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Life and Accomplishments of Kwame Ture

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Kwame Ture, known to many as Stokely Carmichael, died this November 14 in Guinea, West Africa, of prostate cancer. He was buried yesterday in Conakry, the Guinean capital. In New York City, Kwame Ture’s life was celebrated yesterday afternoon in a tribute held at the City College by the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, which he founded and headed until his death.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: An official of Guinea says Kwame Ture was always in front, beside and behind the people of Africa and the struggle to take back what was taken from them. The official was one of many who eulogized Ture at his funeral yesterday in Guinea-Conakry.

Kwame Ture was a man who stayed true to his revolutionary principles and faithful to the land he called home. Kwame Ture, known to many as Stokely Carmichael, died this past November 14th in Guinea, West Africa, of prostate cancer. He was buried yesterday in Conakry. Here in New York City, Kwame Ture’s life was celebrated yesterday afternoon in a tribute held at the City College by the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, which he headed since its founding.

As Stokely Carmichael, he began fighting against racial segregation in the United States in the early 1960s, first as a student organizer at Howard University; then as a Freedom Rider, riding on interstate buses with Black and white activists to force them to desegregate; then as the chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC; and, finally, as an organizer with the Black Panther Party. Together with many other activists, he lived in Mississippi and Alabama, where he organized voter registration and confronted the racist power structure head-on. Together with Willie Ricks, he popularized the term “Black Power,” which was first used as a rallying cry in the Meredith March Against Fear in Mississippi in 1966 and then came to symbolize the struggle for political representation and the equal share of power movement. He was deeply influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon.

As Kwame Ture, he developed into a socialist, a revolutionary and a Pan-Africanist, believing Pan-Africanism to be the highest form of Black internationalism and solidarity. He took his name from two African leaders he deeply admired and developed close relationships with: Kwame Nkrumah, the Guinean independence leader and president, and Sékou Touré, the founding president of post-colonial Guinea. Kwame Ture moved to West Africa 30 years ago. And as his friends and associates became politicians, professors, writers, filmmakers, he continued to live a revolutionary life, finally dying in West Africa without an income. As a revolutionary, he said, “The people will take care of me.”

As a freedom fighter first in the South, then in the inner-cities of the United States, then in the African diaspora, and in particular in his native country of Trinidad, his teachings influenced a great many people. He had a special affinity for young people and spoke at universities in his many visits to the United States, even as his health continued to deteriorate. Last April, almost 1,000 of his friends and former co-workers paid tribute to him in Washington, D.C., the last time that his friends and former co-workers were able to see him, at least many of them.

Right now we’ll turn to one of the many people he influenced, one of the many young people. It was his own nephew Caiphus, who spoke at the tribute at City College in New York City.

CAIPHUS MOORE: On behalf of my family, I want to thank you also for having me come up here and speak on behalf of all of us, and my cousin Julie for translating in sign language. I want to thank everybody that helped my uncle, whenever he had a place to stay, whenever he was traveling across the world, that gave him some food, some nice roti, some Trinidad pepper sauce. We thank all of you for that. We’d like to thank the party for having this beautiful memorial. I can’t even put it into words. We want to thank you all.

So, I had something prepared, but I think it’d be best that I speak from the heart as a family member, as a nephew to an uncle and as a young African. I could tell a whole bunch of stories about Uncle Kwame, boy, about how the time he took me to Africa, my cousin Jedidiah, and left us on a mountain — that was a good one, boy; about how he took us to a Muslim celebration to eat, and when I turned around, he was gone, and told us to find our way home, even though I didn’t speak Fula at the time.

One thing that stands out in my mind, I was about 16, and I just got my license, and I was so excited to drive. You know, I was like, “Yeah, I can drive now. I’m cool.” And my grandmother said, “Caiphus, your uncle’s coming in, so go to the airport and pick him up.” I said, “Yeah, no problem,” you know? I just got my class ring from school, so I was very excited. So I picked him up. And he said, “Hey, how are you doing?” I said, “How are you doing? Ready for the revolution?” “Yeah, yeah, you know.” I said, “Uncle Kwame, man, check out my class ring. It’s nice, huh?” He said, “Boy, you know how many Africans in South Africa died mining that gold for your ring?” I said, “Thanks, Uncle Kwame.” And as you can see, I don’t wear rings anymore.

