Table of Contents

Resources Needed

Related Topics:
Civil Rights
Civil War

Grade Level: 6th

Author: Sandi Baker

Note: Nathan Smith, TeacherLINK webmaster added this resource link on 3/19/2007: Visit the Academy of Achievement for exclusive interviews and photos of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.


Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born at Klerksdorp, South Africa on October 7, 1931. He was born into a world of great injustice. Klerksdorp is about 120 miles from Johannesburg, the richest city in South Africa. His family, like all other blacks in South Africa had very little money. They lived in a small shack where there was no electricity or sanitation.

All black people had to carry passbooks and special identification. This included even his own father, a respected schoolteacher. The white police would sometimes stop black people on the street and demand to see papers. Even at a young age Desmond was upset by this and saw it as very unfair.

As a child Tutu saw that not all whites were cruel. One day he met Father Trevor Huddleston, a white priest. This man would have a great influence on Desmond's life. When he was fourteen Desmond caught tuberculosis and almost died. He lay in a hospital bed among dying men for two years. Every day Father Huddleston came to talk to him. This inspired Tutu to a lifelong devotion to Christianity.

In 1948 South Africa suffered a terrible disaster. An election was held. White South African citizens were the only ones allowed to vote. They elected the National Party to lead the country. This party was openly racist. They called for apartheid which means literally apart-hood and promised to introduce extreme anti-Black policies. While the rest of the world was making changes after World War II and the Holocaust, the South African white population was going in the opposite direction. The new party wasted no time in enacting new laws that made racial prejudice, segregation, and oppression the central focus of government policy.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the Immorality Act were the first two new laws. This made marriages of mixed race illegal. Then the Population Registration Act came into being. This classified every person in the country into categories of skin color. The categories were white, coloured (the term created for people regarded as neither White nor Black), Asian, or Native (the word Whites used for black people.). It became further complicated by coloureds being classified into seven sub-categories. All African Native Tribes were divided into eight categories by language. Whites were placed in only one category no matter where they came from.

In 1955 at the age of 24 Desmond Tutu wrote to the Prime Minister about what he could only call a diabolical policy. AHere in South Africa we tend to think that legal and morally right mean the same thing. During the first four years of the Act many heartaches took place as families were literally split apart by the government This was a transition time for Tutu who became more involved politically. Before this time he did not act upon his feelings.

During this time Desmond and Leah Tutu were married. Tutu was one of only a few blacks who were allowed to enter the University. He wanted to become a doctor. There was no money and so he became a teacher like his father.

In 1955, the South African government introduced the Bantu Education Act. This was one of the most unjust laws ever enacted. Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, one of the most sinister apartheid leaders, presented the idea to stop black children from learning such things as science and math. Blacks were to have deliberately inferior education. He wanted no more smart, well-educated black people in South Africa. The only job he thought blacks were suited for was that of a servant to Whites.

Desmond became committed to black education. He turned to faith to solve his problems. He decided to become a minister and joined a theological college. During this time many peaceful demonstrations were staged against these terrible oppressions. This later became a model for the protests in the United States and Dr. Martin Luther King. Many whites and coloureds also protested the laws.

The peaceful demonstrations turned into bloody massacres and many people of all races were arrested. On March 21, 1960, five thousand peaceful demonstrators gathered outside the police station in Sharpville. Without warning the police began firing on the crowd killing sixty-nine men and women. The world was shocked but nothing changed in South Africa. Desmond left South Africa to study theology in London at King's College and to work as an assistant curate. While in London he found a new world of respect for all people of every color.

While he was away, South Africa became a police state. Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, apartheid's sinister leader, had become Prime Minister. The year was 1968. Even harsher apartheid restrictions were put into place. Blacks were arrested if they used white's only facilities such as toilets, drinking fountains, beaches, or sports fields. Blacks had to have special permission to be out of their designated areas. They were put in prison for any violations.

