In the late sixties when Stokely Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture he only underscored his increasingly passionate commitment to a revolutionary outlook and Pan-African thought. The names were in honor of Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and Sekou Toure, who had a similar position and stature in Guinea.
This momentous development in Ture’s life was among the issues discussed Tuesday evening at the Barnes and Noble Union Square store by the eminent public intellectual Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Peniel Joseph, whose biography “Stokely—A Life” was released this week.
After a breathtaking profile of Ture’s life, which he does much slower but with equal profundity in his book, Joseph settled on a few salient points about a man he considered “an iconic American hero.” Only a small segment of the audience would have found this unnecessary since the majority were young adults and were probably hearing about the activist for the first time.
“Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture was born in Trinidad, arrived in the United States when he was eleven, attended Bronx High School of Science, and spent many days and nights in Harlem,” Joseph began, interweaving a proliferation of dates as is his wont. “It was at Howard University that he began his involvement in the civil rights movement, where he marched with Dr. King and the others determined to end segregation and white supremacy.”
Joseph is an expert on the history of Black Power and choosing Ture as his subject was propitious since it was he who shouted the phrase during a march in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1966. It sent shock waves through the community, Joseph explained, “and it would forever be a mantra for Ture.”
Dr. West offered his own analysis of Ture’s life and legacy, noting that he was a revolutionary “who deeply loved Black people.” His essential role was to pose questions for Joseph but it was also a grand opportunity for his elucidate on Ture’s relationship to Dr. King, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights activists, all of whom Ture “highly respected and held in great esteem,” he added.
Joseph agreed with West’s conclusion about Ture’s love for the people and expanded on the idea by noting Ture’s desire to connect the struggle for independence in Africa with the fight against American apartheid. “By taking up residence in Africa, where he lived for some thirty years in Guinea and marrying the beautiful and talented singer Miriam Makeba, he was demonstrating a need to fight against capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism no matter where they were,” he said.
As expected, it was a lively discussion made all the more provocative during the question and answer session when West and Joseph provided additional information on Ture’s brief period as a member of the Black Panther Party, his travels to the Middle East and association with the Palestinian movement, and the creation of his own organization the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.
“His life was well-lived,” Joseph said, “and it’s important that we find a way to continue his legacy of struggle into the next generation.”
A good portion of this extension is deftly showcased in Joseph’s book and a review of it will appear soon on this site.