In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we remember Archbishop Desmond Tutu who died at 90 years of age on December 26, 2021. Like King, Tutu was an honored civil rights activist, working for the liberation of his black community, as well as a man who worked for human rights world-wide. Like King, Tutu was a writer and theologian who stressed the principle of non-violence. And as with King, radicals thought Tutu was too moderate while moderates thought he was too radical. In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Prize for Peace – in 1984, twenty years later, Desmond Tutu also won the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Desmond Tutu was born in South Africa in 1931. He was married and had four children. He trained as a teacher, then joined the clergy, studied theology in England and eventually became archbishop in the Anglican church, and the first black man to hold that position in the city of Cape Town.
Tutu never stopped working to bring his principles of justice to reality, nor did he shy away from controversy. He struggled for years to overturn the system of apartheid, and after Black South Africans won their freedom and got their country back, he critiqued corruption in the new government.
Archbishop Tutu then became the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He criticized his own denomination for its stance on women in the clergy as well as homosexuality and worked to relieve the AIDS crisis. Tutu launched a global campaign to end to human trafficking. He honored victims of the holocaust and recognized Israel, but at the same time, he criticized Israel for collusion with apartheid South Africa and for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. He worked for the liberation of Tibet. He protested the war in Iraq. He was against capital punishment and worked to help political prisoners such as the Sharpville Six. These were just some of his passions.
Desmond Tutu was awarded over one hundred honorary degrees and won many prizes for his humanitarian work. He is the author of seven collections of sermons and many books and articles.
Before his death, Archbishop Tutu directed that he should have a non-ostentatious, earth-friendly (“green”) funeral, using the process of aquemation. Thus Desmond Tutu was buried as he lived, according to his principles and a teacher for us all.