By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
Ten days before he died, Kwame Ture, the thundermouth '60s black power advocate, repeated accusations that for 32 years "U.S. imperialism [had been] seriously planning to assassinate" him and may have succeeded "this time [with] an FBI-induced cancer." The
Trinidad-born iconoclast, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, succumbed last Sunday to prostate cancer in his adopted homeland of Guinea in West Africa.
Cancer is "the latest in the white man's arsenal of chemical and biological warfare," the 57-year-old Ture warned in a November 5 communiqué that he'd planned to release after boarding a plane to Libya to defy a U.S. ban on travel there, and to Cuba, North Sudan, North Korea, as well as Iraq. For two years, Ture wrestled with the disease. As it ate him up, "Baba," as Guineans called the gravel-voiced militant, declared that he felt even "more determined to destroy it today" than he was in 1967 when he claims he discovered an FBI plot to murder him.
For a while it seemed as if Ture had triumphed in his psychological warfare against the alleged would-be assassins. Comrades bristled at his stubbornness in continuing a hectic travel schedule both overseas and in appearances before largely African American audiences at U.S. colleges.
He hoped that by going to Libya he would encourage blacks to embarrass the Clinton administration, which continues economic sanctions imposed on the Tripoli regime in early 1986 by Ronald Reagan in the wake of terrorist bombings at the Rome and Vienna airports. Last year he refused to notify the government after Fidel Castro invited him to Cuba to undergo treatment. Ture's trip to Libya would have been a symbolic protest against such sanctions.
"We have a heightened responsibility to help protect Cuba and Libya at this time," Ture urged in the communiqué." We must move before U.S. imperialism is strengthened and attacks. We must make it clear that an embargo and travel ban against Cuba and Libya is an embargo and travel ban against Africa and one billion African people who are scattered, suffering, and struggling in every corner of the world."
He compared traveling to Libya with the historic Freedom Rides organized by civil rights activists who ventured into areas declared off-limits to blacks by Jim Crow segregationists. "As children we joined the Freedom Rides to break the back of segregation and apartheid in interstate transportation in the United States," he wrote. "Today, we ride on the front of the bus, we charter buses to take one million men, women, and children to marches in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Atlanta. And we will never turn back."
acquiescing to his final wish "to sleep . . . in Guinea, eternally" doctors gave Ture the go-ahead to return to West Africa in August. There the self-described socialist began to reflect on a remarkable life as an unapologetic agitator for black liberation.
As Stokely Carmichael, he made the phrase "Black Power" a rallying cry of the civil rights upheavals of the '60s. He was among the most fiery and visible black leaders, catapulting to prominence first as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and then as prime minister of the Black Panther Party. "In the 1960s," he recalled, "we said, 'Hell No, we won't go' to Vietnam to fight against a people who never called us nigger."
Ture, who received financial assistance for his treatment from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, said that had it not been for the black Muslims, the FBI, which had infiltrated black groups with its infamous Cointelpro offensive, might have succeeded in assassinating him.
"In 1966, when I had just been elected Chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, my first official act was to visit the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam," he wrote in the November 5 communiqué. "It [was] then that he ordered all members of the Fruit of Islam to protect me wherever I traveled. I am still under that umbrella of protection today, here in Africa. I could never be ungrateful to the Nation of Islam, to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, nor to his incarnation Minister Louis Farrakhan."
Ture recalled that after being alerted to the alleged FBI plot on his life following a visit to communist Cuba in 1967, Castro's warning of retaliation "if imperialism touches one grain of hair on his head" helped to diminish the death threats.
In 1967, the African leaders Ahmed Sekou Toure and Kwame Nkrumah invited Ture to attend the Eighth Congress of the Democratic Party of Guinea. After the conference, the leaders, as Ture put it, "invited me to live, work, study, and struggle here in Guinea." Two years later, he cut his ties with U.S. groups over the issue of allying with white radicals and "readily accepted" the invitation to emigrate to Guinea, "despite tremendous criticism from almost every quarter." There, under a new name, which he took from Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Toure, he organized the All-African People's Revolutionary Party.
To the end of his life, Ture continued preaching black power and championing socialism while condemning America, capitalism, and Zionism.
"Thirty years later, I still live in Guinea, working, studying, and struggling for the African Revolution," he wrote in his final communiqué. "And I will continue to do so until the last second, of the last minute, of the last hour, of the last day."
Research: W. Michelle Beckles