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Last week saw the passing of an exemplary member of a rare and dwindling breed of humanity: the Black organizer. Damu Smith, born LeRoy Wesley Smith in 1952, in St. Louis, was the consummate organizer, the man who made things happen. You may not know the name, Damu Smith, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t impacted your life, as he has the lives of all African Americans, and every person in this country, and beyond.

Damu fought. He fought injustice of every kind, and not just by wielding a microphone, or primping for the cameras. Damu dived into the thick of struggle, where it already existed, and in new arenas that were not previously considered to be in the realm of Black activism. He was a founder of the National Black Environmental Justice Network. Damu and his colleagues laid claim to a theater of struggle that had previously been considered to be a “white folk’s” concern, and brought home the truth that the environment is an urban and poor rural issue, as well. In the early Nineties, Damu became the first coordinator for environmental justice of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice. His work was central to demonstrating that asthma and cancer among the urban and rural poor were as much ecological issues as saving the wolves and spotted owls. 

Damu Smith was a tireless fighter for world peace, the founder of Black Voices for Peace. When people complain that Blacks are not active enough in the peace movement, they could not possibly be talking about Damu, whose work was central to creating links between the anti-war movement and the African American domestic struggle.

Damu was an internationalist, an opponent of the oppression of humanity anywhere on the planet. Yet he was capable of the most in-depth, detailed analysis of a whole range of issues – from the macro to the micro. Damu worked longer, and stronger, than anyone else when the needs of the people called. He argued and cajoled and convinced allies and opponents alike, from dawn to dusk and deep into the night, until finally, a consensus was achieved among people who started the day not even liking each other.  He was a Movement Builder. 

Damu Smith and I have been on the same side, and opposing sides, of a number of issues down through the years. But I long ago learned that, if Damu was in the other camp from mine, I might as well get used to the idea of ending up on the losing side of the argument. He was like a force of nature, able to change minorities into majorities by force of will and persuasion.  

Damu Smith was the product of a particular time in Black people’s struggle. He understood the necessity of hard work. He cared nothing for celebrity, and gave everything to the movement. I don’t know if our community is making people like Damu Smith anymore. I only know that we have lost an irreplaceable warrior. For Radio BC, I’m Glen Ford..

You can visit the Radio BC page to listen to any of our audio commentaries voiced by BC Co-Publisher and Executive Editor, Glen Ford. We publish the text of the radio commentary each week along with the audio program.


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May 11, 2006
Issue 183

is published every Thursday.

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