Africa Action Mourns the Loss of Bill Sutherland, 1918-2010

For Immediate Release

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Africa Action Mourns the Loss of Bill Sutherland, 1918-2010

“I'm a person who believes in nonviolence on principle. And true nonviolence is a spiritual force that the people can have, which can be the most powerful thing going. But I respect the revolutionist who adopts a violent method, because I think that the most important thing is the revolution." —Bill Sutherland

WASHINGTON -  Africa Action
is saddened to learn of the death of Bill Sutherland, African American
pacifist, Pan African activist elder, and a founder of Africa Action’s
first predecessor organization, the American Committee on Africa.  He
died peacefully on the evening of January 2, 2010. He was 91.

“Bill was a remarkable person and a true pioneer committed to the
liberation struggle in Africa and achieving an end to colonialism and
Global Apartheid,” said Gerald LeMelle, Executive Director of
Africa Action.  He adds, “Africa Action is grounded in the history
and purpose of his vision and through his legacy, we are committed to
promoting human rights and working towards social, political and
economic justice in Africa.”

During a ceremony of Africa Action’s 50th anniversary, George Houser, a
founding Director of the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) and The
Africa Fund said, “This is how we got started. It was the Defiance
Campaign in South Africa sponsored by the African National Congress to
which we responded, resulting in more then 8500 arrests for nonviolent
civil disobedience against the apartheid laws. It was Bill Sutherland
who urged us to get involved.”

The Americans for South African Resistance became the ad hoc support
group and a vehicle for information about the Campaign and to raise
money for political prisoners for the Africa.  In 1953, once the
Defiance Campaign ended, the Americans for South African Resistance
disbanded, and Sutherland and his colleagues established a more formal
organization, the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), presently known
as Africa Action.
 
Sutherland’s relationship with a broad spectrum of Africans who played
key roles in both revolution and reform, including Frantz Fanon,
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Dennis Brutus and others, helped shape his
vision of a more just world.  During his experience living in Africa
for over three decades, Sutherland demonstrated an unyielding
commitment to the liberation struggle.

Michael Stulman, Associate Director for Policy and Communications said,
“His work is a history of solidarity that is essential for finding
new paths to a future of human rights for all.”

Africa Action extends our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

To find more information on funeral arrangements, please email info
(at) africaaction.org

XXX

Bill Sutherland, Pan African Pacifist, 1918-2010

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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Africa Action is a national organization that works for political, economic and social justice in Africa. Through the provision of accessible information and analysis combined with the mobilization of public pressure we work to change the policies and policy-making processes of U.S. and multinational institutions toward Africa. The work of Africa Action is grounded in the history and purpose of its predecessor organizations, the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), The Africa Fund, and the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), which have fought for freedom and justice in Africa since 1953. Continuing this tradition, Africa Action seeks to re-shape U.S. policy toward African countries.

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