Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 10:04:07 -0600 (CST)
‘Black Power’ Activist Kwame Ture Dies at 57
By Debra Hale Shelton, Associated Press, Sunday 15 November 1998; 5:40 p.m. EST
Kwame Ture, who as Stokely Carmichael made the phrase "black power" a rallying cry of the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s, died Sunday in Guinea, a member of Ture's All-African People's Revolutionary Party said. He was 57.
Sharon Sobukwe, a member of the organization in Philadelphia, said Ture died of prostate cancer. She learned of his death from Amadou Ly, an AAPRP member and one of Ture's closest friends, who was with him when he died.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he visited with Ture three times at his home in Guinea during a trip to Africa last week.
"In many ways he was at peace with himself," Jackson said in a telephone interview from Washington. "He wanted for his last days to be in Guinea and in West Africa. ... He wanted to be amongst the people of Africa.
"He was one of our generation who was determined to give his life to transforming America and Africa," Jackson added. "He was committed to ending racial apartheid in our country. He helped to bring those walls down."
Ture was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996. A self-described socialist, he was treated in Cuba and received financial help for his treatment from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
As the young Carmichael, he was among the most fiery and visible leaders of black militancy in the United States in the 1960s, first as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and then as prime minister of the Black Panther Party.
He cut his ties with the American groups over the issue of allying with white radicals and moved to Guinea in West Africa in 1969. There, with a new name taken from the African leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Toure, he organized the All-African People's Revolutionary Party.
For the rest of his life, both overseas and in appearances before largely black audiences at U.S. colleges, he continued preaching black power and championing socialism while condemning America, capitalism and Zionism.
Born in Trinidad on June 29, 1941, and raised there and in New York, Ture described himself as a pliant acceptor of white dominion while growing up.
He recalled in a 1967 interview in the London Observer that as a boy in the Trinidad capital of Port-of-Spain, he and his black schoolmates "went to the movies and yelled for Tarzan to beat the hell out of Africa."
"I'm angry because I didn't rebel," he said.
At age 11, his parents brought him to New York, where the bright youngster attended the academically elite Bronx High School of Science and moved in a liberal, middle-class white circle that he later reviled as phony.
In 1960, he enrolled at Howard, the predominantly black university in Washington, D.C., where he received a degree in philosophy and plunged into the civil rights revolution.
In a time when black college students were being beaten and arrested for daring to sit at whites-only Southern lunch counters, Carmichael joined the first freedom rides bus trips aimed at desegregating public transportation and suffered the first of what was to be about three dozen jailings when he reached Mississippi.
As an SNCC field organizer there later, he led a perilous voter registration effort that raised black enrollment from 70 to 2,600 in Lowndes County, 300 more than the white registration.
In June 1966, three weeks before his 25th birthday, he was elected national chairman of the SNCC and shortly afterward raised the cry of "black power" as he led a freedom march in Mississippi.
Responding to those who called the slogan racist and inflammatory, he wrote that by black power he meant political and economic empowerment. "We want control of the institutions of the communities where we live and we want to stop the exploitation of nonwhite people around the world," he said in the New York Review of Books.
He also took an anti-America message to Cuba and North Vietnam and critics said his speeches at home, and those of his successor, H. Rap Brown, had effectively removed the word "nonviolent" from the SNCC's name.
In 1968, he left the SNCC for the Black Panthers, but broke with that urban-guerrilla movement the following year because it favored working with radical whites. He said history showed such alliances had "led to complete subversion of the blacks by the whites."
From Guinea, where he had moved with his then-wife, South African-born singer and political activist Miriam Makeba, he declared himself a Pan Africanist with a goal of forming "one cohesive force to wage an unrelenting armed struggle against the white Western empire for the liberation of our people."
He long hoped to see a single, socialist state for all of Africa, which would give Africans there and abroad he rejected the term "African-American" pride and power.
Although he denied being anti-Semitic, his condemnations of Israel and Zionism, particularly before U.S. campus audiences in the early 1990s, led the Anti-Defamation League to say, "He remains a disturbing, polarizing figure."
Asked at one campus lecture to comment about black-on-black violence, he said: "All we got to do is show (blacks) who the enemy is. At least they're ready to shoot."
Ture is survived by his wife, his mother, three sisters and two sons.
Services in the United States, Africa, Britain and the Caribbean will be organized by the AAPRP, the group said.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press