The Centre began shortly after Alan Paton's death in 1988, when his widow, Mrs Anne Paton, donated the contents of his study to the former University of Natal. His study has been recreated at the APC, and contains most of his books, journals, awards and memorabilia. Core donations of manuscripts were made, including Alan Paton's papers, his poetry and short story manuscripts and his correspondence. Alan Paton is most famous as the author of the world-renowned novel, Cry, the beloved Country, written in 1946. Paton was torn between being an author and a politician. He was a founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) in 1953.
The struggle against apartheid in South Africa took place from 1948, when the National Government came into power, until the early 1990s, when Nelson Mandela was freed, and power was gradually transferred to the African National Congress (ANC). Over this period, many organisations and individuals were involved in the struggle against apartheid. the papers and archives of many of those individuals and organisations who were based in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands have been collected at the Alan Paton Centre(APC) as a record of the struggle years in the region.