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Why Did Kwame Ture Move to Africa?

Kwame Ture and comrades in Guinea

Kwame Ture and comrades in Guinea

On November 15th, 1998, Kwame Ture (formally Stokely Carmichael) made his physical transition.  I remember where I was when we received the news.  We were at Sacramento State University, early on a Sunday morning, preparing to begin our work study meeting when one of the members came in and made the announcement.  None of us were surprised.  Kwame had been ill with the prostate cancer that eventually took his life for quite some time.  I remember thinking things were about to change for all of us.

[Over] Twenty years later, we have gone through major growing pains as an organization without Kwame’s presence.  Whether intentional or not, from the All African People’s Revolutionary Party’s (A-APRP) inception in 1968 to his death in 1998, Kwame was the face of the A-APRP.  Since his disappearance, the A-APRP has had to walk the tightrope of developing an independent identity as an organization.  In 2018, we continue to struggle around many elements of this, but we have certainly done quite a bit of work to advance ourselves in this area.  Today, the A-APRP exists all over the African world and pretty much all of the youth who are joining, particularly in Africa, have very little to no understanding of who Kwame Ture was.  This contrasts with when I joined the A-APRP decades ago when our most potent recruitment tool was what we called our “Kwame Ture Recruitment Drives” or for short, the KTRDs.  A KTRD consisted of Kwame speaking at a campus, community event, etc.  Hundreds would attend, and we would have an orientation, usually immediately after he spoke.  Consequently, orientations in those days were always attended by dozens of people.  The energy was always extremely high.  This was true even late at night which is when these orientations typically occurred.  Even then, the tactic was a little uncomfortable for me.  I had observed repeatedly that most of the people attracted to Kwame’s “celebrity” from the civil rights and Black power movements tended to lose their enthusiasm once he left town.  By comparison, people who join today do so not primarily because of his presence/influence, but because they are mostly inspired by the party’s vision.  This is without question a strong step forward, but its still important that the legacy of Kwame’s work be known by everyone.  He was a major contributor to Pan-Africanism and there is much misinformation about who he was and what he did.  So, we take the opportunity of the 20th year since his physical disappearance to again set the record straight about the work this dynamic organizer did to advance our struggle.

Why did Kwame move to Africa?  This is a question that has been debated much over the last 50 years and most of what’s being talked about is so far removed from the truth that its difficult to understand how such confusion could fester, but yet it exists.  And, in some cases, its dominant in people’s thinking.  Since much of this confusion is rooted in anti-Africanism and anti-communism, we use this 20th commemoration to challenge much that has been passing as legitimate dialogue around our brother’s political legacy.

The enemies of African people have suggested, repeatedly, that Kwame moved to Guinea, West Africa, in 1969 because he was on the run because of his testimony to the U.S. House of un-American Activities (HUAC) and because he had engaged in questionable actions within the Black Panther Party (BPP).  Neither is true.  The HUAC hearing in question didn’t even happen until 1970, the year after Kwame had already moved to Africa.  The rumors around this hearing are that the committee, which was a government sanctioned hunt against anyone who dared stand up to U.S. imperialism, received testimony from Kwame that was used against other participants in the African liberation struggle.  This is still a commonly held perception today.  It’s common because the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), based on their own documents released from the 1974 Freedom of Information Act, worked very hard to plant this belief in the minds of activists/organizers around the world.  Their objective was to discredit Kwame and they went to great lengths to attempt to accomplish this.  They sent letters to activists/organizers detailing Kwame’s alleged testimony “snitching” on activists/organizers during the HUAC hearing.  Some of those activists/organizers went public declaring their disdain for the then Stokely Carmichael for what they believed was his betrayal of our movement.  One of those people was Huey P. Newton – co-founder of the Oakland Black Panther Party.  Newton declared from jail in early 1970 that “Stokely Carmichael is a CIA agent…”  We know now that Newton made those statements based on letters he received from the FBI accusing Kwame of selling out the movement during the hearings.  What serious students have learned to be true is that Kwame did indeed respond to the subpoena demanding he testify to the committee.  He did so on the recommendation of people he trusted in the movement.  Had he not testified, he would have certainly been served with a warrant for his arrest as not responding to the subpoena came with an almost assured felony conviction which would have led to many serious problems e.g. having his passport seized.  This is not to mention having to serve time in prison during a period where the barely existing A-APRP possibly could not have survived without him.  So he responded, but the court records, all witnesses present, including his lawyers, and even the government officials who questioned him, all concur that Kwame didn’t utter a single word against anyone, or even about anything, during that hearing.  He used the 5th Amendment repeatedly and the conveners left extremely frustrated at his crafty ability to sidestep their process.  The FBI was of course relying on the inability or unwillingness of people like Huey Newton to check the record and actual confirmation was much harder to get in those days then it is today.  So the lie grew teeth and still remains in the minds of many uneducated people about the subject.  And for each person who still believes that lie, there is mistrust for anything associated with Kwame Ture.  Since unlike so many other figures in the Black power movement, his work not only continued, but proliferated after the 1960s, discrediting him served to prevent his work from catching on with so many more people as was the potential at that time.  One example of this is what is mostly overlooked today is one of the reasons for Kwame Ture’s uncompromising position in favor of mass political education was that he understood that had that level of political education existed in the late 60s, it wouldn’t have been nearly as easy to hoodwink cadre activists with simple lies about him or anyone else.

