The Black Sash was founded in 1955 as the Women's Defense of the Constitution League in response to the National Party government's Senate Acts. This Act increased the Senate members from 48 to 89, giving the Nationalists a two-thirds majority in Parliament, enabling them to eliminate entrenched clauses with ease. The League soon became known as the Black Sash in recognition of the black sashes worn by members standing in silent vigil in prominent places, in order to protest lack of justice.
The Black Sash developed into a women's human rights organisation, and ran a network of Advice Offices in the main centres of South Africa. The women running these Advice Offices assisted victims of apartheid legislation and exploitative practices. The Natal Midlands Branch of the Black Sash continues to run an Advice Office, although the original membership organisation closed down in 1995, and the Advice Office became part of a professional NGO, managed by a National Director, and overseen by the Black Sash Trust.
The Alan Paton Centre houses several collections containing Black Sash archives and papers:
PC 4 - Natal Midlands Black Sash Archives (1971-1994), donated by Mary Kleinenberg, includes Pietermaritzburg Advice Office files and the Black Sash Journal, known as Sash from 1969
(1971-1994), donated by Mary Kleinenberg, includes Pietermaritzburg Advice Office files and the Black Sash Journal, known as Sash from 1969.
PC 12 - Natal Midlands Black Sash Papers (1962-1986), donated by Jo Stielau
PC 92- Else Schreiner Papers: correspondence re The Covenant, the men's section of the Black Sash, 1956.
PC 126 - Natal Room Collection: Black Sash Repression Monitoring Group Bulletin.
PC 141 - Mary Kleinenberg Collection: Sash Magazine; booklets, scrapbook and photographs