But I’m going to end this short and let all these beautiful people do their thing, what they really came to do, and speak on him. Uncle Kwame, I love you. And I know you’re organizing things up there right now, ready for the revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Caiphus, the nephew of Kwame Ture. Kwame Ture, a complex and very controversial figure, many of his friends and associates say he was also deeply misunderstood, particularly by whites. He was denounced by some as sexist, by others as a provocateur. While an activist in the U.S., he was targeted by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program for constant surveillance. His friends believed he was a marked man, and were afraid for his life. But his friends also remember him as much more. To them, he was funny, courageous and inspiring. They remember him as the man who stood up to sheriffs in dark roads in Mississippi and Alabama. They remember his as the friend who could make them laugh, even in the hardest hour.

Today we pay tribute to Kwame Ture, his life, his legacy, with some of his closest friends and associates. And we’ll begin with Dr. Cleveland Sellers, associate director of African American studies at the University of South Carolina. He was Stokely Carmichael’s roommate when they were both students at Howard University, and was his inseparable friend for many years.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dr. Sellers.

CLEVELAND SELLERS JR.: Good morning, and thank you for having me on this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks for joining us. You were together at Howard. You moved to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 for the Mississippi Summer Project. Can you talk a little about the young Kwame Ture, Stokely Carmichael?

CLEVELAND SELLERS JR.: Well, the young Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture, was a very energetic, idealistic young person of the 1960s. And when I say “young person of the 1960s,” there was a tremendous amount of idealism and the feeling that the time had come for change in America, especially as it related to segregation and racial prejudice. And we see that with the sit-ins and the other kinds of activities that young people were involved in. He was a kind of spokesperson. He was a committed and dedicated kind of youth who made a commitment early to social change, and participated in many of the activities — the Freedom Rides, for an example. When I went to Howard University, I saw Stokely as a veteran of the civil rights movement, because he had already gone on the Freedom Rides and had been arrested and served time in the notorious Parchman penitentiary. And so he was willing to make the commitment and also accept the sacrifices and the risks that went along with being a civil rights activist at that particular time.

AMY GOODMAN: You both were involved with SNCC, you the program director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at the time that Stokely Carmichael was its chairman, arrested, both of you, a number of times, and you joined the Black Panther Party together. Can you talk about Stokely Carmichael’s leadership of SNCC and his imprint on it?

CLEVELAND SELLERS JR.: Well, first, “leadership” and ”SNCC,” those are terms that don’t always go together. SNCC began as a kind of organization that believed in participatory democracy, and everybody in the organization would have to have their word in before a decision was in fact made. Stokely grew through SNCC, recognizing that particular characteristic of the organization. And I think that that was what kind of created the person of Stokely, that community of committed and dedicated organizers, people who he trusts, had faith in, people who were willing to risk their lives and put their lives on the line. So, when we talk about his leadership style, it was in the context of the organization.

When he organized the 2nd Congressional District in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, many of those who worked in that district were people that he had recruited from Howard University and Morgan State College and the University of Maryland. Also, when he was in Alabama organizing the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which was the forerunner to the Black Panther Party, he also worked within the confines of the organization. But he was dedicated, and he was committed to struggle, and he was committed to doing the kind of hard work of putting people together, organizing people, organizing indigenous kinds of organizations. And most people could see his sincerity through his work. He was considered a top-flight organizer, bar none, that operated within the civil rights movement framework. I think that when we talk about leadership, we talk about it in the context of his ability to organize.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Cleve Sellers, we have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, we will also be joined by Michael Thelwell, a friend from Howard University, as well as the man who was working with Kwame Ture to the end on his autobiography. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! as we pay tribute to Kwame Ture, Stokely Carmichael.


AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, again, as we pay tribute to Kwame Ture, who was buried yesterday in Guinea-Conakry. As hundreds gathered for his funeral in West Africa, in this country more than 2,000 people gathered at City College, part of the City University of New York, to remember him, as well. We are joined right now by Dr. Cleve Sellers, associate director of African American studies at the University of South Carolina, Stokely Carmichael’s roommate when they were at Howard University, and Michael Thelwell, professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts. He, to the end, was working with Kwame Ture on his autobiography. Kwame Ture died November 14th of prostate cancer in Guinea.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael Thelwell.

