In 1989, Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) participated in a panel discussion on the McNeal-Lehrer news show on the Public Broadcasting System. The purpose of the panel was to bring together different voices within the African community within the U.S. to talk about the then growing usage of the label “African-American” to signify Africans or people of African descent born and living within the U.S. Of course, Brother Ture was a major figure in the civil disobedience direct action period of the civil rights movement of the early to mid 60s, and the Black power movement in the latter 60s. Ture was the person who first publicly articulated the “Black power” theme during the civil rights “March against Fear” that was carried out in June of 1966. The last major civil rights march, this particular one brought with it a strategy by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of which Ture was the chairperson. After engaging in the rigorous and failed campaign to properly integrate within the Mississippi, U.S. Democratic Party through the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (a SNCC project) in 1964, and the independent Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama the next year, Ture and SNCC had moved significantly away from the non-violent civil disobedience philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By 1966, SNCC was heavily influenced by the African nationalist philosophy of Malcolm X. As a result, SNCC decided to challenge King’s organization’s march theme of “Freedom Now” which King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had contributed to the march when the civil rights groups took it over after James Meredith was shot by a white racist. “Freedom Now” had been the standard theme for all the civil rights marches and SNCC, wanting to infuse more militancy and self-determination into the consciousness of the African masses, wanted to replace “Freedom Now” with “Black Power!” During some of the most dangerous and tense points of that march, Ture – at the urging of Mukassa Dada (Willie Ricks) who had organized around the “Black Power” theme at march stops ahead of the march – shouted the new slogan to hundreds of angry African youth who had just been terrorized once again by racist police and local people. This action galvanized the African masses nationwide and worldwide and Black Power became a rallying cry and movement for the next several years.
As a result of his position within that social development, Ture was asked during the television panel discussion whether he would adopt the term “African-American” or stay with the term “Black” which he was so instrumental in popularizing during the 60s. Ture responded that human consciousness moves at all times. He explained that during the 60s, we believed our primary struggle was one against white racism so in response to that, we asserted “Black is beautiful” and “Black Power.” Ture continued that as our understanding grew, we learned that our struggle isn’t just a struggle against white racism. It’s a struggle for power against the oppressive system (capitalism) which was built upon and sustained from our exploitation. As a result, Ture said that the power we need comes from controlling land and the land we have a right to is Africa so the correct term for us to identify ourselves is African.
It is that same logic that clarifies why Pan-Africanism is a much higher expression of our dignity and desire to be free and independent than Black Power. The term Black Power or Black unity is great, but lacking in substance as it relates to addressing core contradictions our people face. Our reality is that we know absolutely nothing about someone just based upon them being Black. As a result, someone can claim Blackness and be completely against the interests of the masses of our people. An example is a popular phrase being widely used today that says “I’m rooting for everyone Black!” This comment, well intentioned as it is, lacks class analysis and scientific reasoning. To say such a thing means you root for people like Mobutu or William O’Neal, or Barack Obama or Clarence Thomas since the only qualification is containing “Black” biological components (the inference being that having that component brings certain qualities with it – an assumption that is easily proven untrue). Of course, there are people somewhere who have taken the time to develop much deeper criteria for when they use the term “Black Power”, but for most people, and certainly the way its been practiced, it has no meaning beyond physical appearance. No connection to values, principles, and actions.
On the other hand, when we say revolutionary Pan-Africanism we are talking about an objective that contains certain ill-refutable principles. One is that Africa is our mother and rallying around and uniting around her liberation is at the core of our focus. And, by liberation, we automatically mean that capitalism and imperialism, the systems that have exploited Africa for 500+ years, must be destroyed and replaced by scientific socialism. It also means that by African, we mean a primarily political definition, not just a biological one. In other words, being an African requires a commitment to principles of justice and collective existence, not just what you look like (understanding that the only way to demonstrate your quality as a human is by what you do, not where you come from. In fact, what you do defines who you are i.e. African being a primarily political biological definition). With that understanding, Pan-Africanism comes with certain requirements that include an emphasis on mass and collective organization, not just the placement of individuals into visible positions and the suggestion that doing that alone equals progress (the capitalist way to providing symbols of progress to avoid the real thing). Pan-Africanism also includes an understanding that we do not struggle in isolation. The humanist principles of our Nkrumahist/Tureist ideology that drives our Pan-Africanist work prohibits any xenophobic confusion. As a result, we recognize and respect the fact that all non-African people fighting for justice are fighting against the same forces of oppression that we are. This doesn’t mean that we depend upon anyone except ourselves. Only the African masses can free Africa, but we do understand that victory for the Palestinians, Indigenous people’s of the Western Hemisphere, Irish, etc., does nothing except weaken the same enemies we are fighting against. Plus, our humanist African culture requires us to recognize everyone’s cries for justice, not just our own.
We cannot accept capitalism in blackface in 2021 and beyond as more tricknology to fool our people into false promises of forward progress. We cannot continue to act as if someone’s appearance qualifies them as trusted representatives of our people. Instead, we have to build mass movements that build collective leadership based on principles of justice, not individual leaders based on idealistic and symbolic imagery. So, revolutionary Pan-Africanism is without question, the highest expression of Black Power because it provides all of the elements we want from Black Power i.e. pride in our history and culture. While, it also gives us the scientific and humanist skills and vision to link up with our people everywhere on earth and with all of oppressed humanity. Participate in African Liberation Day 2021 and every year in May. African Liberation Day is the highest expression of Pan-Africanism and all of the wonderful principles we discuss in this piece.