As the nation celebrated the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., students from Howard University ventured to the South African embassy on Jan. 20, 1986, to honor his legacy and protest against apartheid in South Africa. Along with other protestors, they chanted: “Tie up Botha; free Mandela!”
Things got heated as the crowd got bigger. At that instant, Ona Alston and Cherry Cox were arrested for crossing a police line.
“I chose to get arrested, because it’s time for Howard students to take a stand,” Alston said in a 1986 article in The Hilltop, Howard’s campus newspaper. “I didn’t get arrested as HUSA programs director; I got arrested as an individual.”
Eyewitnesses said they saw police drag Alston on the ground while attempting to arrest her. Cox added that her reason for crossing the police barricades was to tell the police to stop handling Alston so violently.