MICHAEL THELWELL: Thank you, Ms. Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: You were yesterday at the event, at the large memorial service, that was held for Kwame Ture at City College. What do you think is most significant about him, going back to your days with him at Howard University and having spent these decades as his friend?

MICHAEL THELWELL: I mean, what was significant about Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture, defies a simple soundbite. He is simply one of the most consequential political figures of our very tumultuous times. He is certainly the most consistent — a man with the most consistency, political consistence, moral consistence. He has absolutely, to the end of his days, refused to compromise with privilege, with exploitation, with capitalism. When so many members of the New Left — and this is very ironic — with whom he had very marked differences, the white New Left, very misunderstood differences — found possible to make common cause with Wall Street and become entrepreneurs and brokers and stuff like that — Carmichael insisted on absolutely no compromise with exploitation. So, his integrity, his towering integrity.

He’s also one of the most misunderstood figures, and he’s also one of the most consciously and willfully demonized figures. I mean, I saw The New York Times — God bless it — devote a whole page to an obituary, which seemed devoted, for the full and extensive length of that obituary, to prove the inconsequentiality of Carmichael’s political life. I mean, that seems to me an excessive amount of space to argue the negative. He’s one of the most important political figures of all time.

But beyond that, his life — and you can’t really separate his life from his politics — but his life is absolutely fascinating and surprising in any number of ways, so that as a public figure and as a private human being, he is, in many ways, like a classic literary character, larger than life. And I say that as somebody who knows him personally and intimately.

AMY GOODMAN: Kwame Ture came from, was born in Trinidad, is that right?


AMY GOODMAN: Was he banned from returning to Trinidad?

MICHAEL THELWELL: He was not — he was banned from returning to Trinidad, but this was at a time when he was banned in about 26 countries, most of them concentrated in what my Rasta friends call the brutish empire. And it was clearly an initiative of the American State Department and Her Majesty’s government. The irony that Trinidad was his native land — but the fact is that same Trinidadian government, by Dr. Eric Williams, also placed the eminent and venerable C. L. R. James under house arrest, though Eric Williams was in fact the protégé and student of C. L. R. James. And it was only the outpouring of popular indignation that caused him to release C. L. R. James. The fact is that C. L. R. James, George Padmore, who is a famous Pan-African thinker, and Stokely Carmichael came from the Belmont area of Trinidad, a very small area in Port of Spain, which created three of the most prominent and effective and consequential Pan-Africanist revolutionary thinkers of the Black world, which is only a coincidence.

AMY GOODMAN: Both you, Michael Thelwell, and Cleve Sellers were involved with, well, confrontations with — or should I say the police were involved with confrontations with you, when you were in Mississippi and Alabama.

MICHAEL THELWELL: Well, you know, the problem is you didn’t travel with Carmichael. If there was confrontation to be had, he would find it. And of all the adjectives we have used, one of the things which we haven’t said yet is that Carmichael, as far as anybody looking at him very closely could tell, was utterly a young man without fear. I mean, he just didn’t take law and took no crap off of those crackers.

The first time I was in Mississippi, with my heavy West Indian accent, I made the mistake of allowing Carmichael to take me to Holmes County. The cops stop us: “Niggers, stop the car, take off your hats, spit out your gum, and show me your license.” And Carmichael looks at this caricature of Southern deputy sheriffs — I thought I had seen my last hour — and said, in a clear voice, “Sweets, haven’t I told you my name ain’t 'boy'? It’s Mr. Stokely Carmichael.” And that’s the last I saw of him, as they snapped him out of the car, patted him down, put him in the cop car and ran off down the Delta with him.

But he would not retreat from confrontation. He was absolutely fearless. He was totally dedicated. And the fact is, he’s probably the finest leader that I have known — and I’ve known a great many in a long political life — because he had that intangible quality that leaders have of inspiring people to transcend themselves. It was impossible to give vent, give way to fear, to insecurity, to indecision, if you were around Carmichael. He inspired you to transcend himself. And the people recognized that in him and responded to that in him all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Cleve Sellers, what about your experience with Kwame Ture, with Stokely Carmichael, in the South, in Mississippi and Alabama?

CLEVELAND SELLERS JR.: I have two experiences I think are kind of reflective of the person, Kwame Ture. The first is, is that my first encounter in Mississippi was shortly after the three young men were missing down in Philadelphia, Mississippi. And there was a group of us, eight of us, Kwame Ture being one, and our responsibility and task was to go to Mississippi and search for these three missing — Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. And I remember very vividly that we would stay hidden out in Philadelphia, Mississippi, during he day, and at night we would go out and search the valleys and the wells and the old houses and see if we could find our comrades and friends. And we would have discussions out there, and the question of fear and the use of nonviolence, because we were not armed. And Kwame would probably be the person who would lead the discussion about how we transcend our fear, how we get much larger than just mortals, in the sense that the overall objective was more important than whether or not something happened to us. And the other part of that was just a kind of transcending of the overall fear, as young people do a lot of times.

The other is, is that when I was tried in South Carolina for getting shot in Orangeburg during the Orangeburg massacre, and I actually was in prison doing time in South Carolina. Kwame Ture came to the prison to visit. And I thought that was just exceptional. He was able to make it through the guards and all, and he actually came in and visited with me and the other inmates in the prison. I think these things kind of speak to the determination and, I think, the integrity and the commitment. He didn’t have to do that, but he wanted to show his support, and he was willing to put his life on the line. And this is what many of us have recognized over the long haul, that he continued to make that kind of commitment to social change. He continued to try to make that kind of commitment to the dispossessed and the disenfranchised and oppressed people around the world. And many of us, Kwame lived — we lived through Kwame in terms of continuing the struggle, when we made turns and decided to do other kinds of things, that he continued. And that was the beauty of the person. And he was a reflection of the character, I think, of many of the men and women of the civil rights era, the Pan-Africanist movement, and certainly the socialist movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Cleve Sellers and Dr. Michael Thelwell, both classmates and close friends of Kwame Ture back to Howard University right through until today, talking about him and his years as the chairman of SNCC and as he moved then from SNCC to the Black Panthers, and the last 30 years of his life was the founder and president of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party. We’re going to hear from Kwame Ture himself in 1968 in Oakland addressing a crowd, a large crowd, speaking to the Black Panthers. Kathleen Cleaver was at yesterday’s City College memorial tribute to him and was there also representing the Black Panthers. But first, Kwame Ture in 1968.

STOKELY CARMICHAEL: Now, then, we have to understand what is going on, not only in this country, but in the world, especially in Africa, because we are an African people, nothing else. We have always been an African people. We have always maintained our own value system. And I will prove that to you. As much as he has tried, our people have resisted for 413 years in this wilderness, and they resisted for this generation to carry out what must be done. We cannot fail our ancestors, cannot fail our ancestors, cannot fail our ancestors. We resisted in every way you can point to.

Take the English language. There are cats who come here from Italy, from Germany, from Poland, from France. In two generations, they speak English perfectly. We have never spoken English correctly. Never have we spoken English correctly. Never! Never! Never! And that is because our people consciously resisted a language that did not belong to us — never did, never will. Anyhow they try to run it down our throats, we ain’t gonna have it. We ain’t gonna have it. You must understand that as a level of resistance. Anybody can speak that simple honky’s language correctly. Anybody can do it. We have not done it because we have resisted. Resisted.

Check out our way of life. No matter how hard he’s tried, we still maintain a communal way of life in our communities. We do not send old people to old people’s homes. That’s junk! That’s junk! That’s junk! That’s junk! We do not call children illegitimate in our community. We take care of any child in our community, any child in our community.

It is a level of resistance that we must begin to look for among our people. Pick up that thread and do what has to be done so that our people will survive. Three things. First and foremost, he has been able to make us hate each other. He has transplanted that hate and the love for each other for a love of his country — his country. We must begin to develop, number one — and this is the most important thing we can do as a people — we must first develop an undying love for our people, our people, our people, our people.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Kwame Ture in 1968 addressing a large crowd, speaking to the Black Panthers in Oakland, California. Yesterday, Kathleen Cleaver represented the Black Panthers at the memorial tribute for Kwame Ture, who died on November 14th in Guinea, West Africa, of prostate cancer.

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Down in Alabama, where I’m from, we have a word. You might not have heard this word up here. But it’s a word that very adequately describes Brother Kwame. That word is “bodacious,” is proud, belligerent, arrogant, wise, courageous and very, very, very sweet. And you needed all that. You needed all that to do what he did in Alabama and Mississippi. He had a wonderful little saying I heard when he told me the people in Lowndes County told him when he came there to organize. And they said to him, “This ain’t Montgomery. This ain’t Selma. Talk don’t get it down here.”

I came into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee like thousands of people, pulled by Black Power. I joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee just a few months before that articulation of Black Power had inspired Huey Newton and Bobby Seale out in Oakland to form an organization they called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And that’s an organization I learned about from Kwame, because he came back down to Atlanta with a scroll, after having been out there in Oakland. I think he went to a rally to raise money for those who had been arrested after visiting the state Legislature in — they didn’t just visit; they went there armed and protested a change in the law. He came back with a scroll drafting him as a field marshal in the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And he was very, very, very proud of it. And he said, “Those brothers, they’ve really got it! They got — they’re implementing Black Power!” And he was so excited and so thrilled. He liked to tell people that he introduced me to Eldridge Cleaver, but actually Eldridge introduced himself, but it was through a SNCC conference that I was working on. And sooner or later, I got out there. But I kept seeing Stokely, as we called him then.

He was there when we held a rally for Huey’s birthday. And he came there, his first stop in the United States, his first public statement in the United States, after his tour of what we called the revolutionary capitals. He went to Cairo. He went to Havana. He went to Hanoi. And he came back to the United States, and he came to Oakland. And he was the fantastic final speaker at this huge rally we held in 1968. And he emphasized, over and over, that we must have undying love — undying love — for our people. And he called then for the Black United Front.

To skip over many, many years, I had the opportunity and the privilege to visit him here in New York while he was receiving treatments. And even though he couldn’t get out of bed and he couldn’t always talk at length, he was still organizing and talking about the Black United Front, and “bring me this person,” and “bring me that person,” and “set this up.” So he was organizing to the end. He is the one who not only talked about, wished about, thought about, wrote about going back to Africa; he went back to Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Kathleen Cleaver at yesterday’s memorial service for Kwame Ture in Harlem at City College, where more than 2,000 people came to honor Kwame Ture, Stokely Carmichael’s life. We’ve been joined by Cleveland Sellers and Michael Thelwell, both friends from early in Kwame Ture’s life, friends of his from Howard University and through his SNCC days on through to today. You’re going to hear from Judy Richardson, who knew him well, one of the producers of Eyes on the Prize; Mary King, a resident scholar at the American University, wrote the book Freedom Song about the '60s civil rights movement; and Pacifica Radio's own Samori Marksman, who spent time with Kwame Ture in Africa. Kwame Ture spent many years, decades, in his beloved Africa. All that after stations identify themselves, here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to remember the life of Kwame Ture, who affected so many people around the world. Judy Richardson now joins us for this roundtable discussion of his life, producer and education director at Blackside, which produced the documentary Eyes on the Prize, staff member of SNCC during the early 1960s in Mississippi and a good friend of Stokely Carmichael. She filmed an interview with him from his New York hospital bed last year.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Judy Richardson.

JUDY RICHARDSON: Thank you, Amy. Can I just say — because I always feel so warm and wonderful when I’m with my brothers and sisters from SNCC, and so I just have to say hello to Cleve and Thelwell and Mary King and, of course, to Samori. But it just always makes me feel like I’m back home, so I just had to say that.




JUDY RICHARDSON: Hello, hello.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Judy Richardson, tell us about the coining of the term “Black Power,” which is often mistakenly attributed to Kwame Ture, Stokely Carmichael, though he did popularize it.

JUDY RICHARDSON: Yes. I think, I mean, one of the things to understand, and I think Cleve and Thelwell have done this so beautifully, is to understand — and I’m going to have to say “Stokely,” and I’ve already said that to him many times; you know, I can’t get the Kwame thing — but, you know, is the fact that Stokely, Kwame, was really to be seen in the context of what’s going on in the organization at the time, and that the organization is moving in that direction. And so, when we, for example, interviewed him for Eyes on the Prize, he talks about the fact that when they’re going through the communities around the Meredith March Against Fear in 1966, that what Willie Ricks, who was another wonderful SNCC organizer, starts talking about is, you know, “I think we need to start talking about this Black Power,” that we had already been talking about in the organization. And again, you have to talk about the defeat at 1964, you know, the Atlantic City Democratic convention in '64, the collapse of the liberals, and the fact that we as an organization understood that politics wasn't about morality, it was about power. And what we needed to do was to submit Black Power as a way of moving ahead. So, in that context, you know, we had been talking about it within the organization.

