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English: 40th Reunion of the Black Panther Par...

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An Ephemeral Note On Ture, Black Power, And The African American Legacy Of Kujichagulia

For Africana people Kujichagulia (Self-determination) is an early high human aspiration. Historically Kujichagulia is not a request for power; it is the assertion of power (i.e. in Cato’s Stono Rebellion of 1739, the Africans did not seek permission from the South Carolina authorities to revolt so that they could be free). However, for the sake of clarity, it should be noted that in the modern disciplines of sociology, philosophy, education, and especially psychology self-determination concept is a theory of human development and motivation focused mainly on the individual and issues of identity. In the areas of history, politics, and law, self-determination is the perceived right of states and peoples to express democratic power; to self-govern, to give consent to be governed; and to remove consent when governance is unjust. Nineteenth and early twentieth century Black scholars often cited western historical philosophies about self-determination and democracy frequently beginning with the French (1789-1799) and the American (1775-1783) Revolutions. Even so, Black scholars were especially interested in highlighting the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) initiating the great Black Republic and the implications for Black freedom. These conceptualizations emphasized national territory, but also the political, social and cultural aims of specific peoples. Within world nations, self-determination is an important construct because it challenges exploitation, inequity, dependency, and motivates people toward collective responsibility. After the American Civil War (1861-1865) the idea of self-determination as applied to people of African descent was severely limited, eventually extending to Blacks the idea of self-determination in terms of moral and religious improvement. Much later in the 1920s, there were more serious concerns about communist and socialist influences on the idea of self-determination and Black populace through World War II and the McCarthy period.

English: Ron Karenga celebrating at the Roches...

While African Americans have a long history of dialoguing about, and practicing Kujichagulia, by the 1950s and 1960s self-determination was a major Black Nationalist philosophical theme, one that would permeate and refuel and infuse Africana thought and culture. The creator and founder of Kwanzaa Dr. Maulana Karenga defined Kujichagulia as “The first act of a free people is to shape its world in its own image and interest…a statement about their conception of self and their commitment to self-determination.” As an Afrocentric conceptualization, Kujichagulia “…demands that we as an African people define, defend and develop ourselves instead of allowing or encouraging others to do this. It requires that we recover lost memory and once again shape our world in our own image and interest.”[1] The Kwanzaa principle of Kujichagulia is for Africana people the world over, an attitude, a practice, an aspiration, and a reality. It was only when we were absolute about being self-determining within the highest aspect of our Africanity that we articulated the clearest expression of Black freedom.

Stokely Carmichael

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In commemorating Kwanzaa 2011 it is important to revisit the life of Kwame Ture (sometimes spelled Toure). Various and sundry textual and tactile items, and internet sources were perused. In doing so, we are consistently met one main theme—that most of the material about Kwame Ture did not attempt to discuss his life, work, and philosophy after the late 1970s. He was only 57 years old when he died in 1998 in Conakry, Guinea. Even some of the more credible biographical sources dismissed the last thirty years of his life. Although his family, peers, colleagues and younger Black scholars were dedicated to his holistic memory; the mainstream media was only interested in their idea of “Stokely Carmichael,” the angry student, the man constantly arrested for protesting, the man most credited with bringing national attention to the phrase “Black Power.”… Kwame Ture was born Stokely Carmichael in 1941 in the Caribbean (Trinidad). As a student at Howard University, Ture became one of the foremost activists in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. He worked with CORE, SNCC, and the Nonviolent Action Group. He was a freedom rider and briefly a Black Panther. He changed his name in 1978, demonstrating a growing commitment among African descended peoples who reclaim and embrace their Africanity. This was where he “disappeared” from American mainstream media and society, like so many Black activists who openly and unabashedly accept Africanity. As a personal tribute to his mentors and teachers, Ture changed his name to honor two African statesmen: Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah and Guinea President Ahmed Sekou Toure.

English: President Ahmed Sekou Toure of the Re...

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Kwame Ture was one of world’s premier contemporary Black Nationalists, a luminary of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and at all times clear and consistent about his self-determination message to African people. In his 1998 eulogy of Ture, Dr. Floyd W. Hayes III observed: “Unlike many Black Power militants of the 1960s who have since faded from the scene, Kwame Ture remained a revolutionary activist until his very last days. Ture’s activism was sustained by his quest to uproot injustices wherever they existed. He maintained his revolutionary zeal because he was profoundly and unalterably committed to African and human liberation” (http://www.purdue.edu/bcc/library/haytur.htm).[2] Rejecting that Blacks would be known historically as a permanently dependent people, Ture defined major aspects of Black politics and culture in his posthumous autobiography (with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell), Ready for the Revolution. With very few exceptions (P.E. Joseph’s 2006 Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, and more recently Molefi Kete Asante’s 2009 Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait), Ready for the Revolution is one of the most thoughtful and eloquent treatments of contemporary Black Nationalism as expressed in the life of Ture.

In the chapter “Black Power and Its Consequences” Ture discussed at length the implications of the calls for “Black Power” in the 1960s, including the sense of outrage it generated from many sectors. In the spirit of Kujichagulia, Ture defended the diametrically opposing conceptualizations of black power in the national media: “Being pro-black didn’t mean you’re antiwhite. As I used to say, just because you’re building your own house doesn’t mean you have to tear own the house across the street…indeed, we explicitly talked about trying to build the political bases from which at the appropriate time we could enter into coalitions with whites as respected partners and allies rather than as patronized beggars and clients” (532). [3] Kwame Ture lived Kujichagulia in support of the African world community. As with all great black leaders he prepared for his immortality by providing his biographer, Professor Thelwell, a massive amount of material for the book. He was immersed in his neo-Africanity, praising his ancestors and elder-mentors, and speaking of legacies. In Ready for the Revolution he told Thelwell a year before he died, “What we are writing here is history…more than anything else, this is an account of my people. My remarkable, heroic, struggling people who have supported, inspired, and protected me in all my years of strife…I am, an eyewitness to history” (3-4). To be sure those who knew him well can attest that he gave his best to African people, though he seemed to believe that Blacks gave more to him. Kujichagulia is an inspirational Kwanzaa message as I contemplate an old pale blue “mimeograph-like” program (given to my baby daughter) from a lecture that took place in the late 1980s. It is signed by Kwame Ture and reads: “yours in the struggle.”

By Katherine Bankole-Medina

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[1] Maulana Karenga, “The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles): Their Meaning and Message”: from The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture by Maulana Karenga. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 1989. On the history of African American self-determination see also V. P. Franklin, Black Self-Determination: A Cultural History Of The Faith Of The Fathers, New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1984, and his Black Self-Determination: A Cultural History Of African-American Resistance, New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1992.

[2] “A Tribute To Kwame Toure/Stokely Carmichael: The Life And Struggle Of A Revolutionary Warrior,” Black Cultural Center Eulogy by Dr. Floyd W. Hayes, III, Department of Political Science, Purdue University, December 1, 1998. http://www.purdue.edu/bcc/library/haytur.htm

[3] Stokely Carmichael (with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell), Ready for the Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), New York: Scribner, 2003.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, Black Power: the politics of liberation in America, New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

Stokely Carmichael, on “Black Power” (an excerpt from the book, 1968) located at http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/pdocs/carmichael_blackpower.pdf

Stokely Carmichael, “El Poder Negro,” in Punto Final (Santiago Chile, 1967) El Problema Negro En Los Estados Unidos, located at http://www.pf-memoriahistorica.org/PDFs/1967/PF_035_doc_2.pdf.

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