Historical Highlights

The Comprehensive Apartheid Act

September 29, 1986
The Comprehensive Apartheid Act Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
William (Bill) Gray of Pennsylvania became one of the most powerful African-American Congressmen in House history by chairing the Committee on Budget and serving as Majority Whip.
On this date, a strong bipartisan coalition in the House overrode President Ronald Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Apartheid Act by a vote of 313 to 83. The bill—a compromise between two versions sponsored by William (Bill) Gray of Pennsylvania and Ronald Dellums of California—contained the first substantive economic sanctions to be levied against South Africa for its practice of racial apartheid. The sanctions banned the import of South African products such as steel, iron, uranium, coal, textiles, and agricultural commodities. It prohibited the South African government from holding U.S. bank accounts and withdrew landing rights for South African Airways. A key section of the bill banned all new U.S. loans and investments in that country. The Reagan administration had vetoed the measure in order to impose its own economic restrictions by executive order, though opponents—including 81 Republicans who voted to override—believed the President’s plan did not go far enough. Several days later, on October 2, 1986, the Senate joined the House in overriding the veto and the measure was enacted into law. The Comprehensive Apartheid Act also marked the first congressional override of a presidential veto on a major foreign policy issue since the enactment of the War Powers Resolution in 1973. Representative Gray declared the override to be “a moral and diplomatic wake-up call.” Mickey Leland of Texas, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus which was a prime mover in the anti-apartheid cause, observed, “This is probably the greatest victory we’ve ever experienced. The American people have spoken and will be heard around the world.”

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