In 1968 a dreadful tragedy took place. A peaceful demonstration was staged by black students. A warning was given that if it was not broken up by 2:00 P.M. the students would face expulsion. The police arrived at 2:00 and began a brutal attack. They tore into the crowd of students with armored cars, dogs, and tear gas. At gunpoint the students were forced to collect their belongings and leave. This was a terrible thing because an education was such a rare opportunity. This was a land where just gaining the opportunity to get a university education meant long years of sacrifice for all black students, this was a horrible punishment.

After being a lecturer in Alice for two years, Tutu moved to Lesotho and began lecturing in Lesotho and Swaziland. The year was 1971. He was very well known by now in the Anglican Church. He had a chance to visit other impoverished countries. He gained a great deal of understanding and empathy for humankind all over the world. This proved to be invaluable in later years.

In 1975 Tutu was elected the Dean of Johannesburg. Being in a very public position, every speech he made was heard and quoted all over the world. It was during this time he wrote a very poignant letter to the Prime Minister. He wrote of reconciliation and racial oppression. He warned that without justice and freedom for blacks , all South Africans, both Black and White faced a terrible and bloody future. He said that black people could take only so much and no more, and that people made desperate by despair, injustice, and oppression will use desperate means. Vorster virtually ignored the letter. He refused to answer Tutu's arguments and wrote back accusing him of trying to make propaganda. Tutu's prophecy came true sooner than expected.

By 1979 Tutu called for sanctions against South Africa. He was accused of being a traitor but he always defended himself saying it was the only way to protest non-violently. He had become a popular world figure and thus was viewed by the South African government as dangerous. By now any protester was beaten, arrested, or even shot.

On October 15, 1984 Desmond Tutu was told he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was given as a sign of support for all individuals and groups in South Africa who, with their concerns for human dignity, fraternity, and democracy, incited the admiration of the world. This was a time of great celebration. While the world rejoiced the South African government did not acknowledge anything. Before the awards ceremony it was announced that Tutu had been elected Archbishop of Johannesburg. Half way through the awards ceremony a bomb scare was announced. The participants went outside while the building was searched. During this time the crowd began singing We Shall Overcome led by Tutu. No bomb was found. In his acceptance speech he called for peace, love and brotherhood of all people. This had become his theme. He had become a powerful leader and his voice could be heard far and wide. This angered the South African government even more. A new plan was put forward by Prime Minister Botha. So called Coloureds and Indians would have the right to vote but not Blacks. The government claimed that Blacks were not even citizens in their own land. Much protest and violence erupted.

Desmond Tutu was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in April of 1986, the highest position in the South African Anglican Church. The enthronement was even more glorious than the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. Whites and blacks attended. Many international dignitaries were invited but the South African government would not allow all those who were invited to enter the country. Tutu believes, They will be free. He is convinced this will happen someday. Tutu continues to speak for human rights of all mankind.

Desmond Tutu is a man of great faith, integrity and honor. He stands for truth and right. He is truly a champion of all humankind.



Billings, Henry and Stone, Melissa (1991). Great Challenges. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn.

Pollard, Michael (1992). Pioneers in History, People Who Care. Ada, OK: Garrett Educational Corporation.

Winner, David (1989). People Who Have Helped the World: Desmond Tutu. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing.


Students will be able to understand what racial equality and inequality are.

Students will be able to understand the contributions made by Desmond Tutu and the history surrounding his life and times. Students will understand the meaning of apartheid.

Students will be able to understand what happened in the United States when Civil Rights came to the forefront and compare events that happened in South Africa. They will be able to identify similarities and differences.

Students will have a better understanding of what it is like to be part of a mistreated minority like Desmond Tutu was.

Students will be able to relate and compare some of the events that happened in the United States and in South Africa concerning the mistreatment of blacks.

Students will be able to identify ways they can treat others with respect and human dignity, even if they are different in some way.

