Blackburn, Molly (c. 1931–1985)

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Blackburn, Molly (c. 1931–1985)

South African civil-rights activist. Born around 1931; died in an automobile accident on December 28, 1985, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

One of South Africa's leading white anti-apartheid advocates, Molly Blackburn became a social and political activist in 1960 when she joined the Black Sash, a women's civil-rights group that provided legal and economic aid to blacks and their organizations. A member of South Africa's official opposition party, the Progressive Federals, she joined the Cape Provincial Council in 1975. Blackburn was instrumental in arranging medical and legal assistance for the victims of South Africa's violent unrest, and through the years was arrested on a number of occasions for attending illegal gatherings or entering black townships without the necessary permit. She was one of the first whites arrested after President Pieter W. Botha's crackdown of dissidents in July 1985, which gave the country's security forces unlimited powers to search, seize, and arrest. Blackburn was arrested while attending a memorial service for Matthew Goniwe, a black civic leader and active member of the anti-apartheid movement. Of 15,000 mourners, she was the only one arrested and charged with attending an illegal meeting.

Calling the arrest "pure harassment," Blackburn was taken into custody shortly before she was supposed to meet with officials of a Ford Foundation fact-finding committee that included former United States Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. She was later released on $50,000 bond.

On December 28, 1985, Molly Blackburn died in an automobile accident near her home, Port Elizabeth. Brian Bishop, a civil-rights attorney riding with her, was also killed when their car collided head-on with another vehicle as they were returning from the black township of Humansdorp, where they had been interviewing blacks arrested by security police. At her funeral, she was eulogized by Reverend Allan Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, who praised her continuing efforts in opposing white domination of South Africa. "There are precious few white people in the country who have been able to do what Molly Blackburn has done…. [She] brings us together and anticipates what this country can and should be. She was a true daughter of Africa."

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts