News Features            Nov. 16th, 1998
Today's Top Story
Revered Activist Kwame Ture Dies

Monday, November 16, 1998
By Debra Hale Shelton

ASSOCIATED PRESS, Kwame Ture, the black activist whose politics stretched from the landmark freedom rides to the pinnacle of the Black Panther Party and finally to resolute Pan Africanism, has died in Guinea. The man once known as Stokely Carmichael was 57. 

Ture, who popularized the rallying cry "Black Power'' during the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s, died Sunday of prostate cancer, said Sharon Sobukwe, a member of his All-African People's Revolutionary Party in Philadelphia. 

She learned of his death from Amadou Ly, a close friend of Ture who was with him when he died. 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he visited with Ture three times at his home in Guinea during a trip to Africa last week. 

"He was one of our generation who was determined to give his life to transforming America and Africa,'' Jackson said. "He was committed to ending racial apartheid in our country. He helped to bring those walls down.'' 

As Carmichael, Ture was among the most fiery and visible leaders of black militancy in the United States in the '60s, first as head of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee and then as prime minister of the Black Panther Party. 

Although he denied being anti-Semitic, his condemnations of Israel and Zionism, particularly before U.S. campus audiences in the early 1990s, led the Anti-Defamation League to say, "He remains a disturbing, polarizing figure.'' 

Born in Trinidad on June 29, 1941, and raised there and in New York, Ture described himself as a pliant acceptor of white dominion while growing up. 

He recalled in a 1967 interview in the London Observer that as a boy in the Trinidad capital of Port-of-Spain, he and his black schoolmates "went to the movies and yelled for Tarzan to beat the hell out of Africa.'' 
 

In a rare public appearance together, the leaders of Civil Rights groups conduct a news conference in Memphis, Tenn., in this 1966 file photo. From left, they are: Kwame Ture (then, Stokely Carmichael); the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Floyd McKissick, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality. 

"I'm angry because I didn't rebel,'' he said. 

In 1960, he enrolled at Howard University, the predominantly black university in Washington, D.C., where he received a degree in philosophy and plunged into the civil rights revolution. 

In a time when black college students were being beaten and arrested for daring to sit at whites-only Southern lunch counters, Carmichael joined the first freedom rides -- bus trips aimed at desegregating public transportation -- and suffered the first of what was to be about three dozen jailings when he reached Mississippi. 

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who met Carmichael in the freedom rides of 1961 and preceded him as chairman of the SNCC, said he would be remembered "as one of the more militant of spokespersons of that period. He held strong views in terms of civil rights and civil liberties, both here and in Africa.'' 

For the rest of his life, both overseas and in appearances before largely black audiences at U.S. colleges, Ture preached black power and championed socialism while condemning America, capitalism and Zionism. 

In June 1966, three weeks before his 25th birthday, he was elected national chairman of the SNCC and shortly afterward raised the cry of "Black Power'' as he led a freedom march in Mississippi. 

Responding to those who called the slogan racist and inflammatory, he wrote that by black power he meant political and economic empowerment. "We want control of the institutions of the communities where we live and we want to stop the exploitation of nonwhite people around the world,'' he said in the New York Review of Books. 


"We want control of the institutions of the communities where we live and we want to stop the exploitation of nonwhite people around the world'' --

In 1968, Carmichael left the SNCC for the Black Panthers, but broke with that movement the following year because it favored working with radical whites. He said history showed such alliances had "led to complete subversion of the blacks by the whites.'' 

He cut his ties with the American groups over the issue of allying with white radicals and moved to Guinea in West Africa in 1969. There, with a new name taken from the African leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Toure, he organized the All-African People's Revolutionary Party. 

From Guinea, where he had moved with his then-wife, South African-born singer and political activist Miriam Makeba, he declared himself a Pan Africanist with a goal of forming "one cohesive force to wage an unrelenting armed struggle against the white Western empire for the liberation of our people.'' 

He long hoped to see a single, socialist state for all of Africa, which would give Africans there and abroad -- he rejected the term "African-American'' -- pride and power. 

Ture was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996. A self-described socialist, he was treated in Cuba and received financial help for his treatment from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. 

"In many ways he was at peace with himself,'' Jackson said. "He wanted for his last days to be in Guinea and in West Africa. ... He wanted to be amongst the people of Africa. 

Ture is survived by his mother, three sisters and two sons.