The Pan Africanists
DARA E HEALY
“READY FOR revolution.” These words describe the core of the man. Brilliant, charismatic and driven, Kwame Ture was a Pan-Africanist and freedom fighter who “fundamentally altered the course of history.”
As with the other Pan-Africanists in this series, the fact that he was born and grew up in Trinidad remains a secret. This man advised Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah, walked with Dr Martin Luther King and was married to South African singer Miriam Makeba. This man, who inspired the formation of the Black Panther party, was incarcerated for protesting racism and injustice and coined the phrase “Black Power.”
He was born in 1941 as Stokely Carmichael. He grew up in Belmont, Port of Spain. His childhood was culturally rich, with steelpan, especially the Casablanca band, calypso and Carnival being integral to his understanding of home.
It was only later in life that he recognised how damaging the all-pervasive colonialism had been. In his autobiography Ready for Revolution, he recalls learning “about snow, daffodils and skylarks. I had no references by which to understand, identify, or analyse the culture that was all around me.”
His move to the US at 11 was the first step towards the monumental path that his life would follow. He had to adjust to the shock of life in the Bronx – cramped quarters, restriction of freedom and a completely different culture. His mother would root them through it all.
“Mabel Charles Carmichael would become – and remain – a major influence in the lives of me and my sisters. This little dynamo of a woman was the stable moral presence, the fixed centre around which the domestic life of this migrant African family revolved.”
Academically, he excelled at Howard University, graduating with honours. He began his political activism there, joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "snick"). In 1964 he was part of a SNCC campaign in Lowndes, Alabama, to register African-American voters. He helped form the political party the Lowndes County Freedom Organisation. Its symbol? A black panther.
In March 1965, Dr King led his famous march, which was intended to go from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. However, the peaceful marchers were attacked by the police, forcing the abandonment of the planned action. Selma was a turning point for Stokely Carmichael.
In 1966, he became the chairman of SNCC. His relationship with activist Malcolm X grew deeper as the two bonded ideologically. Increasing race tensions in the US were further complicated by opposition to the Vietnam War. Many African Americans had a problem enrolling to fight overseas for a government that denied them basic rights at home.
In that same year, Stokely gave a wide-ranging and passionate speech in which he talks about Vietnam, expresses his frustration with non-violence and articulates the need for a Pan African approach to African freedom. And critically, he expands on the concept of Black Power:
“...whether they like it or not, we gonna use the word ‘Black Power’ and let them address themselves to that (applause);...we are not goin’ to wait for white people to sanction Black Power...every time black people move in this country, they’re forced to defend their position before they move. It’s time that the people who are supposed to be defending their position do that. That’s white people. They ought to start defending themselves as to why they have oppressed and exploited us...”
By 1968 his passport was confiscated. The following year, he and Miriam Makeba moved to Guinea, Africa. In 1970, he was banned from entering his beloved TT. He became involved in African politics and was inspired by presidents Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sekou Toure of Guinea. He was integral to the formation of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, which was “dedicated to Pan-Africanism and the plight of Africans worldwide.” By 1978, Stokely Carmichael became Kwame Ture.
Ture did not return to TT until 1996, invited by the Emancipation Support Committee. He was honoured as a national hero and the State agreed to help with his medical expenses, as he had been diagnosed with cancer. He passed away two years later, in Guinea.
As African communities in TT continue to face challenges of crime, family and self-actualisation, now is the time to harness Ture’s legacy as a vehicle for transformation. As he said, “Black Power was more than a dream...It was a call to action, a call for organisation, for consciousness raising...”
May he rest in peace and revolution.
Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN