Desmond Tutu

Tutu was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, South Africa. When he was 17 years old, the South African government began a policy of strict racial segregation called apartheid. Under this system, the country’s 4 million white citizens maintained control over the 23 million non-whites who were denied basic rights. Tutu began his career as a teacher, but quit because he opposed the policy of unequal education for black students. Most of the black children only went to school for three hours a day and were not taught math, science, and other academic subjects because they were expected to become servants for white people.

Tutu studied theology and was ordained as a priest in 1960. In 1976, police opened fire on 10,000 high school students in the Soweto ghetto who were protesting unfair treatment. This tragedy set off a period of protest called the Soweto Uprising, during which the South African government killed more than 500 youth. In response, Tutu led peaceful marches that called for economic sanctions against South Africa. In 1986, Tutu became the first black person to be named Archbishop in the Anglican Church of South Africa.

His calls for divestment and nonviolent protests led to the end of apartheid. On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first open election and Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president. Tutu continues his work for human rights and equality, with his most recent focus on defending gay rights worldwide.