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The Death of Bill Sutherland

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by Shwari, Jan 28, 2010.

  1. S

    Shwari Senior Member

    Jan 28, 2010
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    Bill Sutherland Dead - Jan 6, 2010

    Bill Sutherland, unofficial ambassador between the peoples of Africa and the Americas for over fifty years, died peacefully on the evening of January 2, 2010. He was 91.

    The following announcement was distributed by the Sutherland family:

    Bill Sutherland, unofficial ambassador between the peoples of Africa and the Americas for over fifty years, died peacefully on the evening of January 2, 2010. He was 91.

    A life-long pacifist and liberation advocate, Sutherland became involved in civil rights and anti-war activities as a youthful member of the Student Christian Movement in the 1930s. Sutherland was raised in New Jersey, the son of a prominent dentist and youngest brother to Reiter Sutherland and to Muriel Sutherland Snowden of Boston, who founded Freedom House in 1949 and was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant. He spent four years at Lewisburg Federal Correctional Facility in the 1940s as a conscientious objector to World War Two, striking up what became life-long friendships with fellow C.O.s Ralph DiGia, Bayard Rustin, George Houser, Dave Dellinger, and others. In 1951, in the early days of the Cold War, Sutherland, DiGia, Dellinger, and Quaker pacifist Art Emory constituted the Peacemaker bicycle project, which took the message of nuclear disarmament to both sides of the Iron Curtain.

    In 1953, in coordination with the War Resisters International and with several activist groups and independence movement parties on the continent, he moved to what was then known as the Gold Coast. An active supporter of Kwame Nkrumah, he married playwright and Pan African cultural activist Efua Theodora, and became the headmaster of a rural secondary school. The call of Pan Africanist politics was very strong, and Sutherland was instrumental—along with a small group of African Americans living in Ghana at the time, including dentists Robert and Sara Lee–in hosting the visit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King to the 1957 independence celebrations. In the early days of the first Ghanaian government, Sutherland also served on the organizing team of the All African Peoples Congress. He was appointed private secretary to Finance Minister Komla Gbedema. He was also central to the development of the Sahara Protest Team, which brought together African, European, and U.S. peace leaders to put their bodies in the way of nuclear testing in the Sahara Desert.

    Sutherland left Ghana in 1961, working in both Lebanon and Israel for the founding of Peace Brigades International, and for the Israeli labor organization Histadrut. It was also in this period that he began a friendship with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan of the Ismaili community, working in support of displaced persons as Sadruddin became United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He settled in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1963, as a civil servant. Sutherland’s chief work in Dar involved support for the burgeoning independent governments and liberation movements. A close friend and associate of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Sutherland helped develop the Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA).

    He served as hospitality officer for the Sixth Pan African Congress - held in Dar in 1974 - working with C.L.R. James and other long-time colleagues to bridge the gap between Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora. He hosted countless individuals and delegations from the U.S. in these years, including assisting Malcolm X in what would be his last trip to Tanzania. His home in Dar became a camping ground for liberation leaders in exile from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and throughout the region. His love of music, especially jazz, his passion for tennis (which he played well into his 80s), and the pleasure he got from dancing, were hallmarks of his interactions, shared with political associates and personal friends the world over.

    Despite Sutherland’s close association with those engaged in armed struggle, he maintained his connections with and commitment to revolutionary nonviolence, and joined the international staff of the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in 1974. As the AFSC pushed for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to South African anti-apartheid clergyman Bishop Desmond Tutu, Sutherland was working as the AFSC international representative. In 2003, the AFSC initiated an annual Bill Sutherland Institute, training Africa lobbyists and advocates in various policy issues and educational techniques. Sutherland was also the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from Bates College, and served as a Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. He was awarded a special citation from the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India, and, in 2009, received the War Resisters League’s Grace Paley Lifetime Achievement Award.

    In 2000, Africa World Press published Sutherland’s Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle, and Liberation, co-authored by Matt Meyer. Archbishop Tutu, who wrote the foreword for the book, commented that “Sutherland and Meyer have looked beyond the short-term strategies and tactics which too often divide progressive people . . . They have begun to develop a language which looks at the roots of our humanness.” On the occasion of Sutherland’s 90th birthday last year, Tutu called in a special message, noting that “the people of Africa owe Bill Sutherland a big thank you for his tireless support.”

    Bill Sutherland is survived by three children—Esi Sutherland-Addy, Ralph Sutherland, and Amowi Sutherland Phillips—as well as grandchildren in Accra, Ghana; Spokane, Washington; Lewiston, Maine; New Haven, Connecticut; and Brooklyn, New York. In addition to scores of family members, friends, and loved ones, he will be missed by his niece, Gail Snowden, his loving partner Marilyn Meyer, and his “adopted” sons Matt Meyer and john powell. There will be a private funeral for family members this week, and memorial services will be organized for later this year.

    About Bill Sutherland

    American Friends Service Committee :Non-violent Warrior for Peace

    Developed from materials produced by Bill Minter, AfricaFocus Bulletin and Michael Simmons:

    For more than 50 years Bill Sutherland has linked the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and its diverse constituencies with Pan African and global struggles.

