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Desmond Tutu is a South African Anglican cleric who is known for his role in the opposition to apartheid in South Africa.
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In 1978 Desmond Tutu was appointed general secretary of the South African Council of Churches and became a leading spokesperson for the rights of black South Africans. During the 1980s he played an unrivaled role in drawing national and international attention to the iniquities of apartheid, and in 1984 he won the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on October 7, 1931 in Klerksdorp, South Africa. His father was an elementary school principal and his mother worked cooking and cleaning at a school for the blind. The South Africa of Tutu's youth was rigidly segregated, with black Africans denied the right to vote and forced to live only in specific areas. Although as a child Tutu understood that he was treated worse than white children based on nothing other than the color of his skin, he resolved to make the best of the situation and still managed a happy childhood.
"We knew, yes, we were deprived," he later recalled. "It wasn't the same thing for white kids, but it was as full a life as you could make it. I mean, we made toys for ourselves with wires, making cars, and you really were exploding with joy!" Tutu recalls one day when he was out walking with his mother when a white man, a priest named Trevor Huddleston, tipped his hat to her—the first time he had ever seen a white man pay this respect to a black woman. The incident made a profound impression on Tutu, teaching him that he need not accept discrimination and that religion could be a powerful tool for advocating racial equality.
Tutu was a bright and curious child with a passion for reading. He especially loved reading comic strips as well as Aesop's Fables and the plays of Shakespeare. His family moved to the capital city of Johannesburg when he was 12 years old, and it was around that time that Tutu contracted tuberculosis and nearly died. The experience inspired his ambition to become a medical doctor and find a cure for the disease. Tutu attended Johannesburg Bantu High School, a grossly underfunded all-black school where he nevertheless received an excellent education. "The people who taught us were very dedicated and they inspired you to want to emulate them and really to become all that you could become," Tutu remembered. "They gave you the impression that, in fact, yeah, the sky is the limit. You can, even with all of the obstacles that are placed in your way; you can reach out to the stars."
Tutu graduated from high school in 1950, and although he had been accepted into medical school, his family could not afford the expensive tuition. Instead he accepted a scholarship to study education at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and graduated with his teacher's certificate in 1953. He then continued on to receive a bachelor's degree from the University of South Africa in 1954. Upon his graduation from university, Tutu returned to his high school alma mater to teach English and history. "I tried to be what my teachers had been to me to these kids," he said, "seeking to instill in them a pride, a pride in themselves.
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