(Reprinted from Nkrumahist Review April 9, 2000)
Critical lessons can be learnt from the life of Kwame Ture. He earnestly studied revolution in order to learn from it and organised ordinary African people for it. His passion, consistency and principled commitment to politically educating African people are part of his rich legacy
To know the man Kwame Ture, was to know the fundamentals of his work and politics. Kwame Ture was and is the embodiment of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party. He was a member for over 30 years. The media often tried to portray him as an angry icon of the 1960s. Kwame Ture was the world’s leading pan-Africanist revolutionary, in theory and in practice. He was principled, consistent, and scientific. Kwame Ture was Africa’s great light that shone clarity upon ignorance, lit fire under the dead wood of complacency and held a torch to the path when darkness confused the way.
Kwame Ture, as a man of principle never made peace with his oppression or his oppressors. He died on the frontlines, fighting for his beliefs. Even in pain, on his deathbed, he was preparing to go to Libya to continue political work necessary to create the All African Committee for Political Coordination, (see Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, Nkrumah, 1968 pg. 56). Kwame taught us we can never grow tired of the work we must do, we can never give up nor turn our backs on the struggle for liberation. Kwame Ture’s life exemplifies three critical lessons that all revolutionaries must heed; (1) principled work and study; (2) scientific work and study; and (3) consistent work and study.
On April 15, 1998 seven months before his transition to meet the ancestors, Brian Lamb, founder of C-SPAN, was one of the last to interview Kwame in Harlem, New York. Even though the cancer had spread throughout his body and he was in extreme pain, Kwame answered every question with the same precision he had demonstrated since his political career began over four decades ago. This essay will look at the April 15, 1998 interview; using the above, three lessons to frame a discussion about the life of Kwame Ture. In seventy-one minutes, the interview touched on Kwame’s personal history, SNCC, Black Power, violence vs. non-violence, Socialism, Religion and more.
Kwame says from his mother he gained his spirit to fight and from his father, honesty. After leaving his birthplace, Trinidad at eleven years old Kwame’s political life was soon to launch. As a student at the Bronx High School of Science, Kwame had classmates who introduced him to the concepts of socialism and communism. As a senior, Kwame demonstrated against House of un-American Activities, further strengthening his early understanding and appreciation of Socialist thought. By the time he entered Howard University in 1960, the die had been cast. He arrived at college looking for struggle. He immersed himself into a crossroad of northern and southern strategies, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) respectfully.
Brian asks Kwame to elaborate on a statement he made at one of his last speaking engagements at UMASS in 1997. Kwame had said, “practically every profound change in this country since the 60’s, was the result of the mass movement of Africans in this country”. Kwame chuckles through his well-known ‘school boy’ smile. His analysis is as methodical as Marx, but spoken in a language the masses can grasp. “The 1960’s had a profound affect on every aspect of life in America. Even though she won’t admit it. The 60’s completely broke open American conformity. Simple things like the dress code, the wearing of long hair and dungarees to the launching of the Disability Movement. These are just a few examples. The recent case of this disabled golfer, even though individual, this was Mrs. Rosa Park’s victory. Because once you start against discrimination where are you going to stop? You have to get rid of all discrimination. Once you start off and agree that discrimination based on natural selection, the way a person is born is unjust you must all the way. In fact, it was after that (the 1960’s) when you began to see the disabled on the streets. Before the 1960’s they were afraid to even go out on the streets, there were no access routes for them. Since the 60’s the disabled became conscious and protested and began to struggle to improve the quality of their lives”.
This is a scientific response. The social movements of the masses, not of individuals, cultivates the fruit of history. Rosa Parks acted as a member of the Montgomery Improvement Association in the 1950’s. The 60’s evolved from a foundation lay by poor Southern workers, churches and women’s self-help groups. The battles fought in the 60’s and today by Africans in America were all fights against racism and class exploitation. Kwame admonishes, “racism today is still strong in America, but more subtle. But even these subtleties are being exposed by non-other than the bourgeoisie. They call it (racism) the (glass) ceiling.
This historical fight against racism, as Kwame tells Mr. Lamb, was critically shaped by two classic slogans of the 60’s, “Black Power” and the anti-draft, “Hell No, We Won’t Go”. Even though Mr. Lamb’s question was myopic, Kwame framed a principled response. The question was, “What would you say was the moment in the 60’s you were most well known or when you had reached your peek of fame or value to the revolution?” Kwame enlightens us that the ‘Black Power’ slogan was coined much earlier by great literary giants like Richard Wright in his book, of the same title dedicated to Kwame Nkrumah. He continues, ‘very few people look at the “Hell No, We Won’t Go”, which smashed the (US military) draft. And Black Power we haven’t arrived at yet. Some people get confused and think that individual African politicians equal Black Power. But an African mayor in New York and the conditions of the African can become worse not better”.
“The Hell No slogan affectivity moved the people from protest to resistance against the draft and the war in Vietnam. There was absolutely no reason for us to go to Vietnam. From the time I was 19 years I was tortured, imprisoned and beaten just to get the right to vote to Africans. There was no way in the world I was going to use a gun to give someone else the right to vote and I could not vote in Mississippi. The logic was impossible”.
Kwame never attempted to elevate or glorify himself as ‘The One’ who owned and offered these critical concepts to the struggle. History is simply a picture, for all to view. The people are always the makers and victors. “The Black Power slogan came at the March on Mississippi. It is interesting to note that the African consciousness had leaped from, ‘Freedom Now’, in 1963 (March on DC), to ‘Black Power Now’, in 1966 (March on Mississippi). Black Power gave precision to the movement. Number one, it gave clarity to King’s non-violence. This was a principle for him and him alone.
These two slogans represent Kwame’s capacity for a race/class analysis of the struggle, consistently shaped, his work and study, his thoughts and actions.
Kwame Ture was consistent. His political career began inside progressive organizations at high school and ended inside a revolutionary pan-Africanist political party. He is well known for his mantra, “African people must be OR-GA-NIZED!” Kwame never wavered from his beliefs in the necessity to create a, “One unified socialist Africa”. This was a principle for him, not to be compromised. Finally, Kwame was a scientist. He knew the theory of revolution, studied it insatiably, and practiced it passionately. To know Kwame Ture is to learn from these lessons, practice these lessons and share them with all who loved humanity as Kwame Ture did.
*Nehanda Imara is an activist, educator, parent and AAPRP organizer
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