    He joined AFSC's student peace service after graduating from college in 1940 s and began his activist career as a draft resister during World War II with colleagues David Dellinger, Bayard Rustin, Steve Cary, and George Houser, spending four years in jail for his stance. At the height of the McCarthy repression, which saw many liberals running for political cover, Bill led and participated in anti-nuclear protest throughout the world. The 1950 anti-nuclear bicycle protest, intended to go from Paris to Moscow, brought him into contact with African students in Paris and London, and with Pan African leaders such as George Padmore. In 1951 after being contacted by Jacob Mahlapo, South African exile and editor of the London publication African World, about African National Congress, Bill met with Bayard Rustin and George Houser at the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to found Americans for South African Resistance in an effort to support the ANC's campaign. In 1953 this group became the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), with whom the AFSC worked closely in the 1970s and 1980s.

    In 1953 Bill moved to Ghana, where he would stay until 1961, working with the government of Kwame Nkrumah. He was a leader in the African American expatriate community in Ghana working to build bridges between Africans and African Americans.

    Always an innovator, it was Bill, for example, who suggested that Martin Luther King, Jr. be invited to Ghana's Independence Day celebrations. Bill observed how the young preacher was moved as he heard Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah conclude his speech with the cry "Free at last, free at last, free at last!" In Tanzania in 1964, at a time when white racist regimes were consolidating their grip on power across the southern third of the continent, Bill hosted Malcolm X on his first visit to Africa.

    During his tenure with AFSC Bill divided his time between Africa and the US. With the assistance of AFSC s Third World Coalition (TWC) and Community Relations Division (CRU), Bill was instrumental in developing a practice of broad dialogue throughout the organization and the US- based peace and justice movements. Bill could be found discussing African liberation with African American workers in the South, Chicano activists in the Southwest and Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Bill s efforts challenged the view that people of color did not bring an international perspective to their community based work.
    Bill continues his struggle for peace today working between Africa and the US, often supporting AFSC program initiatives. All people striving for a peaceful just world owe a debt to Bill Sutherland.

    Influenced as a youth by the strategies of Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Sutherland collaborated with Matt Mayer on this remarkable book, which probes the dilemma of advocating non-violence in the face of brutality that held people in thrall with pistols, whips, barbed wire, identity passes, and unspeakable horrors. This work by Mayer and Sutherland is not a biography. Sutherland's selflessness required that the pages reflect the experiences, philosophies, strategies, and tactics employed by African leaders who shared confidences with the two authors. The book is available on
  2. J

    Jasusi JF-Expert Member

    Jan 28, 2010
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    Thank you for this information. I have known Bill Sutherland since I came to the US. I last met him in 1985 when we drove together to the UN to listen to Nyerere's last speech before he retired. If you have any contacts of Bill's children, especially the daughters who I met when they came to the US please let me know.
  3. F

    Fundi Mchundo JF-Expert Member

    Jan 28, 2010
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    Another hero gone. Rest in Peace Bill Sutherland. Ukae salama kokote ulipo.

  4. S

    Shwari Senior Member

    Jan 28, 2010
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    In fact, I learned about his death two days after he died but didn't think about posting it then.

    Your friend, Godfrey Mwakikagle, has also written about him in his book "Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era," and I learned even more about him from this book.

    In his book "Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era," Mwakikagile has written about a very interesting conversation he had with Bill Sutherland in the United States more than 30 years ago, I think in 1976, on the armed struggle in southern Africa. They had philosophical differences on the necessity and viablity of violence as a weapon in the struggle for freedom and Mwakikagle explains that in his book. Then based in Dar es Salaam as he had been since 1963 and for decades thereafter, Sutherland was on a lecture tour of the United States as an advocate of pacifist causes, and the conversation is reproduced in Mwakikagile's book.

    Bill Sutherland had very high regard for Nyerere and considered him to be the most successful leader in post-colonial Africa. He held that view through the years but said it again recently not long before he died. There's an interview on the Internet in which he said that and mentioned Mandela as another successful leader. He said the two were the most successful among all the leaders. In the same interview, he also mentioned Nkrumah and his Pan-African quest for continental unification but concluded that Nkrumah's vision remained only that, a vision or a dream, short of accomplishment, unlike Nyerere who achieved most of his Pan-African goals including what was probably his crowning achievement: the liberation of southern Africa.

    I'll definitely let you know if I get the contacts you'd like to have.

    You probably already know that Dennis Brutus also passed away almost exactly a month ago on Boxing Day, December 26th.

    We have lost Pan-African giants and they will be hard to replace. I remember what Mwakikagile has said about such leaders in his writings when he recalled giants such as Nkrumah, Lumumba, Sekou Toure and Nyerere. He said Africa does not have those kind leaders anymore, leaders of such vision, commitment and calibre; a lamentable fact. And that's quite an indictment against the current leadership across the continent.

    There is a need to revive and recapture the spirit of these leaders; their enthusiasm, vision and determination in pursuit of a Pan-African agenda on a continental scale.

    As Philip Ochieng poignantly put it when Nyerere passed away: " I mourn, I ask, with Marcus Antonius, whence cometh such another?"