Jane Ramsey Arrested at the South African Consulate

February 8, 1985
by Ezra Brown

On February 8, 1985, Jane Ramsey, then Executive Director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) in Chicago, was arrested for protesting apartheid in South Africa with three other protestors at the South African consulate in Chicago. This was one of many strong stances taken by JCUA and Ramsey against apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, and also fits into the larger narrative of Ramsey leading JCUA in pursuit of positive societal change.

JCUA was founded in 1964 by Rabbi Robert Marx, a Civil Rights activist in Chicago who also served as the Midwest Director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations at the time. Since its founding, JCUA has been at the forefront of fighting for justice and change, and against racism, antisemitism, and other forms of oppression in Chicago.

Jane Ramsey joined JCUA in 1979 and served as its Executive Director from 1982–2012. In addition to her service at JCUA, Ramsey took a leave of absence to serve as the Director of Community Relations for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington from 1986–1988. During her tenure as Executive Director of JCUA, Ramsey helped to build coalitions and create opportunities for dialogue between various communities. One prominent example of Ramsey’s community-building efforts was the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative, which Ramsey and JCUA leveraged to ease tensions through reaffirming the friendship and shared goals between the two communities during the conflict in Gaza in 2009.

Ramsey and JCUA also led on a variety of social justice issues. Ramsey is a long-time advocate for immigration reform and has also worked to fight discrimination against minorities. In particular, JCUA has taken stands for immigrant and workers’ rights, police and justice system accountability, and has stood against the gentrification of Chicago neighborhoods. Critically, JCUA works with many different communities to build bridges, yet JCUA never shows up to a community uninvited. This allows for organic conversations started and facilitated by those who want to make a difference in their communities.

Following the 2010 death of Damien Turner, who died in an ambulance en route to a hospital over ten miles away, JCUA advocated for the opening of a level-1 trauma center at the University of Chicago. In part due to this advocacy, this trauma center opened in 2018. Ramsey also served as Executive Director during JCUA’s creation of their Community Ventures Program, which has provided over $6 million in zero-interest loans for affordable housing and economic development projects in and around Chicago. Since the program began in 1991, 46 projects have been completed in twenty neighborhoods, resulting in over 4,200 units of affordable housing.

Ramsey currently serves as a Lecturer and Field Instructor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. She also is a member of various nonprofit boards in the Chicagoland area, including the Leadership Greater Chicago Fellows Association and the Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago.

This entry was created for This Week in History as part of a course on the history of American Jews and Social Justice taught by Karla Goldman at the University of Michigan, Winter 2021.

Sources: 4 arrested at South African consulate. (1985, February 8). Chicago Tribune; Community ventures program. (2020, December 22). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://jcua.org/our-work/community-development/; Forward 50, 2009. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://forward.com/forward-50-2009/; History of JCUA. (2021, January 08). Retrieved April 07, 2021, from https://jcua.org/about-us/history/; Jane Ramsey, JCUA. (2019, November 11). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://jcua.org/about-us/history/jane-ramsey/; Past campaigns. (2020, November 09). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://jcua.org/our-work/campaigns/past-campaigns/; The pursuit of justice: The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from http://www.zeek.net/politics_05032.shtml; YarKhan, N. (2009, March 14). Chicago Jewish, Muslim Leaders Reaffirm Solidarity, Condemn Hate. Retrieved April 07, 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/chicago-jewish-muslim-lea_b_165872


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Jane Ramsey Getting Arrested. Courtesy of Jane Ramsey.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Jane Ramsey Arrested at the South African Consulate." (Viewed on October 20, 2021) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/08/1985/jane-ramsey-arrested-south-african-consulate>.


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