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From Apartheid South Africa to Hunter: Professor Larry Shore’s Long Voyage

Larry Shore
Professor Larry Shore at a film screening with Dr. Albertinah Luthuli MP, Chief Luthuli's daughter, and her daughter Dr. Zandile Matschaba.
In June 1966, Robert F. Kennedy, then the junior senator from New York, made a remarkable journey to South Africa during the darkest days of Apartheid. An early highlight of the trip was a speech he delivered at the University of Cape Town that became known as the "Day of Affirmation" Address.  

One of the South Africans who read avidly about the visit in the local newspapers was 14-year-old Larry Shore, and the excitement of seeing Kennedy challenge his nation's harsh system of racial oppression would leave a lasting impression. It proved, in fact, to be a milestone in the long voyage that would eventually bring Shore to Hunter College where he is now a professor in the Department of Film & Media Studies.

Even as a teenager, Shore was an active opponent of Apartheid. As a white, he especially hated the unfair privileges his skin color gave him. He was also an admirer of the United States - as an undergraduate at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg he studied American government - and so in 1973 he left South Africa for the U.S. He continued his studies here, earning a PhD in Communications from Stanford, and became a U.S. citizen.

Today, happily settled in his work at Hunter - a place he loves for its diversity and stimulating atmosphere - and with a home and family in Connecticut, he proudly calls himself a South African-American. "There are Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans and Haitian-Americans," he explains. "So I am a South African-American."

His admiration for his adopted country is firmly rooted. The year he arrived was the year that the Watergate scandal erupted, and so he was quickly steeped in one of the greatest traumas in U.S. political history. But far from being repelled, he regarded the episode as a ringing affirmation of the American system. "I saw how democracy works," he says now. "America places limits on the power of government, and those who had abused the limits were held to account."

But throughout the many changes in his life, the memory of Robert Kennedy's time in South Africa never left Shore.  He was surprised at how few Americans knew about the trip, which had received little media coverage in the U.S. He saw, too, that there were many links that were not fully appreciated between the American civil rights movement and the struggle against apartheid. And so he set out to document the trip. He found a keen and capable partner in his colleague in the Film & Media Studies Department, filmmaker and professor Tami Gold who co-directed the film. The result, after two visits to South Africa to collect archival footage and conduct numerous interviews, is a stirring documentary called RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope. The phrase "ripple of hope" is taken from the Day of Affirmation speech.

The documentary has been widely praised and widely shown, including an airing on PBS in August. After Kennedy's widow Ethel attended a viewing, she wrote Shore a moving letter in which she called the film "amazing" and said, "You inspire new generations with the story of that historic visit."

One showing in particular had a special meaning for Shore. In April, a crowd of 700 gathered in the Great Hall of his alma mater in Johannesburg, the University of the Witwatersrand, to view the documentary. A number of people in the audience were also there in person to hear Kennedy speak in 1966, and they were deeply moved by the memories the film rekindled.

Shore's plans for the documentary are far from over. He has recently signed an with an educational distributor to distribute it to colleges and high schools across the nation and he has plans for other screenings and international distribution. Please visit the website for more information about the film and the visit.

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