Like the hundreds who attended Elombe Brath’s events at the Harriet Tubman School in the past, there was a sizable crowd in the heart of Harlem last Saturday for a street co-naming ceremony in honor of the esteemed “freedom fighter,” as he was repeatedly called.
Since his death in 2014, the Elombe Brath Foundation and a corps of community activists have persistently demanded the corner at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, “African Square,” be co-named Elombe Brath Way, and it arrived under a foreboding sky with thick clouds and chants of his name from speaker after speaker.
After the traditional African ceremonial libations by Nana Camille Yarbrough and a percussion choir, Cinque Brathwaite, one of Elombe’s seven children and president of the Elombe Brath Foundation, moderated what Yarbrough defined as a “dream event.”
“Elombe was a family man who brought us closer to Africa,” she intoned before offering a sustained ululation in tribute to Brath.
During his turn with the microphone, former Mayor David Dinkins recalled the time Nelson Mandela appeared near the same location in the summer of 1990, a celebration that Brath helped to engineer. In his customary way, Dinkins reminded the audience that “everybody stands on somebody’s shoulders.”
Robert Gumbs recounted some of those shoulders with his history of African Jazz-Art Society and Studios, of which he was a member. “Elombe,” he said, “saw Carlos Cooks, Clennell Wickham and Professor Rayfus Williams as his mentors.”
Gale Brewer, president of the Borough of Manhattan, and Dr. Georgina Falu, co-founder of the Elombe Brath Foundation, cited Brath’s tireless commitment to liberation and his ever-evolving internationalism, respectively. Falu observed how important Brath’s voice and vision would be in the current political and environmental calamities.
It took the combined commentaries of Dred Scott-Keyes and Mario Murillo to indicate the significance of Brath’s role in the world of broadcasting, particularly from behind the microphones at WBAI. “His program Afrikaleidoscope was perfectly named,” they both insisted, “and he taught us so much about radio and WBAI.”
Brath’s reach went far beyond radio and his role as the founder of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, which sponsored the many evenings at Harriett Tubman School. A list of his accomplishments was enumerated by attorney Roger Wareham. “Elombe was a co-founder of the December 12th Movement, and he stood strong in his support of the Central Park Five,” Wareham said to thunderous applause.
Kevin Richardson, one of the Central Park Five, echoed Wareham’s remarks, adding, “I am forever grateful to Elombe.”
“Elombe spoke truth to power unrelentingly,” said Councilman Charles Barron, substituting for his wife, Assemblymember Inez Barron. “He gave us the courage and truth we needed in our fight against white supremacy and imperialism.”
Standing in for her son, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, was his mother Amina Baraka, and she invoked John Coltrane in her salute to Brath. “I found me in Africa,” she said, and that was part of Brath’s mission.
In her extended comments, Black Rose, one of the original members of the Grandassa Models that Brath co-founded, placed his legacy in proper context with her evocation of the names of Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln (Aminata Moseka).
Between the appearance of speakers, Cinque noted the presence of a number of dignitaries, including representatives from Namibia, Cuba and Zimbabwe.
Two of the most commanding speeches of the afternoon were delivered by Abdul Hafeez Muhammad and Viola Plummer. Muhammad, the New York representative of the Minister Louis Farrakhan, requested that the audience extend some “living love” to Nomsa Brath, Elombe’s widow and the mother of their children. He also had some pointed remarks about the African Square sign at the corners where they stood. “It was originally supposed to have been African Liberation Square, that was the original intention,” he stated.
Plummer was equally outraged that the name African Liberation Square was missing from the street signs. “We need to take down the current sign and replace it with African Liberation Square,” she demanded, and was cheered on by the crowd. Such a designation, she explained, would be more in keeping with what Brath stood for and “fought for.”
Sabayma Jaugu of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement recalled the last moments he spent with Brath. “We should complete the transition from Black to African as a name for our people,” he said.
For former Assemblyman Keith Wright, the new sign Elombe Brath Way was a beacon “showing us the way forward.”
He added, “It’s Elombe’s way of telling us the way to go down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, pass Dr. John Henrik Clarke Place, and even where my father’s sign is posted. Elombe was unapologetically Black and always showing us the way to go.”
One of the immediate ways for the crowd to go was over to the State Office Building, where a reception followed the outdoor ceremony. And the list of speakers there was even longer, including comments from family members such as Sikolo Brathwaite, Brath’s sister-in-law and Yolette Green, Brath’s niece. She told the audience that her uncle, along with his ideas of liberation and self-determination, was also a devout “humanitarian.”
There were moving statements from Annette Phillips Hakeem, the widow of Larry Davis (Adam Abdul Hakeem) and Dr. Suzanne Ross of the NYC Free Mumia Coalition. “Elombe was unflinching in his support of Mumia,” she said, referring to the political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Gloria Scott, president of the Association of Black Social Workers, pointed out how Brath had often worked in “collaboration with us on various issues,” and Harlem 70A Female District Leader Cordell Cleare emphasized that the co-naming was “the kind of re-namings we need.”
“Elombe was a freedom fighter,” said Basir Mchawi of WBAI, and also a member of the African Liberation Support Committee, where Brath was also a key member. Powerful testimony came from Ralph Poynter, whose wife was the late Lynne Stewart. He underscored Brath’s supreme sacrifice as a foe of apartheid, and similar remarks on this advocacy were made by Bilal Hakeem of the EB Power Coalition of Paterson, N.J., and Richard Knight, an archivist of Michigan State University, where a project is underway to include many of the moments from the Patrice Lumumba Coalition events.
With a closing benediction from Professor James Smalls, who said that Brath “lifted us up,” music on the Gambian kora by Malang Jobartel, poetry by Richardo Buchanan and an exhortation from Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, who led the crowd in a call-and-response chant, the long and righteous day for Elombe Brath was over, and most certainly to resume its trek down his Way toward freedom, justice and total liberation.