OK, so we’re now on the march, it’s 1966, through Mississippi. And Ricks says — you know, he’s organizing a lot of the communities as they were going through on the march. And he says to Stokely, you know, “I think we’ve got to do it now. You’ve got to do it now, Greenwood.” And Stokely says, “No, not now. Not now. I don’t think we’re ready,” you know. And so, finally, when the march rally comes, and just before the tear-gassing of all of these people who had been marching, Stokely starts talking about the fact that what we need is some Black power. You know, “Enough of this. Everybody else has power. We need some power.” But it was absolutely clear. I mean, there was no equivocation. But it was also so rational. You know, it was a very rational point of view — and again, already going in that direction within the organization.

I will also say, what’s interesting — and one of the things — I mean, it was wonderful that folks talked about Stokely as reflective of the best of the civil rights movement and his consistency. But the thing that I most remember is also his humanity. I mean, what was amazing about this man was how wonderfully he was able to combine this absolutely consistent, clearheaded politics, visionary politics, with this absolutely ultimate humanity, you know, so that when I go — and by the way, I filmed the interview after he had gotten out of the hospital. But when I go to the hospital, you know, first of all, he — you know, you get into the hospital bed. He has these tubes coming out. And his first thing is, “Hey, my sister, ready for the revolution!”

OK, now, what it reminded me of — and we had a back-and-forth-and-stuff joke. But it reminded me of when I did the interview with him for the second series of Eyes on the Prize. And I deliberately had breakfast with him before we did the interview, because I knew that it was going to be difficult to get Stokely to say “African Americans” or “Black people,” because he refers to them always as just “Africans,” because that is consistent with his philosophy. So, I’m sitting there at breakfast saying, “Now, you know, my brother, nobody — when we edit this material, nobody’s going to know what in the hell you’re talking about if you say 'Africans.'” And he said, “Well, you know, I can’t say that. I can’t say 'African Americans.'”

So we get into the interview, and I’m filming. And you’re talking about, you know, this is a classic procedure. We’ve got a three-man crew. You know, Bobby Shepard is up there with us. And so, but it’s a Black crew. Bobby Shepherd’s from New York, Sekou, his brother. And so, we’re sitting there, and he at some point starts to refer to Africans — and kind of smiles at me as he’s talking about it, and then kind of does it “my people,” right? Or something that referred to it but didn’t have to say “Africans,” and then continues going and even goes beyond the point that I know I can use the material. And I say “cut,” but the cameraman didn’t cut, because he’s enjoying this, right? I mean, it was wonderful. And at the end, Kwame says, “Yeah, I know you can’t use it, but I had to say it. Haha haha!” But what was lovely about him was that he did this with a kind of humor, you know? I mean, it was consistent, but he was playing with me. And he was so charming that you couldn’t even get mad at him.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Judy Richardson, close friend of Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture, who filmed an interview with him as he was in the hospital in New York. I wanted to move forward a little bit, from his days as a SNCC member, then as a Black Panther, to his life in Africa. Samori Marksman was a good friend of his there in Africa, both in Guinea and Liberia — Samori, program director at Pacifica Radio’s WBAI here in New York — and came to spend a good deal of time with him from 1973 through 1978, when Samori was living in Africa.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Samori.

SAMORI MARKSMAN: Thank you very much for allowing me on Pacifica Radio.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, good to have you. Tell us about those years in Guinea and Liberia.

SAMORI MARKSMAN: Well, a lot of — much of what Michael Thelwell spoke about, which is this sort of ideological defiance, if you will — I use the word “defiance” in this context, in that Kwame Ture arrived at what I consider to be a sort of an ideological zenith, which is where many Africans from across the world ultimately settle, if you will. The people like Malcolm X ultimately approach the point of Pan-Africanism. People like George Padmore, of course, arrived at that point. People like Walter Rodney, people like even Paul Robeson, many others, arrive at that point of ideological attainment. And certainly Kwame Ture came from the civil rights struggle, from Black nationalism, and arrived at a point of Pan-Africanism, revolutionary Pan-Africanism.

