Committee of Blacks Against Oppression

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Duration: 1972
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States


The Committee of Blacks Against Oppression was formed by faculty members and students at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when they learned that a ship, the Santos Vega, was on its way to the port of Burnside, Louisiana with 25,000 tons of Rhodesian chrome ore. The Santos Vega arrived in Louisiana in March 1972. This was the first shipment of Rhodesian chrome ore to the United States in six years. The United Nations Security Council had adopted mandatory trade sanctions against Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1966. The U.N. sanctions were adopted in response to Rhodesia's white minority government's Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain rather than following British demands that the colony move toward eventual majority rule. In 1971 the U.S. Congress had passed the Byrd Amendment to the Military Procurement Act of 1971 which allowed the importation of strategic minerals from Rhodesia, including chrome ore, despite the U.N. sanctions. Because dockworkers in New Orleans, members of the International Longshoremen's Union (ILA), refused to unload Rhodesian chrome ore, there was suspicion that the effort might be made at the Burnside port located up the river near Baton Rouge. So the Committee was formed and decided to organize students and faculty to travel to the site on the Mississippi River to protest. The Committee formed an alliance with Local 1830 and Local 1833 of the ILA whose members were largely black. Because the ILA refused to handle the shipment, the unloading was done by members of another union, the Operating Engineers of Baton Rouge. Among those involved in the Committee were Alex Willingham and Shelby Lewis, faculty members at Southern University, and Rickey Hill, a student. Southern University is one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. (Source: Alex Willingham; "Historic Protest in the Deep South, Dockworkers Slow Ore Ship", The Southern Patriot April 1973; "Two Blacks Arrested as Rhodesian Ore Is Unloaded", The New York Times, March 21, 1972; and "Barges With Cargo Of Rhodesian Ore Awaiting Delivery", The New York Times, March 22, 1972)