Kwame Ture
(Stokely Carmichael)


By Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez
Reprinted from Shades of Power Vol 1 #4 with the author's permission.

This issue of Shades of Power is dedicated to Kwame Ture Stokely Carmichael and his many years of work building alliances.

When Kwame Ture died in Guinea on Nov. 15, 1998, he was widely remembered for a fearless defiance of racism and capitalism that never flagged despite his long battle with cancer. Those who had worked with him in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), vividly recalled his humanity, brains, and eloquence (often with a Trinidad accent, from his birthplace). In Greenwood, Mississippi or Lowndes County, Alabama and far beyond, he aroused people's sense of their own potential with the cry of "Black Power!" that he made famous.

But few knew that he was a man of all colors, an internationalist who did much to build alliances among oppressed peoples of this and other countries.

While with SNCC, before moving to Africa some 30 years ago, Stokely forged ties with the California farmworkers. Recognizing commonalities between southern Black sharecroppers and Mexican fieldworkers, Stokely and others from SNCC met with cesar Chavez and Dolores Hu~rta of the National Farmworkers Organizing Committee (later the UFW) in Spring 1965. Out of that meeting came the decision to exchange staff; SNCC provided two full-time workers to the union.

He also forged ties with the Puerto Rican independence . movement and the New Mexico land grant struggle of La Raza in the mid-60's. In Cuba during the 1967 Organization of Latin American States (OLAS) meeting, three of us SNCC staff members saw revolutionaries from many lands listen raptly to Stokely's message of solidarity. When the huge auditorium rang with thunderous applause that night, it was not just for one brave young man but for someone who symbolized a whole people's indomitable spirit.

Cuba's Fidel Castro was among those who later called Kwame as he lay ill. A friend who answered the phone at Ture's home one day remembers taking messages from South Mrica, Sweden, Australia, Italy, Guinea and, in the U.S., from California, Georgia, Michigan, Virginia and Washington D.C. — all in a two-hour period.

Kwame formed other internationalist links for his pan-African organization, the All African People's Revolutionary Party (AAPRP). In newspaper photos from the early 1970s he can be seen alongside a Palestinian student, heading an anti-Zionist demonstration jointly called by the Palestinian Students Organization and his party. At other events, he stands with Yasir Arafat. He built warm relations with many groups waging anti-colonial struggles, including the Irish Socialist Party. Everywhere he brought the spirit of those words with which he always answered the telephone, even from the hospital. Not "hello," just: "Ready for revolution!"

Kwame was especially supportive of indigenous people's struggles in this country. A veteran Native American activist recalls an incident in the early 1970s when members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) conducted a sit-in at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. Police and marshals were deployed in a show of force that indicated their intention to storm the building. Suddenly a picket line of African Americans appeared and interspersed themselves between the police and the building. They were from the AAPRP and led by Kwame Ture, who told police: "For y'all to get to the Native Americans, you're going to have to go over us Africans!"

For years, when he appeared in public in this country, Kwame required that his speech be preceded by an indigenous ceremony or drumming, or the words of a native elder. "They were here fIrst, you know." And after he died at the age of 57, the memorials also began that way. This is one reason that his mother, Mrs. Mabel Carmichael, could so movingly observe at a memorial service in New York: "I came to understand that although Kwame had no money, he was very rich. His riches were his friends."

The day after Kwame died, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and other major news media depicted him as a narrow nationalist "opposing alliances with whites." This was untrue in terms of white people, as it was for peoples of color. The media would have done better to remember Ture with Che Guevara's words: "Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love."

Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez

With many thanks to Mike Thelwell for information he provided as author of Kwame Ture 's forthcoming biography.

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