Kwame Toure Dead at 57: His quest for 'black power' ended in West Africa, where he sought refuge.

November 21, 1998

IF ONLY Stokely Carmichael had stayed in this country, we would all be the better for it. Known in later years as Kwame Toure, he will be best remembered for the most famous -- or infamous -- phrase in the civil rights lexicon, "black power." But his vision and ability extended far beyond words.

His death at the age of 57 recalled the heady days of the movement of the 1960s, the tense and sometimes deadly challenges to the racist status quo in the South and rioting in the rest of the country.

That he died in West Africa, where he had lived for 30 years, was testimony to his consistent theme that white America was no place for African Americans to live.

If his fiery and inflammatory rhetoric frightened whites, it was meant to do just that. It shook up a lot of blacks, too.

The "black power" slogan, so radical at the time, was born of the frustration of many blacks, particularly young students, during a period of seemingly little progress on race. Yet during his lifetime,some of what he advocated came to pass. He grudgingly acknowledged as much in later interviews.

Kwame Toure's life was a metaphor for the good and the bad of the past 30 years. An extremely bright student at the elite Bronx Science High School in New York and Howard University, his confrontation with racism was no different from that of most blacks. He dealt with it by using his immense organizing and speaking talents.

In retrospect, his call for black power was on target. But he contributed to some of the misunderstanding and confusion surrounding it. Over time, the phrase came to be accepted as meaning fairness, equality and power-sharing. The thousands of blacks in elected office, the millions more in professional positions and jobs and those moving on up attest to the prescience of the slogan.

It is too bad that the brilliant and charismatic Kwame Toure did not elect to stick around, continue agitating and eventually enjoy some of the benefits of the "black power" that he sought.

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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