The city of Berkeley had already taken action against the South African government, so a few students thought it was time for their university to follow. They did and so did other universities.
The year was 1985. California Assm. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was the leader of the student divestment committee.
"It was student leaders like myself, community leaders, faith based leaders, that did the initiative where city of Berkeley was the first city in the US to divest in 1979 so there was already this activism," she said.
There were daily rallies at Sproul Plaza. Students quickly began camping out until Berkeley police staged a raid and arrested dozens of protesters.
One of the leaders of those demonstrations was student body president Pedro Noguera, now a professor at New York University.
"I think our protest played a role in elevating the issue and generating broad support for the issue," he said.
The movement had gained a lot of media attention and the interest of professors, celebrities and lawmakers.
Then speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown was invited to address the crowd and help convince the UC regents to vote to withdraw the university's investments in businesses trading with South Africa. A little over a year after the protests began, the regents voted on a three year plan to divest their holdings in South Africa.
"And actually the first vote was the regents' vote that caused California to become the identifiable capital of the movement to kill apartheid," Brown said.
Former California Gov. George Dukemejian, a Republican, decided it was a good political move to support the divestment. And that's how California led the rest of the nation.