Several comrades of renowned Harlem activist Brother Morris Thutmose Powell reflected on his life-long efforts this past Monday at Harlem’s UCLA, the University on the Corner of Lenox Avenue. Powell joined the ancestors May 23 while in Namibia, Africa, where he had been residing as a guest of President Sam Nujoma for the past several years.
Born in Florida on Sept. 15, 1936, Powell migrated with his family to Harlem several years later. On finishing high school, he enlisted in the military.
After fulfilling his military obligations Powell joined Carlos A. Cooks’ African Nationalist Pioneer Movement and was a regular fixture at the activist hub in Harlem’s African Square (125th Street and Seventh Avenue), throughout the 1960s.
“He was the last of the real staunch supporters of ‘Buy Black,’” noted Harlem activist, Brother David White, who recalled meeting Powell during the mid-1960s. “Because we didn’t listen to him, now you see the condition we’re in today.”
After Cooks’ May 5, 1966, transition, Powell proudly took the baton and continued his self-determining advocacy for the Black community to do for self. For the next several decades Powell could be seen wearing a leopard print velour hat, similar to the one Cooks wore, while urging the Harlem community to do better, and also while marching in the annual Marcus Garvey Day Black Power Parade through Central Harlem each Aug. 17.
“He always explained what Black nationalism is and how we must control our economics,” recalled Yaa Asantewaa, administrator of ANPM, who met Powell in 1991 when she and her husband, Oba, were defending the street vendors from being removed from125th Street. “We were able to maintain and keep 125th Street Marketplace because of Brother Powell’s leadership,” she said. “The politicians came at us in many ways, trying to separate the Black Americans from the ones from Africa … Brother Powell said, ‘No, we will not be separated, we will stay together, and we will fight together, and if we get removed, then we’ll be removed together, but we won’t be divided!’ So he stood on the principle of African nationalism.”
Activist Brother Sekou reflected on that time period. “He was trying to get street vendors to organize and have lawyers speak for us when need be,” said Sekou. “He wanted us to work together and work things out amongst ourselves, out in the streets. He wanted us to be organized because he knew that’s where the power was.”
Activist Tarik Haskins noted, “Til the end of his life, Thutmose sought to lead Black people back to developing a positive appreciation for all things African, back to knowing that Africans have beautiful hair, eyes, lips and noses; back to Africans knowing they are intelligent and courageous. He deserves to be esteemed by all Black people. Thutmose will never be forgotten, nor will African people cease to love him.”