The massive victory by an overwhelming majority of 78 Votes to 9 at the FIFA Congress in Montreal on 16 July 1976 to expel Apartheid South Africa from it ranks – despite the efforts of Sir Harold Thompson of England who alone spoke against the resolution – took the world by surprise.
Progressive people all over the world were inspired, and similar resolutions were almost immediately rushed through academic and progressive organizations, even some conservative organizations. But again the world was surprised, nobody expected what was about to happen next, except Leon H. Sullivan who
devised what became known world -wide as the Sullivan Principles.
Sullivan, a native of West Virginia coal-mining country, came to Philadelphia in 1950 to pastor Zion Baptist Church on North Broad Street by way of a stop in Harlem, where he
served as assistant minister to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (1908-72) at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Sullivan believed that Christian ministry needed to be geared to action and described himself as preaching a “pragmatic gospel.”
Sullivan had honed his economic activism through what he called the “selective patronage” campaign, begun in 1958. Dissatisfied with the economic opportunities open to minorities and women, he helped to organize a coalition of 400 black ministers across Philadelphia to address discrimination in employment. If companies declined appeals from the coalition to hire blacks into professional and managerial positions, the ministers would urge their congregants to withhold their patronage. “Don’t buy where you can’t work,” they advised. This flexing of consumer muscle by Philadelphia’s black population yielded impressive results in terms of access to employment and confirmed the tactical power of coordinated economic resistance.
The campaign’s success also won Sullivan national attention. Life magazine included him in its list of the country’s 100 leading citizens in 1963, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68), called on him to help develop “Operation Breadbasket,” later headed by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson (b. 1941). This exposure also contributed to Sullivan’s appointment in 1971 to the board of General Motors as the first black director of a major U.S. corporation.
Sullivan voiced his opposition to General Motors’ involvement in South Africa beginning with his first shareholder meeting, taking the highly unusual step of speaking in opposition to a majority position of the board.
“To a great measure, the system of apartheid is being underwritten by
American industry, interests, and investments,” Sullivan said.
His commitment to the anti-apartheid cause intensified during a 1975 trip to South Africa, where he saw some of apartheid’s evil effects up close. He wrote that the inspiration for the principles was born out of suggestions by African leaders he met with on that trip.
“Why doesn’t someone do something about apartheid?” Sullivan described himself as asking. “I prayed to God. God spoke back to me and said, ‘You do something about it’.” FIFA delegates in Montreal on 16 July 1976 by expelling apartheid SA was showing the world that Football could be a game changer.
On April 1, 1977, the Principles of Equal Rights, which became known around the world as the Sullivan Principles, were publicly announced with twelve signatories: 3M, American Cyanamid, Burroughs, Caltex (Chevron Oil), Citibank, Ford, General Motors, IBM, International Harvester, Mobil, Otis Elevator, and Union Carbide. By 1987, 125 companies from around the world had subscribed. The Sullivan Principles were enshrined in the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, legislation authored by Congressmen William H. Gray (1941-2013) of Pennsylvania and Stephen J. Solarz (1940-2010) of New York and passed with a congressional override of a veto by President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004). The legislation prohibited U.S. companies from engaging in segregationist practices anywhere in the world.
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