Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bill Sutherland, Pan African Pacifist, 1918-2010--Presente

Bill Sutherland, Pan African Pacifist, 1918-2010


By Esi Sutherland-Addy, Ralph Sutherland, Amowi Sutherland Phillips, and Matt Meyer

Toward Freedom

January 7, 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.


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.



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