But he arrived there not simply in a philosophical way, but along clear ideological — articulate and clear ideological points — he was anti-imperialist, he was anti-capitalist, he was a socialist — and the same kind of defiance, which Michael alluded to earlier, in that he didn’t — he never feared actually advancing these sort of ideas. He argued for scientific socialism in Africa. And he arrived at the point of recognizing the contributions of people like Marx and Engels and Lenin, and pointed to that as an incorporation of what he believed in the overall context of Pan-Africanism. And as such, I found a joy talking with him. And we spent a lot of time arguing, in fact, at a house that was on the beach, and it had a rooftop, so we used to sit on the —

AMY GOODMAN: Where was this?

SAMORI MARKSMAN: In Liberia. And if you ever listen to Coltrane in your life, if you sit on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean listening to Coltrane in the background, arguing with Kwame Ture, well, you can’t describe that as such. But we spent a lot of time debating what part of Trinidad are you from, how much pepper you should have in your rice and peas.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, at that time, in the early ’70s, was he married to Miriam Makeba?

SAMORI MARKSMAN: Yes, he was. And, in fact, she spent a lot of time at that point in Liberia, even though she — another home she had was in Guinea. So, actually, they commuted a lot between Guinea and Liberia. Obviously, both countries are side by side.

And we spent a lot of time debating ideological points. In fact, a lot of debates at that point was over China and the Soviet Union, whether or not one should accept the sort of ideological guidance from the Russians or from the Chinese. And a lot of our debate was around that. It was at a point, of course, when there was a struggle raging in southern Africa, and one pretty much had to make a decision, if you will, an ideological decision, as to where one came down on questions about Angola, of Mozambique, etc. And many of our discussions are centered around that. And invariably, he always upheld — we may have disagreed on fine ideological points; clearly, his commitment, his commitment to anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and pro-Pan-Africanist ideas were unquestionable. And I think that’s what I sort of got from my experience with him in that brief period in Guinea.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, as we said at the beginning of the show, his name that he took, Kwame Ture, was taken from Kwame Nkrumah —

MICHAEL THELWELL: Well, he didn’t actually take the name. It was given to him.


AMY GOODMAN: Michael Thelwell?

MICHAEL THELWELL: Ahmed Sékou Touré, the president who led Guinea to independence in defiance of de Gaulle in France, said one day to Kwame — they were having a debate on this question between Kwame Nkrumah — between Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré, and Carmichael was arguing Nkrumah’s position. So, Touré says, “You know, you always take the old man’s position. Why don’t you just go ahead and take his name?”


MICHAEL THELWELL: And Carmichael said, “Mr. President, that’s an excellent suggestion, but I will need a first name.” And so he took Kwame as — no, he said, “I can take his first name, but I need a last name.” And he took Touré’s name and merged it. The fact is that in many ways — and I’ve been discussing this relationship with him for a long time — those two men, the two founding leaders of African independence, if you will, and spokesmen for Pan-Africanism, accepted Carmichael, the African American born in Trinidad, as their ideological, if not genetic, friend — son. He really was their protégé. They were grooming him for a certain kind of leadership. And in the African communities, taking of names is a very, very important ritual in the rites of passage of any human life, so that no title in Africa, as Chinua Achebe once told me, is ever totally honorific, and no name is meaningless. So, for him to carry those two names is a very culturally significant thing.

And that’s important about Kwame, because, see, the only reason we’re talking about him today, right now in this studio, is because his life recapitulated, in amazing ways, the political and cultural evolution of a whole generation of Africans in the world. And this is the generation that had the responsibility of the civil rights movement in this country, the generation in Africa that had the responsibility of the liberation struggle out of colonialism, so a very epochal generation. And Carmichael’s life recapitulated the various stages of that political evolution to remarkable ways — in remarkable ways. That’s what makes him important. But —

SAMORI MARKSMAN: May I just add something concerning the name? Because I think it’s very important.

MICHAEL THELWELL: OK, but I want to finish this after you finish out.

SAMORI MARKSMAN: His grandfather, you know, Sékou Touré’s grandfather —

AMY GOODMAN: Samori Marksman.


SAMORI MARKSMAN: — whose name was Almamy Samori Ture, from which I got my name, in fact — we debated very much whether or not he should accept the word Samori. This was 1978 we’re talking about that this actually happened. And it was interesting. That debate was whether or not he rooted his understanding not only in terms of his contemporary experience with Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré, which he did, but because he was fully — he fully understood the deeper cultural and political roots of the name continuing the struggle, because Almamy Samori Ture was head of the Mandingo Empire that fought against French colonialism. And, in fact —

MICHAEL THELWELL: Resisted it successfully for 40 years.

