Delivered at the Houston memorial program at SHAPE Community Center, December, 1998]
Kwame Ture` had many revolutionary offspring. That I am one of them illustrates that he transcended all the boundaries that some would set around him — or around any of us.
I was born as a revolutionary one day in 1963 or '64. I was working in the S.N.C.C. office in Washington, D.C., when Stokely Carmichael came in and said that we should all come with him up to Howard University to meet some people from Mississippi. There we entered a small parlor from its outside door at the same moment that a group of people entered from the other side, led by a large, dark woman.
In the instant in which Stokely and the woman caught sight of each other, I felt a surge of energy in the room — something like an electrical charge that makes the hair stand on the back of the neck.. They embraced, then turned to the rest of us, and Stokely said, "Everybody, this is Miz Hamer." I knew that what I had just experienced had to do with what they had shared in Mississippi, and I wanted to be part of it. What I did not realize at the time was that I had witnessed the meeting of two great minds who understood one another as perhaps no one else could. And that moment sealed my fate.
In the D.C. SNCC office I often wrote letters for Stokely to colleges and universities who wanted him to speak. There were also offers of positions like teaching fellowships, which he declined offhandedly, telling me to write them that he was going to work full time in the Movement and would not be doing any graduate work in the foreseeable future. As we all know, his teaching would be on a much larger scale.
Once, when he returned from speaking somewhere in the Midwest, he jokingly told us that some academic in the audience had called him a "vulgar Marxist". He said that he surely was a Marxist, but that his Mama would never approve of his being "vulgar". It was Socialist in-joke that I did not understand at the time, but I did understand that he was proclaiming himself part of a political sphere of which I then had little understanding.
It was the first time someone I respected and admired had admitted to even sympathy with the Left. It was the first time I had any reason for curiosity about that kind of politics, other than sometimes wondering why it was that any time anyone did any thing good in this country someone called them "Communists". In another defining moment, he had pointed me onto a path from which I would never stray.
I had come to Houston from Mississippi because of a job in the fall of 1971, after remaining in Mississippi for seven years after the Freedom Summer of 1964. I did not know exactly where Stokely was or what he was doing, but I did know that the occasional items I saw in the "Establishment" press about him were not true, or were distortions. I knew that, wherever he was, he was doing correct and important revolutionary work. In Houston I had encountered a group of people which met the criteria I had formulated for an organization I wanted to work with, and had joined it: the local branch of Workers World Party.
Sometime in that same decade I heard that Stokey Carmichael (as he was still known at that time) would speak at T.S.U. Comrade Gloria and I sat in the gymnasium and listened to the master teacher spread the word of Revolution to yet another generation of students. During his presentation, Stokely several times looked quizzically at me up in the shadows as his eyes roamed the audience. After the talk the usual eager crowd surrounded him. We waited our turn and then presented him with a petition to sign for the freedom of Lee Otis Johnson. He beamed that huge grin of his, said, "JO-ann! I thought that was you up there!" and enveloped me in his famous bear hug. Then he said what I hope you all will remember to make my epitaph: He said, "All these years, I didn't know where you were, but I knew that wherever you were, you would be in the Struggle!" That meant more to me than anything anyone has ever said to me.
A prominent ballerina once told ofthe moment in which her life's direction had been sealed. As a small child, she was taken to see the great Anna Pavlova. After the performance she had the privilege of being presented to the legendary dancer. She related that "Anna Pavlova kissed me". In that moment, she said, she knew that she must become a ballerina. Now, that is not an easy life. But the memory of Anna Pavlova's kiss carried her through many difficult times. She felt it was her responsibility to live up to the expectation that immortal artist seemingly had of her. After she had become an established professional she learned from some of her peers that Anna Pavlova kissed every child that was presented to her. That did not lessen her sense of having been chosen by her great predecessor. Indeed, it only increased her admiration for her role model in that Pavlova had given that opportunity to so many children, and that a good number of them had followed in Pavlova's "footsteps" --literally!
Southern activists are kept pretty busy. We don't have the luxury of specialization, but support many struggles. Some of us also lack the time or resources to keep up with absent comrades. I knew that Kwame was a great revolutionary. I knew what he meant in my life. Maybe the very fact that he found the time to keep in touch with me by mail and phone kept me from realizing what an enormous influence he was in how many lives, in so many places. It did not really register with me just how widely he was revered, just how many people worldwide felt exactly the same about him as I did, until I saw the broadcast of the Washington, D.C., tribute dinner a few months ago.
It was only then that I realized that thousands of people regarded him exactly as I did: as their twin brother — as having one mind with him. It was a startling and sobering realization: my special friend was the special friend of all serious revolutionaries, and widely respected by many reformers. But, like the ballerina who had been kissed by Pavlova, I did not feel in any way diminished by that revelation. On the contrary, I felt that I finally understood the very personal love that the masses in revolutionary countries have for their liberation leaders. A love the hated rulers of Capitalist countries will never understand. A love those enemies of humanity try to profane by creating the construct of what they call "the cult of personalty".
By following the path Kwame Ture had set me upon thirty five years ago, I, and countless others had remained lifelong activists. Some of us had even — as I had — found our way into Marxist parties to more closely follow the path that he knew was the only way for humanity to find its way to the peace and justice and equality that we had sought in the Movement that blossomed and brought us together in the '60's.
In the spirit of this program which is dedicated to Kwame Ture's constant battle cry of "ORGANIZE!". Find an organization whose principles you support and join it and stay with it and help it grow", I invite you to investigate Workers World Party. We are an independent Marxist party that supports all revolutionary movements and works for the rights of oppressed workers everywhere. We are multinational and otherwise diverse in membership and in leadership. Our seven-member Secretariat, that has recently replaced our office of Chairperson, reflects this diversity. We have warm fraternal relations with the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party and all parties who struggle righteously for the triumph of Socialism everywhere. We work shoulder-to-shoulder with the entire working class in this country, whether those persons currently slave for wages or are unemployed, on welfare or homeless, or suffer the extreme slavery of prisons and death rows. We support struggles against racism of all sorts, and that of women, youth and the aged, those of all sexual orientations, and the physically and mentally challenged. Our struggles and campaigns in these areas are given direction by those most affected by the special oppressions they suffer. In other words, our Marxist theory is put into practice with the nitty-gritty experience of the oppressed. You will find some of our literature and newspapers on one of the information tables here tonight and our members there will be happy to answer any questions you might have about Workers World Party.
Kwame Ture said that if anyone acting alone could free the people, he would have done it. But he knew that could not be done. Find an organization you are comfortable with, anything from a Left party to a progressive church or mosque, or, as I once heard Kwame say, "the P.T.A." Join it. Help build it. Work with it or with others that you may in time grow into. Bring others into your own or other organizations. Build coalitions. Network. Unite.
The People, United, will never be defeated!"
Copyright © Joann Gavin, 1998.
Copyright © 2010