When a friend asked William Moore, a deacon at First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church and a retired Bureau of Engraving employe, to drive demonstrators to the South African Embassy every day, he didn't hesitate to say yes.
"From the things I hear and the pictures I see, I see that what is happening in South Africa is real wrong. Something should be done," said Moore.
Before last November Moore, 65, hadn't called himself an activist, although he had participated during the 1960s in the civil rights marches on Washington. Now, he observed, "those demonstrations in all kinds of weather are waking the consciousness of a lot of people."
Moore, whose participation is essential to the operation of the antiapartheid protests, joined a handful of now-familiar faces -- among the most diligent picketers at the embassy -- to receive the salutes Saturday night of TransAfrica, the Washington lobby that has spearheaded the demonstrations.
Among the volunteers cited at the group's eighth annual dinner were Jake Wells, Mark and Cecilia Sharp, Bob Ngoma, Mario Schowers, Wayne King, Conwell Jones, several organizers outside Washington and several lawyers who provide legal services to those arrested at the embassy. The group also honored historian C.L.R. James with its Africa Freedom Award.
This year the TransAfrica dinner retained its traditional atmosphere of business-first with discussions of such issues as ridding South Africa of apartheid, gaining freedom for neighboring Namibia and influencing U.S. policy in the rest of Africa and the Caribbean.
But this year the ballroom at the Washington Hilton also had an air of celebration. More than 2,200 people have been arrested at the South African Embassy since November, and when TransAfrica Executive Director Randall Robinson called for the guests to stand if they had demonstrated, half of the 1,300 guests stood.
States, cities and universities have been calling for divestment in companies doing business in South Africa, and legislation is pending in Congress that would ban all new business investment and bank loans in South Africa as well as the sale in this country of Krugerrands, South African gold pieces. To wild applause at the dinner, Mayor Marion Barry announced that this week he will propose renaming the portion of Massachusetts Avenue in front of the embassy for Nelson Mandela, the political leader who has been imprisoned for 23 years, and his wife Winnie.
Though political victories were cited, many in the audience were discussing the personal impact of the demonstrations. "White collar, blue collar and no collar" had been attracted to the movement, said Robinson. They "are all involved in developing an American consensus . . . We have done one damn good hell of a job. We are nothing if not relentless," he said. "The supply of those who would do it is inexhaustible."
For some, picketing has given new direction.
"I have only missed about seven days and I feel badly when I miss because I am devoting my time to fighting racism," said Jake Wells, 72, a former director of the National Junior Tennis League.
"I was born black and I didn't grow my hair to identify myself before. Now I am working for my peace of mind."
For some like William Lucy, a labor leader, and John Payton, an attorney, the response to the demonstrations has restored their faith in people. "It has removed some of my cyncism and rekindled some optimism. I have an new kind of enthusiasm because you know people will respond because there's a rebirth of moral initiatives."
In his keynote address, New Orleans Mayor Ernest Morial outlined an urban agenda for disinvestment of public funds in institutions doing business with South Africa. He noted that the loss of American jobs to cheaper South African labor and American investment in South Africa (which he said was $14 billion in 1983) had attracted some unexpected advocates for antiapartheid measures.
"Ironically," he said, "constructive engagement has even pushed Alabama Gov. George Wallace to support the South African freedom movement because ships now being built in Mobile are using South African steel -- while up the road in Birmingham, steel mills are closing down in the face of this stiff foreign competition."