For people in the 1960s Freedom and Justice movement, the 1968 marriage of Miriam Makeba and Stokely Carmichael was our wedding of the century.
Scores of activists from SNCC, SCLC, CORE, the Black Panther Party, Congress of African Peoples and assorted other civil rights, nationalist and Pan Africanist folks, a number of African diplomats and other African dignitaries all gathered with friends and family on that beautiful 1968 summer evening at the Mount Vernon, NY estate of the Guinean Ambassador to the United Nations to witness and celebrate the union of Mama Africa and the reigning prince of Black Power.
The bright and elegant attire of the wedding guests could have rivaled that of any assembly of the royal court of Versailles. The large ballroom was aswirl with grand and flowing silk bubas, satin gelees, brocaded jac kets in spectacular colors — a brilliant array of scarlet, aubergine, sapphire and royal blues, cerise, golden yellows, creamy whites. Resplendent in royal kente cloth, the Reverend Douglas Moore performed the nuptials before the hushed audience which knowingly tittered when our penurious prince promised to endow Mama Africa with “all of my worldly goods.” The dapper and debonair young William (Winky) Hall was best man; the radiant bride in a lovely form fitting gown wore her famous fez-like crown and was attended by a sister friend whose name i don’t recall.
On that memorable evening, hands that had picked cotton in some of the Deep South places where Stokely and the SNCC workers had organized freedom schools and voter registration campaigns picked up flutes of Champagne to wash down the myriad dishes of African foods prepared by some of the finest African chefs. For the occasion, soldiers from the struggle were on temporary leave of duty from South Central to South Carolina, from NewArk to Neshoba, to celebrate the union of Mother Africa and Africamerica that we hoped would bode well for the future black world.
During the few times that I was to see them before they left to settle in Guinea, Miriam and Stokely were like two lovebirds cooing and chattering, often about politics and more often just about life. It was always a big kick to accompany Ethel Minor, Stokely’s secretary-editor and Miriam’s frequent traveling companion, backstage at a Makeba concert and chat with her.
Miriam was such a magnetic and fierce but very feminine warrior — always radiant and sparkly-eyed with that beautifully coiffed short Afro that both she and her great friend Nina Simone perfected. Mama Africa personified and idealized that “African Queen” image to which many women of my generation aspired. Her recent passing leaves a void. I’m afraid they just don’t make Makeba’s breed of warrior star anymore. Godspeed, my sister.