By Dr. Conrad Worrill, Chicago Crusader
The spirit of Marion Nzinga Stamps, one of Chicago’s great activists, is much needed today. Marion possessed the kind of fighting spirit in her organizing work that is truly missing in our struggles today. Marion Stamps was an “In-Your-Face Activist.” Let us remember her contributions.
African people around the world suffered a tremendous loss with the transition (death) of Marion Nzinga Stamps in Chicago on Wednesday, August 28, 1996 at the age of 52.
Since the late 1960s, Sister Marion was one of the leading activists and organizers in the Chicago area whose impact was felt throughout the country. Upon coming to Chicago from Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, Marion quickly gravitated to the activism taking place in the Black Movement in this city, and as the Black Panther Party emerged she became associated with its work on the north side in the Cabrini-Green Housing Development.
Under the guidance and leadership of the Professor Edwin Marksman, Marion and several other powerful African women in America organized and established the Tranquility Community Organization based in the Cabrini-Green Housing Developments. After the death of Professor Marksman, it became known as the Tranquility Marksman Community Organization.
Whenever someone like Marion leaves our midst and makes their transition, forces outside of the African Community always try to interpret these giants to fit their own interests. This is the model that white supremacy forces use in their efforts to explain and control African contributions.
In recent years, we can observe this phenomenon with Elijah Muhammad, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton, to name a few. The white supremacy forces and spin doctors have tried through their writings and movies to reinterpret their work to fit their interests. Fortunately, they have not been successful. They also attempted to make their move on interpreting the life of Sister Marion Nzinga Stamps.
The first shot they threw, in their efforts to reinterpret Sister Marion, began in the Chicago Tribune article written by Flynn McRoberts on September 8, 1996. McRoberts wrote, “For all her ability to grab media attention— and her funeral was no exception— Stamps and her approach to community activism had become largely irrelevant long before she died of a heart attack late last month.”
Continuing, McRoberts wrote that, “Her verbal bomb throwing had its roots in the tactics of Saul Alinsky, the father of community organizing. But like sloganeering and stunt staging of advocates for the homeless, Stamps’ tactics ultimately had little effect on policy; in her case failing to change the course of redevelopment at Cabrini-Green.”
The arrogance of McRoberts’ attempt to define Sister Marion fits into the strategy of one of the key issues she addressed for over 20 years. In Chicago, Marion was one of the few people who publicly alerted the African Community to the land grab schemes of the white developers, bankers and city officials.
These schemes have been designed to remove significant populations of low-income African people from urban areas and disperse them to outlying areas, or the suburbs, so that white people in their development schemes could repopulate these urban areas.
Marion Nzinga Stamps fought with all her spirit and soul on this issue of the land-grab and Black removal. The white power structure and many of their Black allies fought Marion “tooth and nail” and tried to undermine her credibility with the masses.
As a result of Marion’s leadership on the land-grab issue, many African people were educated on why we should not abandon the urban areas so that white people could take the land back.
McRoberts was obviously ignorant to the fact that most of the significant public policy changes that have occurred in America, aimed at benefiting Africans in America, took place because of the “in- your-face activism” of people like Marion Stamps.
In Chicago, specifically, the “in-your-face activism” of Sister Marion, and many others, led to the climate that created the conditions for Chicago’s first African American Mayor, Harold Washington, to be elected.
Marion was part of a cadre of activists in Chicago that challenged successfully, in the 1970s and 80s, the Chicago Board of Education and its racist policies, the Chicago Housing Authority and its racist practices, the Chicago Police Department and its racist practices, and numerous other agencies and institutions in this city.
Sister Marion truly understood what Malcolm X meant when he said, “By Any Means Necessary!” In her organizing activities, Marion lived by this slogan. If it meant going to jail, being attacked by the police, or sitting down with the white power structure officials, she was clear that you must use all tactics and strategies to deal with the question of power and self-determination for African people.
Funerals often tell a lot about the life of a person. Such was the case at Sister Marion’s funeral. The masses of people from all walks of life in the African Community in Chicago showed up in droves to pay their respects to this freedom-fighter who fought to the end for her people.
Finally, Marion was a proud mother of five daughters, and her daughter, Karla, wrote the following about her mother that summarizes much of the spirit of Sister Marion:
“The way for each of your daughters has been unique to her, and you have, uniquely prepared us for our lives. You wanted each of us to be you, but you allowed us to be ourselves…I will never forget how you alone made me feel beautiful, loved and treasured.”
Long live the spirit of Sister Marion Nzinga Stamps!