Kwame was born as Stokely Carmichael on the Caribbean island of Trinadad. After his family moved to the Bronx in New York, Kwame pursued his college education at the historically African Howard University in Washington D.C. While at Howard, after dabbling in political ideology, discussions, and activities, Kwame joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (pronounced SNICK) in 1961. After joining SNCC, Kwame participated in freedom rides to the Southern U.S. He then participated in voter registration work in the South. He was one of the many SNCC activists who physically participated in the swamp search for the bodies of murdered SNCC and Congress of Racial Equality activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi. To get a sense of Kwame's experience during those dangerous years, between 1961 and 1966, he was arrested 26 times for engaging in political organizing work in the South. He was interned at the notorious Parchmen prison in Mississippi for several months. He was beaten, starved, and tortured during his many incarcerations. Along with those personal sacrifices, Kwame's most important contributions to SNCC and the struggle were his leadership on many of SNCC's most important political projects. He was involved in helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)- a project of SNCC. MFDP mounted a serious challenge to the national Democratic Party in 1964. It's push to get African delegates seated at the 64 Democratic Convention forced the Democratic Party to compromise and open up to people of color and women. In fact, MFDP is the reason you have women and people of color in leadership positions in the Democratic Party today. Without MFDP, there would be no Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton (not suggesting that having them means anything positive. Just confirming the work that produced their ability to exist). The following year, Kwame was one of the chief organizers for the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), better known as the Black Panther Party. This armed party, which used the symbol of the Black Panther to appeal to an African population that was 80% illiterate, captured the imagination of youth activists all over the world. This included a young man from Oakland named Mark Comfort, who traveled to Alabama to work with Kwame with the LCFO. Comfort was a friend of Huey P. Newtons in Oakland. Newton writes in his autobiography - "Revolutionary Suicide" - how Comfort returned to Oakland from Alabama telling everyone about "some Black folks in Alabama with guns talking about they was the Black Panther Party!" Newton acknowledges being inspired from Comfort's report to start the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Huey even reached out to Kwame at that time to ask permission to use the name.
With all of that growing experience, Kwame's contribution and presence rose to another level in 1966 when he defeated (now Congressman) John Lewis as chairperson of SNCC. Kwame's defeat of Lewis represented a clear push towards a much more radical political direction for SNCC which included a stronger focus on African self-determination. By the end of 1966, SNCC had begun to establish it's position as an independent African organization. This period represented SNCC's most significant legacy building work. Examples are the development of the Black Power movement which grew out of the March against fear in Mississippi in 66 where Kwame yelled "Black Power" to a thunderous enthusiastic response from the assembled African masses. Another was SNCC's national leadership as the first organization to come out against the Vietnam war symbolized by Kwame's historic chant of "hell no, we won't go!" And, SNCC's courageous stance against zionism and it's principled support for the Palestinian struggle. In 1969, Kwame moved to Guinea-Conakry to become the political secretary for Kwame Nkrumah, the CIA overthrown ex-president of Ghana and the newly invited co-president of Guinea. There, Nkrumah shared his manuscript for the "Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare" with Kwame Ture and Amilcar Cabral (founder of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau). After taking one day to read the entire book, Kwame Ture decided then and there to dedicate his life to responding to Nkrumah's call to build the All African Committee for Political Coordination (A-ACPC) which once built will represent the All African People's Revolutionary Party (and All African People's Revolutionary Army - A-APRP and A-APRA). In 1969, the A-APRP's first political education work study circle was formed in Guinea-Conakry. From there, Kwame utilized the same political organizing skills he demonstrated in Mississippi and Alabama in SNCC to build the A-ACPC and A-APRP throughout the African world. In 1977, Kwame changed his name from Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture to honor and respect his teachers - Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture. From 1969 to his transition in 1998, Kwame dedicated his life to organizing for Nkrumah and Ture's Pan-African vision of one, unified, socialist Africa. The results of that work are that today, revolutionary Pan-African cadre who are dedicated to the Nkrumahist/Tureist vision are alive and fighting to organize around those ideas all over the African world. The All African People's Revolutionary Party - the organization Kwame Ture spent his last 30 years organizing for - has touched down and engaged in organizing work everywhere from Libya to the entire West, East, and Southern coasts of Africa. All throughout Europe and from Canada down through South America. Obviously, Kwame's contributions are cemented in history, but 17 years after his death, why should you study the life and work of Kwame Ture today? Here are some concrete reasons:
The importance of collective study. Kwame Ture helped institutionalize work study in the A-APRP. Everyone affiliated with the A-APRP from Europe to Africa to the Americas has to participate in a work study circle. That means reading 70 pages every two weeks, five pages per day, and coming prepared to discuss those readings. If taken seriously this process will generate a consciousness that far exceeds anything you would learn from any advanced degree program from the bourgeois universities. Plus, the implementation of praise, criticism/self criticism (not to be confused with a check in) is a revolutionary tool based in the principles of the social revolution designed to push you to reach your highest level of consciousness and revolutionary practice. Engaging in these revolutionary practices helps mold true revolutionaries who are guided by principle, love, and disciplinary practice instead of self gain and ego. This is the definition of cadre and Kwame was conscious enough to realize he would not live together. Thanks to his selfless work to build revolutionary cadre, he may be gone, but he has left thousands of soldiers to carry on his work.
