Open the Jail Doors — We Want to Enter

The Defiance Campaign against Apartheid Laws, South Africa, 1952

From the Series Civil Rights Struggles around the World

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 9

“The Defiance Campaign marked a new chapter in the struggle…going to prison became a badge of honor among Africans.”―Nelson Mandela, 1952

On June 26, 1952, twenty-five men and five women entered the waiting room of a railway station in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. If they had been white people of European descent, they would have gone unnoticed. But they were black South Africans who were violating the waiting room’s “Europeans Only” sign as part of the Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws. Instituted by the African National Congress (ANC), the campaign aimed to peacefully defy a series of laws known as apartheid―a system of legal racial segregation.

Across the country, similar protests took place and more than 250 resisters went to jail that day. The ANC’s strategy was to fill the jails to overflowing and cause the police and judicial branches of government to break down. In July fifteen hundred men and women took part in the campaign; in August more than two thousand went to jail.

The Defiance Campaign eventually triumphed, but not before the tragedy of bloodshed, violence, and death among three generations of South Africans. In this riveting story of the long struggle against apartheid, we’ll explore the reasons why thousands were willing to die in the fight for civil rights. And we’ll witness how their courageous efforts led to the day in 1994 when Nelson Mandela stood before thousands of free South Africans as the nation’s first black president.

Format Your Price Add
Interest Level Grade 6 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 9
Genre Nonfiction, Social Studies, Young Adult
Category Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diverse Books: Social Justice, Diversity
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Twenty-First Century Books ™
Language English
Publication Date 2010-08-01
BISACS YAN025030, YAN038020
Dewey 323.168
Graphics 1-color illustrations, Full-color illustrations
Lexile 1150
Features Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Photo captions, Reviewed, Sidebars, Source notes, and Timeline


  • Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Young Adult Top Forty, Winner, 2011


The Horn Book Guide

“These series entries address three struggles in the worldwide history of civil rights. Strong texts provide readers with essential background information on such topics as the ILGWU, apartheid, and Chinese government oppression; the activist movements’ beginnings, confrontations, results, and significance within their nations’ histories are then discussed. Many dynamic photographs illustrate the information-rich (if dense) volumes.” —The Horn Book Guide

Library Media Connection

“Presenting an in-depth view of groundbreaking events and movements in world history, these volumes are loaded with archival quality photos, quotes from key players, and eyewitness accounts. details historical background information is provided so that students understand the context of each topic and its implications on future events as well.” —Library Media Connection


“These titles are notable for the level of care in both their content and production.” —VOYA

School Library Journal, Series Made Simple

“These volumes are a treasure trove of information about the fight for civil rights across time and the globe. . . . The cruelty with which humans can treat one another is unflinchingly presented but the extraordinary grace exhibited in the face of it rises to the top.” —School Library Journal, Series Made Simple

Author: Stuart A. Kallen

Stuart A. Kallen has written more than 350 nonfiction books for children and young adults. His books have covered a wide arc of human history, culture, and science. Kallen is also an accomplished singer-songwriter and guitarist in San Diego, California.