In the mid-1960s, the slogan and phrase “Black Power” spread like fire in the inner cities of America and the world. Rightfully, Stokely Carmichael later known as Kwame Ture would be credited as the father of Black power. On 16 June 1966, while completing the march begun by James Meredith, Stokely Carmichael then a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) rallied a crowd in Greenwood, Mississippi, with the cry, “We want Black Power!” Although SNCC members had used the term during informal conversations, this was the first time Black Power was used as a public slogan. Asked later what he meant by the term, Carmichael said, “When you talk about black power you talk about bringing this country to its knees any time it messes with the black man. Black power also signaled a shift from liberal politics within SNCC and the non-violent method to fight for the end of white supremacy, racism, and inequality.
Kwame Ture died at the age of 57 of prostate cancer, by that time Ture’s life story had already become history: the history of Africa, of our age- that of the people’s commitment to the winning of their freedoms. By the end of his life, he had cemented a legacy as a master organizer and staunch Pan-Africanist. As a leader of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP), he helped internationalize the Black freedom struggle and inspired countless young people in the process. For Kwame Ture, “Black Power” was not a hollow slogan devoid of practice, not a theory of big concepts but an ideology to put to practice and organize for Revolution. Theory and practice were to be in a constant dialectical appraisal in order to transform the lives of ordinary African people.
On what would have been his 81st birthday anniversary (was born on June 29, 1941) Kwame Ture’s name remains one that the youth of today can hurl in defiance against capitalism and imperialism. Decades after his death Ture, who changed his name to Kwame Ture in 1968, in honor of his friends and political allies, Pan-African leaders Sekou Touré and Kwame Nkrumah would have been surprised to see the proletariat still at the bottom of the society, Inequality sharper than before, senseless killing of black people in America by police and Africa’s still at the mercy of corporate capitalism and imperialism. But I doubt he would have been surprised at the continuation of class struggle and the decay of capitalism today, still unable to resolve its contradictions of exploitation and the amassing of wealth by a few at the expense of the masses. He would gladly see with delight that defenders of capitalism can no longer defend their discourse as the future becomes bleak for a system of oppression trapped in a vicious economic crisis. Mao’s immortal words would warm his heart-
“Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history; such is the history of civilization for thousands of years. To interpret history from this viewpoint is historical materialism; standing in opposition to this viewpoint is historical idealism.”
While neo-liberal capitalism has become the root cause of all our problems, Kwame would be thrilled with the number of radical grassroots communities organizing in the global south paving an alternative way to capitalism. Fighting for their communities against corporate privatization of key sectors such as health and education, extra-judicial killings by police, and demanding better living conditions.
Kwame Ture was many things from a Pan-Africanist, magnificent communicator, socialist, and a member of SNCC, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP), and Honorary Prime minister of the Black Panther Party. But a key lesson to emulate for organizers of today is his ability and dedication to organizing the masses for revolutionary change. His immortal words “These are my last words to All the Youth of Africa: Organize! Organize! Organize!” still ring a bell to today’s generation of activists and community organizers. While Kwame Ture enjoyed celebrity-like status in the 60s he immersed himself fully in organizing within movements. Contrary to the tendency of self-styled privilege activism encouraged today within the neoliberal limits of organizing that raises activists to a pedestal while alienating them from the masses and depicting themselves as saviors on whom the community depends is reactionary. Mao Zedong re-affirms “The people and the people alone are the motive force in the making of world history.”
Ture’s organizing character was guided by political education, another critical lesson for political activists and organizers who disdain political education and theory. The idea that our issues are straightforward and do not require intense thinking and theorization is misleading and should be combated within social movements, study cells are critical for any revolutionary pursuit. Amilcar Cabral warns “Every practice produces a theory, and that if it’s true that a revolution can fail even though it be based on perfectly conceived theories, nobody has yet made a successful revolution without a revolutionary theory.”
In 1969 he moved to Africa – Guinea specifically – where he was welcomed by his friend then-president Sekou Toure. He would continue supporting international liberation movements, from South Africa to the Cape Verde islands. His mission had been to forge unity among oppressed and exploited so that they can free themselves from, feudal, capitalism, colonial, and neo-colonialist oppression and exploitation. It is this freedom that will give us in the 21st-century ease of mind to live a life of dignity and self-respect.