Lucius Walker built solidarity with Cuba
Published Sep 26, 2010 8:53 PM
On Sept. 17 Harlem’s Convent Avenue Baptist Church filled with people
celebrating the example, ongoing legacy and life of the Rev. Dr. Lucius Walker.
Walker, 80, died suddenly Sept. 7 at his home in New Jersey.
The headline in Granma, the daily newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party,
announcing his death stated, “We do not want to think of a world without
Rev. Lucius Walker,
Rev. Tom Smith in 2009.
Photo: IFCO/Pastors For Peace
An implacable foe of the U.S. war against socialist Cuba and a longtime and
well-respected friend of the Cuban people, Walker is widely remembered for the
21 Friendshipment Caravans he led. These caravans carried material aid to Cuba,
in a direct and determined challenge to the U.S. trade and travel blockade
against that small island. Each caravan openly defied the blockade, traveling
without license or government approval. From Canada, throughout every region in
the U.S and into Mexico, the caravans gathered medicine, humanitarian aid and
whatever successive U.S. administrations decried could not go to Cuba —
including school buses, computers, satellite dishes, solar panels and more.
“The Little Yellow School Bus” became an ongoing caravan symbol in
1993. That year, U.S. agents impounded a small bus, but caravanistas refused to
abandon it, launching a hunger strike and international campaign from the
summer-sun-scorched impound lot in Laredo, Texas. The campaign ultimately
forced the U.S. officials to let the bus go to Cuba.
U.S.-based doctors trained
in Cuba at front of
WW photo: Cheryl LaBash
After the anti-terrorist Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernández, Antonio
Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René
González — were unjustly convicted in 2001 and harshly sentenced,
caravan buses and trucks decorated with the images of the Five helped publicize
the struggle to free them along the caravan routes.
A miniature yellow school bus was placed in the Rev. Walker’s pine-box
casket, which was surrounded by white floral tributes from former Cuban
President Fidel Castro, current President Raúl Castro and the Cuban
Mission. The Rev. Miriam Ofelia Ortega, a Presbyterian pastor, president of the
World Council of Churches for Latin America and the Caribbean and a member of
the Cuban Parliament, represented the Cuban leaders and people, particularly
the children who have benefited from the caravans. She likened Walker’s
work to Cuban independence leader José Martí’s 1894 call, in
Nuestra América magazine, for a campaign of tenderness and opening our
hands to others.
In 1967 the Rev. Walker became the founding director of the Interreligious
Foundation for Community Organization, steering the organization to work in
support of African liberation movements and the anti-apartheid struggle in
South Africa. IFCO was the first and one of the largest U.S. foundations led
and controlled by people of color, working with organizations such as the
American Indian Movement and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. In 1988, the
Rev. Walker founded the IFCO project Pastors for Peace after U.S.-armed
Nicaraguan contras attacked 200 civilians, wounding Walker. His daughter Gail,
an IFCO leader herself, was with him.
In 1992, when the Cuban economy lost its Soviet and Eastern European trading
partners to capitalist restoration, the U.S. government saw its opportunity to
defeat the Cuban revolution. The U.S. tightened the economic blockade and
allowed paramilitaries to escalate terror attacks, including hotel bombings, to
damage Cuban income from tourism. The caravans began to counteract the U.S.
government aim of creating havoc and hardship on the island. In a letter to the
New York Times, Walker wrote, “We know that starving a third world
country into submission is a morally bankrupt foreign policy.” (Aug. 15,
At the memorial Ellen Bernstein, co-director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, and the
Rev. Tom Smith, president of its board of directors, presented Walker’s
living legacy — the U.S. graduates and students from the Latin American
School of Medicine in Cuba. The program began when representatives of the
Congressional Black Caucus visited Cuba and noted the number of doctors
available. When Rep. Bennie Thompson said his Mississippi district needed
doctors, President Fidel Castro announced scholarships for youth from
underserved communities in the U.S. who apply through IFCO/Pastors for Peace.
Currently 146 U.S. students study at LASM with full scholarships, including 16
in the new class. Forty-seven have graduated and two are residents in U.S.
Narciso Ortiz, LASM graduate, said, “The most important thing he taught
me is: All that matters is revolution. He didn’t talk much, but did
much.” Melissa Barber expressed the condolences of the delegation of
incredible, revolutionary doctors who learned the importance of being agents of
social change. She recalled Walker telling the students not to settle for just
graduating, encouraging them to do better. “I want to thank Lucius.
Because of him my name is Dr. Melissa Barber,” she said in closing.
After the earthquake disaster in Haiti in February, the LASM graduates
volunteered to serve there. A representative of the Haitian organization Lakou
New York reported that the young doctors worked from sunup to sundown serving
Zayid Mohammed presented a spoken word praise poem based on the hymn,
“Amazing Grace,” that raised up the “insurgent commentary by
Mumia Abu-Jamal” and ended calling for “witnesses organized to
continue for this man; we need commitment, we need commitment; compañeros
to the front; we refuse to back down; we will fight to the end. Revolution is
Walker’s surviving brother William and daughter Donna represented the
Walker family. Joining the wide representation of Cuba solidarity, socialist
and progressive activists were Cuba’s United Nations Ambassador Pedro
Núñez Mosquera; Nicaraguan Ambassador María Eugenia Rubiales de
Chamorro; many members of, and the spirited choir from, Walker’s
Salvation Baptist Church; New York City Councilperson and Freedom Party
candidate for governor, Charles Barron; Ramsey Clark; and Akbar Mohammed of the
Nation of Islam. Messages and resolutions from churches, individuals and
elected officials, including congressional Reps. Charles Rangel, Jose Serrano
and Maxine Waters, and author Jane Franklin were acknowledged.
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