Black History Spotlight for Sept. 7: Desmond Tutu

Born in the South African state of Transvaal, Desmond Tutu moved to Johannesburg when he was 12. Wanting to become a physician, Tutu trained as a teacher instead and graduated from the University of South Africain 1954. When his teaching years were up, Tutu was determined to do something to improve his life and others, so he became a priest in the Anglican Church in 1960. In England, Tutu earned his master’s degree in theology.

In 1975 Tutu became the first black African to serve as Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral inJohannesburg. Bishop Tutu was able to denounce the apartheid system in place as “evil and unchristian”. A seeker of equal rights, Tutu also sought a system of common education.

In 1984, Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. On September 7, 1986 Desmond Tutu was enthroned as Archbishop of Cape Town, and was the first black archbishop of the South African Anglican church. In 1994, President Mandela appointed Archbishop Tutu to chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. When he retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, he was named Archbishop Emeritus.

In 2007, Desmond Tutu joined former South African President Mandela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, retired U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan, and former Irish President Mary Robinson to form The Elders, a private initiative mobilizing the experience of senior world leaders outside of the conventional diplomatic process. Tutu was named to chair the group. In 2009, President Barack Obama named him to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom- watch here.

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