June 29, 2023 marks 82 years since Kwame Ture was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. His life is significant to me because in many ways, he is very much responsible for me becoming the person I am today. I remember being in high school and somehow becoming aware of this man “Stokely Carmichael.” I can’t recall what I knew about him or how I came upon that information, but one thing I knew is I had great pride thinking about him back then at a time in my young life where very little that I encountered gave me any hope. At some point during my high school years, I became motivated enough to locate and read Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, the book Kwame co-wrote with Dr. Charles Hamilton in response to the call for Black Power he made along with Mukassa Dada (Willie Ricks), and other Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizers in Mississippi during the March against Fear in June of 1966. After reading that book I wanted to know as much about Kwame as I possibly could, so you can just imagine my excitement when I heard he was speaking at a college campus close by in Southern California. I think I skipped a class to go over and hear him. And I wasn’t alone. I had a car full of young African men with me; all of us curious; all of us looking for that dose of dignity and self-esteem that so routinely eluded us daily in racist, capitalist amerikkka.
In truth, I was somewhat disappointed after hearing Kwame that day. I couldn’t understand why he had changed his name. I didn’t understand why he needed to talk about Africa or these strange men in Africa that he admired so much, Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure. I didn’t care about them. I wanted him to criticize white people and tell me I was right. Instead, he told me that I needed to join an organization, something I had no intention of doing. Still, for some reason, Kwame stayed in my conscious brain.
I encountered him again when I turned 20. He was speaking at Sacramento State University where I attended college. By that time I was a member of the Pan-African Student Union that helped bring him there along with organizers for the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, the organization he belonged to. His message that day was that “We are Africans…Not Americans….Not African-Americans, but Africans – period! We belong to the African nation and until Africa is free “no African on the planet will be free.” That day I learned that Kwame Nkrumah was his teacher. I was able to ask a question about the selective service draft that I had refused to cooperate with. Even though that event was 41 years ago, I remember Kwame’s response as clear as if it was yesterday. He told me that no African has any business fighting in the U.S. imperialist military and that I should burn the selective service form, just as he burned his draft card in 1967. He told us that the only army we should volunteer for is the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) and the All African People’s Revolutionary Army. I left that lecture understanding much more than I had two years previously. I came to understand that the name Kwame Ture was a tribute to Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure and I needed to understand that ideology directs action and ideology comes from my African culture. I somehow got my hands on Nkrumah’s Africa Must Unite and by the time I read Neocolonialism I was ready to graduate and join the A-APRP. In two years I was a party organizer.
The next time Kwame came to Sacramento I was picking him up to take him to a campus engagement. I remember when I first encountered his lanky six foot five (or so) frame. He smiled brightly. He was engaged in a phone conversation with Minister Louis Farrakhan and 22 year old me was so impressed. I listened intently as he implored Farrakhan to not let ego get in the way of developing an African United Front. A few short years later, I began to coordinate Kwame’s tours to the area, organizing his security and spending time with him when he came around once every year. This relationship continued in many places for several years, but there are two stories that stand out the most for me. One was in 1992 when we were traveling from Sacramento to Sonoma State University. That drive takes you through the twists turns of Napa Valley and we were late. I was driving at the required 30 to 35 mile an hour speed on the numerous curves, but that wasn’t going to get us to the Sonoma campus on time. Kwame calmly asked if he could drive so I quickly pulled over to permit him to take over. He proceeded to get us there on time by taking the curves at 60 miles per hour. Once we arrived and placed our hearts back in our stomachs, myself and the other brothers asked him how he learned to drive like that. As we walked to the lecture hall, he explained that when the SNCC workers arrived in Mississippi and Alabama to do voter registration work, the local Africans would immediately show them how to drive that way so they could outrun the constant KKK terrorists that pursued them on those dark dangerous roads.
The second story took place one of the last times I saw Kwame in the States; I think it was San Francisco. We were driving and talking about what time it was when, suddenly, he pulled out a watch and started shaking it because it wasn’t working. He cursed the watch and when I took a look at it, it was the type of low cost digital watch that one would expect to find in a box of Cracker Jacks. I remember being shocked and having an epiphany that this man slept on our couches, ate the food we young poor people had, and never complained about anything, had such a valueless watch when his political colleagues like Marion Berry, John Lewis, Julian Bond and others were well off and in highly comfortable positions.
The point to all of this is that the true story of Kwame Ture has yet to be told. I know his autobiography Ready for the Revolution continues to sell and be read, but I feel that much of what he accomplished and contributed is still untold. If you Google him, go on Youtube, or research books, his name and efforts are everywhere, but much of that information talks mostly about his work during the 1960s. But this is a problem because Kwame spent approximately seven years in SNCC, and maybe two years, give or take, in the Black Panther Party. He spent 30 years in the A-APRP living and building that organization in Guinea-Conakry and in spite of the focus on the Black Power days, it’s his work in Africa that provides his greatest legacy. In fact, he said it best himself when he asked about it some years ago. When asked why he moved away from calling for Black Power and towards calling for Pan-Africanism, he responded saying “During the sixties we defined our struggle as a struggle against racism. So calling for Black Power was a response to that, but the people’s struggle doesn’t stand still, it moves… As we developed, we realized the struggle wasn’t just against racism. It’s a struggle for power and power means land, and our land is Africa. Thus, our struggle is a struggle for Africa’s freedom and liberation!”
I’m not worried about Kwame’s legacy being correctly articulated because he worked for 30 years to create revolutionary Pan-African cadre to carry on his work after he was gone. He has made his physical transition, but we are still here and we are everywhere in every corner of the world today. We’re still building the A-APRP and we will continue to struggle for Pan-Africanism until we achieve it. Thank you, Kwame. You made your contribution. Now it’s time for us to make ours.
This piece was originally published on Ahjamu’s Blog.