Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Damu Smith (1951-2006)

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Damu Smith (1951-2006)

Article excerpt

I remember Damu coming into the Washington Report office several years ago, when he was in the process of co-founding Black Voices for Peace (BVFP) in response to U.S. military reaction to 9/11, to pick up background reading for further research on the question of Palestine. He carried away armloads of magazines, books, films and white papers. Not that the issue was new to him-he first learned about Palestine during his anti-apartheid work. But in late 2001 and early 2002 the situation was worsening, and Damu, ever a champion for justice, decided it was time to gear up his efforts. He never backed off.

Damu Smith was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where he grew up in a housing project. The son of a fireman and a licensed practical nurse, the family occasionally re lied on food stamps to see them through hard times. A high school after-school program for "disadvantaged male youth" included a trip to Cairo, Illinois to Black Solidarity Day. There Damu heard speeches by a number of African American activists, and went on a tour of Black neighborhoods that had been fired at by white supremacists. These early experiences helped propel Damu into a life of activism.

As the freshman president of the Organization of Afro-American Students at St. John's University in Minnesota, Damu led a protest demanding that the school administration institute a Black Studies program. In 1973, he moved to Washington, DC, where he attended the Center for the Study of Basic Human Problems at Antioch College.

Damu spent the next three decades based in Washington, fighting many battles for justice. He worked against South African apartheid as the executive director of the Washington Office on Africa and as co-founder of Artists for a Free South Africa. Damu also addressed issues of police brutality, gun violence, racism, nuclear weapons, war, and environmental concerns in a wide variety of organizations ranging from the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the American Friends Service Committee, and Greenpeace USA. He served on the steering committee for United for Peace and Justice, an anti-war coalition against the invasion of Iraq, and founded the DC-based group Black Voices for Peace.

Damu insisted on including the issue of Palestine in all his work for peace and justice, and raised it at annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations, at remembrances for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at anti-war rallies. I can still see Damu criss-crossing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of King's famed "I have a dream" speech, then weaving the issue of Palestine into King's dream of all children living in harmony. …

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