As for allegations against his work within the Black Panther Party, much has been written about that period.  And in order to understand it properly, one must study closely the efforts initiated in 1967 to unite the BPP and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  There was much confusion around these efforts and much of that resulted from the role played by people like Eldridge Cleaver, BPP Minister of Information, who announced the “merger” of SNCC and the BPP (at the February 1968 Birthday party for Huey P. Newton in Oakland) before the relationship was officially agreed upon between the two organizations.  Its still not clear what Cleaver’s intentions were for doing that, but what we do know is serious discussions on all levels between the two organizations never really took place.  We also know that the FBI’s efforts to do whatever they could to sabotage this unification effort manifested itself in several discredit schemes, most notably the murder of Alex Rackley, a brother brought to the BPP through his association with Kwame Ture.  George Sams, later to be confirmed as a paid FBI informant, accused Rackley of being a police agent.  Sams mobilized Panthers to kidnap, torture, and kill Rackley.  And, since at that time, the common belief was Rackley was a police informant (although its clear today that he wasn’t), the same suspicion against Kwame grew within the BPP as well.  There were Panthers calling for harm to come to Kwame Ture, but this is still not the reason he decided to move to Africa.

Kwame’s reasons for moving to Africa were motivated by the same thing that pushes any of us to make major life changes and decisions.  At a mere 25, 26 years old, Kwame’s experiences with SNCC and the BPP had helped him come to the point where he recognized that no progress for African people could be achieved until we had the power to determine our own destiny.  Or, as he put it himself “in the 60s, we thought our struggle was one against racism.  So, in our minds, we saw our struggle as that of fighting to assert our blackness, but our consciousness continued to grow.  Soon, we realized that our struggle wasn’t just a struggle against racism. It is a struggle for power as a people and power means having land and resources and our land is Africa!”  As this question began to challenge Kwame in all the moves he was making, if you study his trajectory during that time, you can see him clearly struggling over these contradictions.  His speech at Newton’s birthday party in 68 was wrought with the ideas going through his head.  What was the role of Africa in our struggle?  Can our solution be capitalist or socialist?  He was battling out those ideas in his head and sharing his struggle with all of us.  In 1967, he went to Vietnam and visited with Nguyen Al Thoc, better known as Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Minh Front and the Vietnamese Communist Party.  When Kwame asked the Vietnamese leader what he thought he should do, Ho answered with “you are African, why don’t you go to Africa?”

The following year, Kwame, influenced by Ho Chi Minh, the SNCC delegation to Africa four years before, and many other things that were clearly pointing him home to Africa, went to Guinea-Conakry, hoping to meet Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture.  Nkrumah was co-president of Guinea in 1968.  Forcibly and illegally removed as president of Ghana in 1966, Nkrumah was welcomed by the Democratic Party of Guinea and Sekou Ture to Guinea and granted co-presidency.  Nkrumah’s role in Guinea was to continue to advance the ideas of the African revolution.  With the help of Shirley Graham DuBois, the young Stokely Carmichael was given an audience with Nkrumah.  What we know from their discussions is that Nkrumah asked young Stokely, as he did Malcolm X three years before, if he would stay in Guinea and serve as Nkrumah’s secretary to help him carry out the work to build Pan-Africanism on the ground.  Young Stokely accepted Nkrumah’s offer after Nkrumah had shared with him the then unpublished, but finished, manuscript of the “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare” that Nkrumah was writing as the guidebook for how to carry out the African revolution.  In that book, Nkrumah articulated the strategy of uniting African revolutionaries in Africa into one Pan-African political party called the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP).  The vehicle to do this was the creation of the All African Committee for Political Coordination (A-ACPC), leading to the All African People’s Revolutionary Army (A-APRA) which would lead the armed phase of the African revolution.  Young Stokely read the entire book in one night and Nkrumah then asked him to work to build this process within the African diaspora.  Nkrumah had other assignments for Amilcar Cabral who Sekou Ture had provided a base in Guinea to build the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau (PAIGC), one of the Pan-African parties Nkrumah envisioned joining the A-ACPC and the A-APRP.  There were other assignments and young Stokely, Amilcar Cabral, Nkrumah, and others formed the first work study circle for the newly called for A-APRP.  This history also underscores the absurdity of white leftists attempting to “steal” the legacy of Cabral by labeling him a Marxist/Leninist. 