Students will understand what the Nobel Peace Prize is and why Desmond Tutu was awarded it.

Time Allotment: Approximately five class periods.

Resources Needed:

Map of South Africa

The Story of Ruby Bridges

Learning Journals

Time Line


Guided Discussion: The teacher will read The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. We will then discuss the injustice and racial discrimination in the United States. We will focus on the situation surrounding Ruby going to school in an all white area. We will also discuss Ruby's reaction to the treatment she received. We will be talking about strength of character. This will then lead into our unit on a man who had great strengths in his character, Desmond Tutu.

Mini-lecture: The teacher will give a historical background about Desmond Tutu and include events that were happening, in South Africa, during significant times in Tutu's life. The map will be presented and important places identified. A time line will be put up. (See Appendix) The time line will serve as a guide for studying different topics such as injustice (the laws), segregation (blacks only, whites only facilities), discrimination (inferior education for blacks). We will then discuss what apartheid is.

Interview: Have the students go home and interview someone who was either an adult or a teenager in the sixties. What were they doing? How did they feel about Civil Rights activities at that time? Have the class formulate a standard question form together so that the data could be compiled and compared.

Role Play: Assign one student to play the part of a black South African, one to play the role of a white South African, and one to play the part of Desmond Tutu. The rest of the class will be asking questions of these three as if they were a discussion panel. Before starting the questioning, discuss with the class some possible questions that would be appropriate. Ask them to come up with questions they would like answered and pretend that these three students are the actual people. Instruct the three actors to respond thoughtfully to the questions. Possible questions would be : What is it like living in South Africa? How do you feel about discrimination? What do you do to survive (black person)?

Think-Pair-Share: The class will be divided into groups of two. Each group will discuss what they see as problems of injustice, inequality, or discrimination in our society. They will then compare these with South Africa. They will write down their ideas and then the whole class will discuss what each group has come up with.

Brainstorming: Have the class divide into groups of five students. Give each group a scenario to brainstorm. The scenarios would be such things as (You are living in South Africa. You are a white person who wants to see equality for all men. What would you do to help that to happen?) (You are a black child who is being bussed to an all white school. What will it be like and what are you going to do?) After brainstorming for ten minutes, meet back as a class and discuss what each group came up with. We will then discuss how humans should be treated and identify ways that we can treat others better. Begin by discussing the way the class can treat each other better. Have them identify what Desmond Tutu did to promote respect and dignity for all human kind.

Creative Writing: Discuss with the class what a Nobel Peace Prize is. Give them some examples of people who have won the award. Explain that Desmond Tutu won this award. Relate the events surrounding the awards ceremony and what issues he addressed in his acceptance speech. Have the students pretend to have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Have them write an acceptance speech. Each speech should include ways we can make a better world for all of us. Encourage them to use ideas from what we have discussed. After they have completed the writing, have them get into groups of four and present their speeches to their group.

Learning Journal: Each student will write several entries in a learning journal as the unit progresses. They should note the activities, what they learned, and what feelings they had. Included in this will be a two page summary of what was taught. This should also include a brief description of what apartheid is.


Guided Discussion: This will be assessed informally.

Mini-lecture: The students will be assessed informally during the discussion.

Interview: Assessed on whether they did the assignment or not. It will be assessed objectively as each persons responses will be different.

Role Play: Assessed on legitimacy of questions and answers.

Think-Pair-Share: Assessment will be done on the comments written by each pair that will be turned in. How thoughtful were they. Were the comments relevant.

Brainstorming: This will be a group participation grade (Peer Evaluation)

Creative Writing: This will be assessed on how much thought went into the assignment, correct grammar, and spelling.

Learning Journal: This will be assessed as a term culmination paper. I will be looking for things such as correct definitions, important history, and the contributions Desmond Tutu made. I will also want to see if they have learned anything that would be of value in their lives, in making them better people. This will assess what they have actually learned.