Ralph Featherstone
(1939 — 1970)

See also Now She Flies: Dr. Charlotte Orange-Featherstone

From Ralph Featherstone's Memorial Service, 1970:

BROTHERS AND SISTERS  —  THE WORLD IS IN AN UPROAR
AND THE DANGER ZONE IS EVERYWHERE.

LOVE

We are here to talk about love. Ralph's love for his people, our love for him, our love for each other.

Ralph's love for us as a people was the basis for the extraordinary way he lived and died. His love for us as individuals — as a family, as SNICK staff, as "the local people", as Charlotte — was his place of comfort when the struggle seemed too long or too hard.

We are here to understand that because we love him and each other, we continue to struggle.

TIME

We are here to talk about time.

For the last 500 years, time for our people has stood still.

Since the invasion of our proud civilizations in Africa, we have, in Ralph's words, "been about the same thing: fighting white enslavement and oppression on the one hand and fighting to maintain our sense of peoplehood on the other."

LIFE

We are here to talk about Ralph Featherstone's life.

We are here to talk the life he lived.

We are here to talk about the life of our people.

We are here to recognize his life .

Wherever he worked — Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Washington, D. C. — he was about building life. He was about encouraging life. He was about breaking the chain — both mental and physical  — that keeps us from living our own life .

STRUGGLE

We are here to talk about struggle.

We must understand, as he understood, that the truth of our lives demands struggle.

Ralph's life was an example of the strength, endurance, and work we must do to be victorious over the slavemaster, who gives up nothing but hard times .

WE MUST BUILD!

WE MUST STRUGGLE !

We must remember Ralph's words:
We must remember Ralph's words: "To look at a watch and know the time of day is to able to read. To look and see what time it is in history — our history — and act accordingly is to be revolutionary."

TRUTH

We are here to talk about the truth.

We are here to talk about the truth he knew.

We are here to talk about the truth of our situation as a people.

He knew several realities of our existence as a people in the United States:

  1. that we have been enslaved for 500 years.
  2. that every point of our lives is controlled and manipulated by white people.
  3. that the American Nation has the power, the will, and the plan to destroy any and all Black people .

NATION

As Edward Blyden stated in the 19th Century and as Ralph Featherstone worked for in the 20th Century:

An African Nationality is our great need.

We should not content ourselves with living among other races simply by their permission or their endurance.

What we need is an African power. Some great center of the race where our physical, spiritual, and intellectual strengths may be collected.

SELF-RELIANCE

We are here to talk about African people relying on themselves.

We must understand the need to:

  1. control the land. As Garvey said, "Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad."
  2. control our minds and consciousness.
  3. control the goods and services necessary for our well-being as a people.
  4. control the instruments of force and violence for the liberation and defense of our people.

CONTINUITY

Even though Ralph has been murdered, the truths that he understood, the life that he lived, the struggle that he engaged in, the love that he had for his people the time and energy that he used in behalf of his people, and the discipline and self-reliance that he encouraged, LIVE.

His truths, life, struggle, love, time, energy, discipline self -reliance are ours to continue.

ENERGY

We are here to talk about the use of our energy.

We are here to understand the need to use our hands and minds for our own needs.

We are here to confirm our belief in the effectiveness of our own efforts.

DISCIPLINE

We are here to talk about the discipline our work requires and the need to resist the corrupting offers of Europe, whether they be $45,000 to open the door of the White House, the directorship of a poverty program, or the position of National Committeeman for the Democratic Party of Washington, D.C.

We must understand as Ralph most certainly did, that no job is too menial, and that, as Mr. Junebug J. Jones said, "Mr. Say ain't nothin. Mr. Do's the Man."

 

As remembered by Chude Allen (Pam Parker)

     See also "Would You Marry One?"

THANK YOU
For Ralph Featherstone (1939-1970)

He will not be there. His wife took his ashes to Africa 24 years ago. He did not want to be buried in this land of oppression; he wanted to return to his ancestors.

I am thinking about him as I return to Mississippi. Thirty years ago we met, both of us freedom school teachers in the Mississippi Summer Project, what everyone now calls Freedom Summer. Over a thousand of us, black and white, though mostly white, converged on Mississippi in support of the local freedom movement's attempts to break the racist stranglehold in the state.

I'm sure I wasn't the only white woman to fall in love with a black man during that summer of 1964. There've been things written about interracial sex, but little about love. I fell in love. Oh, we kissed and held hands, but ours was an innocent romance. The night before he left for the most dangerous part of that violent, racist state, I lay on his cot with him. He held me tight, kissed my face and I wondered if I would ever see him again. I knew he might die.

