1965. Nevertheless, scholars accept a general narrative that delineates key periods, themes, and players over the course of the twentieth century. From the turn of the 19th century until the 1930s, the relationship between religion and labor was shaped by the centrality of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in the labor movement, the development of a “social gospel” among northern mainline Protestants, and the massive immigration from southern and eastern Europe that brought millions of Catholic and Jewish workers into the United States before it largely ended in the 1920s. These developments were sometimes in tension. The AFL favored craft unionism and placed a premium on organizing skilled male workers; it therefore left out many of the unskilled new arrivals (as well as African Americans and most women). Consequently, the shape of “religion and labor” formed primarily around the dynamic between the AFL and Protestant social reformers, without much regard to the large masses of unorganized Catholic, Jewish, and African American workers. These dynamics shifted in the Great Depression. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), begun as a committee within the AFL in 1934, sought the organization of entire industries—skilled and unskilled alike, and ethnic Catholics and Jews became unionized in large numbers. Even traditional racial barriers in the labor movement began crumbling in some industries. And, the labor movement expanded its geographical ambition, pushing aggressively into the South. In turn, the religious voices associated with the labor movement broadened and deepened. Labor’s new alliances with Catholics, Jews, African Americans, and southern evangelicals helped to push the ranks of organized workers to historic highs in the 1950s. This coalition has faced divisive, even disastrous headwinds since the 1960s. The strength of anticommunism, especially within religious groups, caused some religious workers to retreat from the reformist ambitions of the labor movement and sparked a conservative religious movement deeply opposed to labor and liberalism. Race became an ever-hotter flashpoint. Although religiously affiliated civil rights reformers often forged alliances with unions, the backlash and resistance to civil rights among portions of the white working class undermined the efficacy of labor unions as sources of social cohesion. Perhaps most profoundly, the economy as a whole transformed from an urban-industrial to a post-urban service model. Organized labor has floundered in the wake of these changes, and the concomitant resurgence of a traditionalist, individualistic, and therapeutic religious culture has offered the remains of the labor movement little to partner with.
The Great Depression of 1929–1941 brought not only economic and social crisis, but also forced families, churches, and religious organizations to reckon with individual and social suffering in ways that they had not done in the United States since the Civil War. This reckoning introduced a period of both theological and institutional transformation. Theologians wrestled not only with the domestic depression, but also with international instability as they faced questions about pacifism, economic and racial justice, and religious persecution. Ordinary people prayed for rain and revival. Many turned to their religious communities to wrestle together with the troubles they faced, or turned from those communities in disappointment and despair. During the decades before the Great Depression, religious institutions across the United States had expanded their charitable efforts and their social reform campaigns, but the Depression wiped out the support for that work just as Americans needed it most. The New Deal brought a new set of questions about the relative roles of church and state in welfare and reform and introduced a period of religious ferment and church–state realignment. At the same time, the discontent and dislocation that the Great Depression wrought on local communities meant that individuals, families, and communities wrestled with deep theological questions together, often in ways that fractured old religious alliances and forged new ones. For American Jews and some Catholics, events in Europe proved even more troubling than those at home, and local communities reorganized around international activism and engagement.
L. Benjamin Rolsky
Few decades in the history of America resonate more with the American people than the 1960s. Freedom, justice, and equality seemed to define the immediate futures of many of America’s historically most ostracized citizens. Despite the nostalgia that tends to characterize past and present analyses of the sixties, this imaginative work is important to consider when narrating the subsequent decade: the 1970s. Such nostalgia in considering the 1960s speaks to a sense of loss, or something worked at but not quite achieved in the eyes of the nation and its inhabitants. What happened to their aspirations? Where did they retreat to? And, perhaps more importantly, to what extent did “the spirit” of the 1960s catalyze its antithesis in the 1970s? In many ways the 1970s was a transitional period for the nation because these years were largely defined by various instances of cultural, or tribal, warfare. These events and their key actors are often under-represented in histories of late-20th-century America, yet they were formative experiences for the nation and their legacy endures in contemporary moments of polarization, division, and contestation. In this sense the 1970s were neither “liberal” nor “conservative,” but instead laid the groundwork for such terms to calcify into the non-negotiable discourse now known simply as the culture wars. The tone of the time was somber for many, and the period may be best understood as having occasioned a kind of “collective nervous breakdown.” For some, the erosion of trust in America’s governing institutions presented an unparalleled opportunity for political and electoral revolution. For others, it was the stuff of nightmares. America had fractured, and it was not clear how the pieces would be put back together.
In the spring of 1982, six faith communities in Arizona and California declared themselves places of safe harbor for the hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans and Guatemalans that had been denied legal proceedings for political asylum in the United States. Alleging that immigration officials had intentionally miscategorized Central Americans as “economic migrants” in order to accelerate their deportation, humanitarian organizations, legal advocates, and religious bodies sought alternatives for aid within their faiths’ scriptural teachings and the juridical parameters offered by international and national human rights and refugee law. Known as the sanctuary movement, this decade-long interfaith mobilization of lay and clerical activists indicted the US detention and deportation system and the country’s foreign policy initiatives in Latin America as morally bankrupt while arguing that human lives, regardless of documentation status, were sacred. In accusing the United States of being a violator of both domestic and international refugee legislation, subsequently exposing hundreds of thousands of people to persecution, torture, and death, the movement tested the idea that the country had always extended welcome to victims of persecution. Along with a broad network of anti-interventionist and humanitarian aid organizations, sanctuary galvanized more than 60,000 participants in 500 faith communities across the nation. By the 1990s, the movement had spurred congressional action in support of Central American asylees and served as the model for a renewed movement for sanctuary in support of undocumented Americans in the 21st century.