Bill Sutherland

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Bill Sutherland, a Pacifist and Pan Africanist who died at the age of 91 on January 2, 2010.

"A lifelong pacifist, he served four years in prison as a conscientious objector during World War II. He maintained close ties with fellow radical pacifists, such as antiwar leader David Dellinger and civil rights activists Bayard Rustin and George Houser.

"In addition to nonviolence, Pan Africanism — the idea of unity among people of African descent around the world — was a guiding principle of Sutherland’s life. He kept in close touch with noted Pan Africanists such as George Padmore and C.L.R. James, and with African leaders including Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

"Sutherland moved to Ghana in 1953, where he married playwright Efua Theodora. He was in Accra to celebrate in 1957 when Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African nation to break free of colonial rule. Sutherland was instrumental in arranging for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to be invited to the independence ceremonies. At the historic event, he introduced Dr. King to Nkrumah and Nyerere.

"From the 1960s through the 1990s Sutherland lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His house was a magnet for African American visitors who arrived to show solidarity with the liberation struggles in Africa. Sutherland opened doors for them and made introductions. Among those whom he hosted was Malcolm X.

"In a 2003 interview, he recalled, “My life, living it has helped some people. You know, by actually going and living in Africa, I have very often been a bridge between the African American movements and the African movements.”

"Meanwhile, in South Africa, resistance to apartheid was mounting. Bill Sutherland played a crucial role in building support for the cause among U.S. activists, both black and white. He helped form Americans for South African Resistance in 1952, which became the American Committee on Africa the following year.

"The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, when South African police killed scores of peaceful demonstrators, helped convince anti-apartheid activists of the need for armed struggle to counter the violence of the racist regime. Despite his belief in nonviolent resistance, Bill Sutherland respected and supported their decision.

"In his words: “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.”

"While world attention focused on the drama in South Africa, people in other white-ruled states of Southern Africa were mounting their own freedom struggles. At his home in Tanzania, Sutherland hosted liberation leaders in exile from Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and other countries.

"His main organizational affiliation was with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker peace organization. Between 1975 and 1982 he was the AFSC’s Southern Africa representative, based in Dar es Salaam. He traveled each year to the United States for speaking tours that informed Americans about the liberation struggles in Africa, expanding the networks that helped bring down the apartheid regime.

"Bill Sutherland’s life is an inspiration to younger activists, black and white, in the United States and in Africa. In 2004 the AFSC launched the Bill Sutherland Institute for Africa Advocates to train young people in social justice activism.

"Sutherland’s memoir, Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation, co-authored with Matt Meyer, was published by Africa World Press in 2000. A 2003 interview with Sutherland provides additional insights into this remarkable life." [1]

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  1. Nonviolence Advocate Dies at Age 91, Ending a Remarkable Life, activism.suite101, accessed March 9, 2010.