By the end of his life, Kwame Ture 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.
On what would’ve been his 75th birthday, a cadre of former colleagues and mentees gathered at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe on Georgia Avenue in Northwest to remember Ture and ensure that today’s grassroots activists keep his memory alive in the ongoing fight for African liberation.
“Kwame had been a catalyst and game changer in my life. It was great being involved in political work and organizing African people for a common movement and action,” said Jendayi Exum, an educator and lifelong D.C. resident who attended the Wednesday, June 29th event.
In 1976, Exum, then a student at American University in Northwest, met Ture during his visit to the campus. Within a year, she joined A-APRP and accompanied Ture on trips around the country.
“He wanted us to have a united Black front so he pushed for organizations to come together. He gave us an international perspective and helped us understand that all oppressed people must come into the struggle,” said Exum, also an organizer of African Liberation Day, an annual event A-APRP hosted in Malcolm X Park throughout the 1970s.
“Around that time, that’s when I first read ‘Destruction of Black Civilization’ and ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ and saw how much I didn’t know,” she added.
Ture, born Stokely Carmichael, made his start as an organizer in the Civil Rights movement as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) where he brought the mantra “Black Power” to the national spotlight. After stepping down from the helm of SNCC in 1967, he traveled the world as the Black Panther Party’s Honorary Prime Minister, outlining his vision for Black Power before audiences in Guinea, North Vietnam, China, Cuba and other countries.
During the last 30 years of his life, a period largely overlooked by the mainstream media, Ture organized globally and spread his message of Pan-African unification and anti-imperialism. Inspired by his mentors Sekou Toure, Guinean political leader, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, whose names he took on in his new moniker, Ture helped strengthened ties between Black and African liberation groups as a central committee member of A-APRP.
As with other leaders of his caliber, Ture became an enemy of the state, unable to return to the U.S. or his native home of Trinidad. In 1998, he died in Guinea of prostate cancer, an ailment he said was brought on by the U.S. government.
“Kwame Ture was the epitome of the new thinking and it had been a departure from what had been the call. The boldness attracted me,” said Hasinatu Camara, a key organizer of the event and someone who knew Ture closely.
On that Wednesday evening, Camara passed around a microphone and allowed guests to reflect on his legacy. Later, she told personal stories, including one in which Ture got her a custom-made birthday cake during their group’s stay in Guinea.
“He had philosophy we could use. We grew as comrades in our commitment to African people,” Camara, a former educator at the shuttered Booker T. Washington Institute said. “We would organize for African Liberation Day. We would propagandize. We led anti-Zionist campaigns. I want the young people to be vigilant and uphold their principles using the principles the ancestors left us as a guide.”
Camara’s words didn’t fall on deaf ears.
Rasheed Van Putten, a local organizer and self-proclaimed student of Kwame Ture, said the birthday celebration reaffirmed the importance of educating young people about a man who was able to bridge divides and unite people under a common goal.
“It’s the job of the conscious to make the unconscious conscious,” Van Putten, producer of Real Black & Gifted Live, a weekly radio show on Howard University’s Glasshouse Radio, said. “Kwame Ture often talked about serving the people and how he didn’t like the first person singular. Very seldom did he say ‘I.’ He always said ‘we.’ When people introduce him, he said ‘we thank you.’ His perspective was very forward thinking.”