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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mike Murase Interview II
Narrator: Mike Murase
Interviewer: Karen Umemoto
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: January 15, 2023
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-526-3

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KU: I'm not going to go in chronological order, but I think this is a good segue to your involvement in the Free South Africa Movement. Can you tell me when that took place, how that came up, and how that related both temporally and politically to your involvement in the Jesse Jackson campaign as well? Because yeah, I know that there was some interrelationships.

MM: Okay. So in the 1960s and early '70s, or maybe throughout the '70s, I think most activists of color had sort of returned to their own communities and doing a lot of work within those communities. And in my case was Little Tokyo, but in other cases it was Chinatown or going back to communities that people grew up in, whether it's East L.A., South Central, or other places. And so we didn't have that much interaction. But in the 1980s, when Reverend Jesse Jackson decided to run for president, I think within the Black community there were a lot of, they were not all unified either. But one thing that I noticed was that a number of mainstream Black, for example, ministers and other community leaders, they were getting behind this effort to support Jesse Jackson. And even though I was not that interested in any electoral politics at that time, and I was kind of disdainful, I didn't feel like electoral politics could kind of achieve the kind of changes that I was hoping for. But in seeing Jesse and seeing how the Black community, particularly the masses of Black people on the street, they really rallied around him and his agenda, which was a very progressive agenda that pushed the whole presidential debate to the left. Without his involvement in the campaign, I think it would have been sort of the status quo. It was Democrats and Republicans, but it was kind of Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum kind of situation. So anyway, myself and a number of other people who I worked with at the time decided that we should be supporting Jesse. Not only because it was not just a symbolic thing, but it was really important to have a Black leader be seen as a leader of all people, and particularly one with a good progressive agenda. So a number of us decided to get involved in the 1984 Jesse Jackson campaign. In my case, I stayed involved and I went on to the second run that he had in 1988, which I can talk about later. But it was during that time that I sort of reconnected with and met a lot of new Black people from the communities that I grew up in. And they were mainstream Black Democrats, they were more progressive and revolutionary-minded Black activists who all took up the Jesse Jackson campaign. Because I think what he was able to contribute was a different perspective from what you see from the mainstream politicians. And different possibilities, different dreams, and I think that's what motivated people to support the agenda. To have those kinds of things, having issues about Asian Americans being talked about on national TV for the first time. And I don't want to kind of deviate too much, but, for example, the Vincent Chin case. I mean, Jesse Jackson was the only presidential candidate who met with the mother, who met with the community in the wake of Vincent Chin being murdered by these white auto workers. And that was, I think, around 1983.

So all of this was going on, and in the process, I'm meeting people and really learning a lot from them about their experiences and what it's like. And in that process, I was introduced to a struggle in South Africa that was going on for, ever since the colonizers took over. But particularly beginning in the early 1950s and then into the '60s and '70s. That was during the time that I was growing up, but I was not aware of what the meaning of the South African struggle was. After the Jackson campaign, or in between, I met people who were taking up the issue of South Africa. And at that time, it was still under the apartheid regime, which meant that the Dutch Africans controlled the economy, controlled the political system, and the police system of South Africa. And so there was really a grassroots freedom struggle going on in South Africa that I had no idea was going on until the '80s. But when I learned about it, I was really interested and wanted to... one of the things that they were trying to do is build up international support. Because in the South African struggle with the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela. What they had figured out was that they had to have fighters both inside South Africa, but to be in a liberation movement in South Africa was illegal, so they had to be underground. In some cases they had to work from outside the country, so got a chance to meet with some of the South Africans that were in Los Angeles waging the struggle. So the concept of international support really made sense to me and I wanted to do what I could do to lend that support to dismantle and end apartheid.

And so I was able to meet, and we organized a group called the Los Angeles Free South African Movement. Free South African Movement, FSAM as an idea, sort of like Black Lives Matter, there's a sort of conceptual thing and sometimes an organizational thing but not always the same. But there was a movement around it, and so we organized boycotts against Shell, who had a big stake in South Africa. We organized against gold dealers and people who were really ravaging the resources of Africa, corporations. So we found a lot of things that we could do to be active in Los Angeles and support the struggle to end apartheid. So I think that's kind of how I got involved in it and I stayed with it for a while and eventually I was one of the coordinators of the Los Angeles Free South African Movement. And we tried to build from the Black base into a multiracial group that could have impact city-wide, and I remember going to, like, Beverly Hills City Council to demand that they divest their funds from South Africa and we did that from city to city and statewide and things. And we had good political leadership. And not only Jesse Jackson nationally, but Maxine Waters, who was a state assemblyperson at the time but now a longstanding congressperson who provided leadership on a national level and the state level, but we were sort of the grassroots activists. So we helped each other in terms of influence and building up the human resources.

KU: How would you summarize the most important accomplishments of the L.A. chapter of FSAM during that time?

MM: I think, I would say, taken as a whole, all the little activities that we did, sometimes we had twenty-five people in a demonstration, other times we got four thousand people. But keeping, not letting people forget about South Africa is what we were trying to do. And I think the international support movement overall that existed in many countries, I think we were part of that so I think we could take credit for providing support to the struggle of ANC and the South African people. And in fact, I had a chance to go to Durban, South Africa, to attend the conference of the African National Congress. The ANC was the primary or the largest liberation organization that existed at the time. And so when I got a chance to go there, and by chance I met Mandela in person. And what I remember is that I was introduced to him as one of the people that provided international support. And so he thanks me for being in the struggle. It's like I'm thinking Mandela is thanking us. We should be thanking him for the leadership and the sacrifices he made. And it was a very profound and a once in a lifetime experience for me. So I think the L.A. chapter did a lot in concert with others to popularize the idea of ending apartheid.

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