Remembering Amy Biehl

Amy Biehl
Then-Stanford student Amy Biehl

Saturday, Aug. 25, marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Stanford graduate AMY BIEHL, who was 26 when she was killed in 1993 in South Africa.

Biehl, an international relations major who graduated in 1989, was the “first American to die in the violence associated with the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy,” according to A Chronology of Stanford University and its Founders, published by the Stanford Historical Society.

At the time of her death, Biehl was on a Fulbright scholarship, studying women’s roles in the creation of a new constitution for the post-apartheid society. She was drawn into the study of African democratic movements while writing her honors thesis on the negotiations for Namibian independence.

Biehl was ambushed and murdered by a group of youths while driving black friends home from a party in her honor in Gugulethu, Cape Town.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who had worked with Biehl at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, remembered her in a church service in Cape Town: “In truth, the way that Amy lived her life just as much as the way that she lost her life gave that life special meaning. She believed that all people have value; that the disadvantaged have special claim on the lives of the more fortunate; and that racial justice and racial harmony were ideals worth fighting for and living for and, if need be, dying for.”

The four men convicted of her murder were released by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In a remarkable act of forgiveness, her family supported their release. Biehl’s parents went on to found the Amy Biehl Foundation to develop and empower youths in the townships and to discourage further violence. The Biehls employed two of the men convicted of her murder at the foundation.

In 2003, former President John Hennessy remembered Biehl in his commencement address and later in a column in Stanford magazine. He wrote, “Amy Biehl’s story exemplifies the Stanford spirit. She demonstrated great personal vision, extraordinary perseverance and remarkable bravery. She embraced life with vitality and love. And she reminds us all that a Stanford education is a precious gift that can be put to work to make the world a better place to live.”

Amy Biehl bookBiehl’s life and legacy are the subject of a recently published book, Amy Biehl’s Last Home: A Bright Life, A Tragic Death and a Journey of Reconciliation in South Africa, written by Stanford graduate STEVEN GISH, who holds both a master’s degree and doctorate in history and was given access to the Biehl family’s papers.

In the book, Gish, who was in a class with Biehl, tells her story, contextualizes her death and discusses the extraordinary magnanimity of her parents in forgiving their daughter’s killers. The book also discusses her time at Stanford and Stanford’s partnership with the Amy Biehl Foundation.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, a gathering featuring Biehl’s mother, Linda, will be held in Gugulethu, on the site where Amy Biehl died.