The relevance of building principled relationships with alliances. Kwame's work with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the American Indian Movement, and the Irish Republican Socialist Party is legendary. If you don't believe it, ask anyone who was present at the American Indian Movement's 1998 un-thanksgiving ceremony at Alcatraz island. Held just two weeks after Kwame's passing, these Indian activists used the entire sunrise program, in front of thousands of people, to honor the work of Kwame Ture, choosing to put aside the focus on Indigenous rights that those thousands of people woke up and came out there to commemorate. I observed similar measures of respect for his work from the Palestinian and Irish communities. This was warranted because these people understood that Kwame, through great personal risk to himself, picked up the mantle of their struggles long before it was popular to do so. He also implored us within the A-APRP to build relationships with those communities and he insured that our work study process would help us understand the mutual benefits of doing so. As a result, today, we continue to build and maintain principled relationships with those communities that will only help us solidify the solidarity of our work for future victories.
His commitment to rise up the emancipation of women. Although Kwame's days in SNCC are unfortunately too often remembered for a joke he shared with other SNCC women about the position of women in SNCC being prone, we know that a person's commitment to a cause cannot be measured by a statement. It must be measured by their consistent practice. Everyone knows this or else everything every politician says you would have to accept as gold. Kwame's life work clearly indicates his commitment to the emancipation of all women, especially African women. He was committed to helping build and supporting the growth of the All African Women's Revolutionary Union within the A-APRP and his example around this was very inspirational to young African men such as myself who were joining the A-APRP. His work around this issue is highlighted by examples such as his decision (and the decision he promoted among the A-APRP Central Committee) to respond to Minister Louis Farrakhan's personal invitation for him to be a part of the original Million Man March Planning Committee in 1995 by instead sending our Women's coordinator - Mawina Kouyate - to participate in his place. Her participation helped pave the way for the historic participation of so many respected women in the original program as well as helping create the consciousness that our people, not just our men, are under attack by the capitalist system.
The need for organization. Kwame never tired of saying it. "Join some organization working for our people." Everyone hears me say those words all the time. I write about them all the time. Kwame was my inspiration in expressing that message because he was correct. We cannot talk about changing oppression unless we are willing to commit to the day to day to work to dismantle the oppression. Do you think the enemies of humanity just go to speeches and events to express their desire for domination? No, the Rockefellers organize institutions to express their political will. And you think you can confront their model by just showing up somewhere whenever you choose? Organized resistance is our only solution and anyone who doesn't accept that isn't serious about fighting the enemy. That's the lesson of Kwame Ture and 117 years from now it will still be no less true.
Last, but not least, his personal sacrifice for the struggle of his people. Kwame Ture had as large a presence in the media during the 60s as anyone else you may know of today. His presence was as big, if not bigger, than Jesse Jackson, Julian Bond, Marion Berry, Louis Farrakhan, John Lewis, and even Martin Luther King Jr. But, Kwame wasn't interested in prestige and recognition within the capitalist system. He was only interested in making a contribution to liberate our people from capitalist exploitation. So, at the height of his public presence, he moved to the small, poor, country of Guinea. His place in the media spotlight ended, but we believe it was there that his most meaningful contributions took shape. We also believe that his example of placing the work of his people above that of his material comfort, was a strong model that revolutionaries everywhere must duplicate. Unlike others, Kwame didn't stay in four star hotels when he came to your town. He didn't eat at premium restaurants. He lived and ate with the people in this country and very other country he visited. He kept up an extremely rigorous pace and schedule and he never complained. Never! No matter how tired he was, and I observed him exhausted on many occasions, he was always gracious, patient, and humble with whomever wanted his attention. Ironically, it was Jesse Jackson who very accurately spoke at Kwame's funeral in Conakry in 1998. Jackson said that Kwame "never compromised with capitalism." Very powerful words. Its too bad that not more of us are really comprehending their meaning.
Kwame Ture deserves the respect of anyone who is genuinely interested in understanding the fight for liberation and justice. His life and work should be studied by all young and old interested in serious struggle to emancipate the African masses. You know, its funny. Whenever November 15th comes around my first thought is always what more can I do to make a contribution. I think Kwame would appreciate that.