SAMORI MARKSMAN: That’s right, and was exiled. In fact, rather than continuing to fight, he decided to go into exile to avoid a slaughter of his people. But I’m saying, but Kwame Ture understood that clearly. And so it shows a continuity, not only in terms of continuity between Stokely Carmichael, but his understanding of the continuity within the experience of anti-colonial struggle within Africa itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Samori Marksman and Michael Thelwell, talking about their friend Kwame Ture, with whom they spent time in this country, as well as in Africa, where Kwame Ture spent much of his last 30 years, in Guinea, also in — spent time in Liberia. We are also joined by Mary King, who is a friend of Kwame Ture’s back in the SNCC days and has written a book, Freedom Song: A Personal Story of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. We only have a few minutes, but as you reflect on Kwame Ture’s life, Mary King, in Washington, D.C., what most stands out for you about his significance?

MARY KING: First, I, too, have to say good morning, Judy, Cleve and Mike.

JUDY RICHARDSON: Good morning.


MARY KING: You know, it’s funny, but if you ask me how to describe him in one word, I would say “lovable.” He is one of the most lovable persons that I’ve ever known, charismatic and energetic, magnetic, with the most remarkable sense of humor. I think I give him credit most of all for understanding the need to break down fear and to replace submissiveness with struggle and resistance.

It’s really tragic that he’s been so misunderstood. The best example of this is the way that he’s gone down in the literature as a misogynist, as someone who hates women, which is just appalling. And it’s a complete misunderstanding of an incident that occurred in Waveland, Mississippi, in 1964, where a group of us had gathered on a wharf, and he started making fun of himself and then of people from Trinidad, and then he went on to make fun of Black Mississippians. And he went on making fun of one group after another, and finally he came to the position papers that the staff members of SNCC had all written. And another woman and I, Casey Hayden, had written a position paper on women and the hope to expand the movement even more democratically to the aspirations of women. And he turned and looked at me — I think you were there, Mike — and said, “The position of women in SNCC is prone.” Now, somehow, that got picked up in the literature, and people like Robin Morgan, Barbara Ehrenreich, Karen DeWitt have all repeated this without ever verifying it with those who were there. They made errors. There was no context. They attributed to Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, said that Stokely had shouted her down. This is such a bad rap, but it’s very equivalent to the bad rap that he’s received in other ways, as well.

MICHAEL THELWELL: You know, it’s also the opposite.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Thelwell.

MICHAEL THELWELL: It’s also the opposite to what his life represented. Women have played a remarkable role in his life, and he has always advanced — I mean, [inaudible] Judy speak very movingly about being always able to go to Stokely in the organization, and he would support any project that she had and any autonomous activity she wanted to take. And his whole life has reflected that incredible respect for women. The thing is that he had an incredible sense of humor. And the incident that Mary is talking about, he was in fact doing a stand-up comic routine, and he was conducting a press conference, with a particularly ignorant and officious reporter asking dumb questions and a very not-too-bright SNCC worker answering them. So the questions were stupid, and the answers were even funnier, had us in stitches. And then the reporter says, “And the position of women in SNCC? What is the position of women?” And he scratches his head and says, “Well, I expect prone.” And everybody cracked up. That became an ideological statement and, you know, given a consequence it didn’t really have.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, we do have to wrap up this discussion, and I want to thank everyone for being with us from around the country. Michael Thelwell with us, who is right now continuing Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture’s autobiography, finishing it up so that it can be published.

MICHAEL THELWELL: Well, he worked very hard last year to leave us a record, which will correct much of the misinformation in the historical record. And it’s a fascinating account.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we look forward very much to reading it. Again, Michael Thelwell, professor of comparative literature at University of Massachusetts; Samori Marksman, Pacifica Radio WBAI program director; Dr. Cleve Sellers, associate director of African American studies at University of South Carolina; Judy Richardson of Blackside Productions; and Mary King, resident scholar at the American University.

If you’d like a copy of today’s show, the number to call is 1-800-735-0230. That’s 1-800-735-0230. Democracy Now! is produced by María Carrión; technical director, Errol Maitland; Julie Drizin, our executive producer. I’m Amy Goodman. From the studios of WBAI in New York, thank you for listening to another edition of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

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