I could have died too. All of us faced danger. But everyone agreed that southwest Mississippi was the worst. The project house where he was going had already been bombed.

It has been thirty years since that summer romance in the freedom school; thirty years since we sat with other activists in the local black cafe eating our lunch and flirting across the table; thirty years since he held me close and then left to start a freedom school in southwest Mississippi. He did survive the summer, only to be killed six years later by a bomb. He'd only just married.

He wanted me to be the best freedom school teacher I could be. More important than being with him was that I prepare my lessons well. I'd been raised to serve a man. Women in my hometown quit their jobs when they married to serve their mates and raise the children. No man I'd known would have thought a woman's teaching was more important than him.

The racist whites were wrong. It was not black men's sexual prowess they needed to fear. It was rather the idea that men and women working together could change things. It was the dignity of human beings in the face of vicious discrimination, men and women standing up and saying no to state-sanctioned abuse.

In that powerful movement for social change I fell in love and if he were not dead and I saw him at this reunion, I could meet him with my head held high. I have stayed true both to myself and the struggle. There have been pitfalls, confusions and mistakes, but I have stayed true.

How I wish I could look him in the eyes and say thank you. Thank you for believing in me and thank you for never trying to use me. Thank you for the gentle love we shared and for showing me a new type of man who wanted women as partners in the struggle, not servants or playthings. I have carried you in my heart.

 

As remembered by Daphne Muse, October, 2012

Remembering Feather

Some of us called him Feather, others called him Ralph or Featherstone. But whatever we called him, it was always with the highest level of well earned respect. I was in awe of him, his brilliance, passion for liberation and diligence. When it came time to move the bookstore off of 14th Street around the corner to Fairmount Avenue, I dismantled the shelves and every book. Feather walked into a room with books spread wide and piled precariously. He was not pleased with the technique I employed to move the books. But then piles of books turned into hours of "memba' dat time" stories and the mission was accomplished with his help and that of our sister in struggle Juadine Henderson. New shelves, new books and another new chapter in the Drum and Spear story was about to be written.

Feather didn't hold court; he engaged with the community deeply and honorably. He revered Carter G. Woodson as much as he admired Che Guervara. The poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks was one of his heartbeats and his ability to deconstruct the densest Marxist tracts was phenomenal. It took me two tries to complete the reading of Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks. Feather was instrumental in me getting it on the second try.

That way before dawn phone call came from Judy Richardson, telling me of the horror that befell our trusted and devoted comrades, unhinged my soul like no death, no murder, no atrocity had before. This was so up close and personal for he had become my mentor and taught me so much beyond what I thought even existed in the world. I often tell people I earned my PhD in struggle at Drum and Spear under the "esteemed faculty" that included Featherstone, Joe Gross, Judy Richardson, Don Brown, Courtland Cox, Charlie Cobb, Mimi Shaw Hayes, Ann Forrester, Marvin Holloway, Freddie Greene, Juadine Henderson, Tony Gittens and Jennifer Lawson.

The day of his memorial Charlie Cobb, Jennifer Lawson and I held down the fort at Drum and Spear, knowing he would not be pleased if we closed the store. On the South side of the street it snowed and the sun was beaming gloriously across the street to the North. We couldn't quite believe what we were witnessing, but then again we knew it was one of those signs that would reveal itself come somebody's daybreak. The break in our hearts, especially that of his wife Charlotte and his family, simply could not be mended. Serving as a foot soldier in the struggle and learning about real leadership from people like Ralph Featherstone shaped the best parts of my life and have given me some incredible memories to cherish, as I grow into a seasoned elder.

Go well,

Daphne Muse
Founder & Chief Visionary Officer
Grandmothers Going Global
Harnessing our social capital, leadership and creative vision worldwide
510 967-9463

 

As remembered by Mamie Cunningham
February 27, 2013, I lived in West Point, MS when I met Ralph. He was at the Freedom House often on Cockrell Street and I never knew any one like him. He didn't stand out in a crowd, but you knew he was there and he brought a smile to your face when his eyes would meet yours at a meeting. He would always stand at the back of the room with his arms folded across his chest with a serious look on his face leaning against the door. I never saw him angry, or sad, but neither did I see him blissful. He never was restless, edgy, or in a hurry, but he could disappear with a blink of the eye. He wasn't one to tarry in one place. He was no Stokely Carmichael, but his quiet demeanor and calmness was an umbrella for all your fears. He was resolute and committed to the struggle and his strength and convictions showed in every thing he did.

You never knew when he left if he would be coming back soon or later. The last time he left he didn't come back sooner or later, he didn't come back at all. His favorite song was Aretha's "Call Me The Minute You Get There."


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