Ambassador Says Sit-ins Inspired South Africans
Sunday, February 11, 1996
By LORRAINE AHEARN, Staff Writer
The sit-in movement born in Greensboro 36 years ago later served as a model for the black struggle for freedom in South Africa, that country's U.S. ambassador said in a visit here Saturday night.
Ambassador Franklin Sonn attended the yearly black-tie benefit for the museum project at the Elm Street Woolworth, site of the 1960 protest. Sonn accepted an award on behalf of President Nelson Mandela, six years to the day after Mandela was released from prison.
Sonn, a Capetown native and educator who was prominent in the ANC, said that during the bleak years of oppression in his homeland, the U.S. civil rights movement was a beacon.
"Our level of awareness was raised almost to the same pitch but was crushed," Sonn said in an interview, recalling the apartheid government's banning of the writings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and news about the civil rights struggle.
"The information we got was part of the underground, and we lived through the experiences of the (U.S.) civil rights movement. When the time came, we took over the same methods as the sit-ins and civil disobedience."
Sonn, flown in on a private jet by Jefferson-Pilot, met with local and state business leaders before the banquet to discuss investments in South Africa. Drawing another parallel to the African-American experience, he said that equal rights was only a first step in correcting social and economic inequities.
"The day of our liberation was the first day," he said. "People can vote now, but we still can't find jobs."
Others who were to be honored Saturday night were sit-in participants Lewis Brandon and Frances Lewis, local civil rights leader John Erwin, and retired Greensboro Record reporter Jo Spivey, who covered the story in 1960.