From that first A-APRP work study circle in Conakry, Guinea, from 1968 to 2018 – the A-APRP’s reach has extended all over the African world.  Today, there are A-APRP chapters and organizing efforts happening everywhere.  And, the A-ACPC is no longer just a vision.  It is now a reality.  The 50 Year Commemoration of the “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare” in September 2018 demonstrated this as representatives of several chapters of the A-APRP in Africa and the diaspora, as well as a delegation from the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau (including the director of the Union of Guinea-Bissau Women, or UDEMU and directors for the Amilcar Cabral African Youth organization), a delegation from the Amilcar Cabral Ideological Institute in Nigeria, and another delegation from the Pan-African Congress of Azania (South Africa), and the Azanian People’s Organization, came together to do work to further cement the concept that the A-ACPC is here in 2018 and forward!

In 1977, Stokely Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture to honor Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture.  And, as we know, in 1998, he left this physical world, but it is impossible to commemorate Pan-African work, as we did in Ghana in September, without remembering the contribution of Kwame Ture.  And, it is equally impossible to commemorate his contribution without acknowledging he did outstanding work in SNCC and the BPP, but his best work was the 30 years he spent living in Guinea while building the A-APRP.  He went there to do that work because he recognized that Pan-Africanism was the higher expression of the work he was doing in SNCC and the BPP.  Unlike some of his conscious and unconscious detractors, Kwame Ture never abandoned Black power.  He realized that revolutionary Pan-Africanism is the logical extension and growth of Black power because Pan-Africanism gives Black power class character and revolutionary identity.  It expands to represent Africans everywhere and this is important because our problems as African people didn’t start in the U.S. or Puerto Rico, Brazil, or just Nigeria, Somalia, etc.  The problems started when Africa was invaded and the problem will never be solved until Africa is redeemed.  Finally, Pan-Africanism steers Black power to acknowledge, as Nkrumah said, that “the core of the Black revolution is in Africa and until Africa is free, no African anywhere on Earth will be free!”  These are the reasons Kwame Ture moved to Africa and our people and our struggle are better because of his selfless decision to do so. 

There are many reasons why people choose to continue to believe misinformation about Kwame Ture.  A lot of that is rooted in class struggle and anti-communism as was previously mentioned.  Revolutionary Pan-Africanism isn’t nearly as sparkling and attractive as the much more generic title of “Black power.”  Revolutionary Pan-Africanism requires a clear anti-capitalist stance and a commitment to one unified socialist Africa.  This clear objective doesn’t jibe with the vision of black power pimps who desire to advance a rhetoric of African empowerment while prioritizing enriching themselves on the backs of our struggling people.  Those types of opportunists can hide behind the ambiguous term of “black power”, but they cannot hide behind one unified socialist Africa as created from the work of the 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945, carried forward by the writings of Kwame  Nkrumah, Sekou Ture, etc., in the 1960s, and popularized by the work of Kwame Ture until his death in 1998.  This man had more integrity in his pinky than many of the people passing themselves off as soldiers for our people’s liberation have in their entire bodies.  That’s much of the reason many of these “people” continue to perpetuate lies about the legacy of Kwame Ture because by discrediting him, they create space for their sellout behavior.  We strongly encourage you to study more about this important history and as we commemorate 20 years since Kwame Ture’s passing, we further prod you to give him the honor he rightfully deserves by deciding to participate in organizing for the true liberation for African people and humanity that he worked so hard to demonstrate for us.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.

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