AFENI SHAKUR, MOTHER OF HIP-HOP LEGEND TUPAC
Afeni Shakur, the former Black Panther who overcame drug addiction and inspired the work of her rap icon son Tupac Shakur before guiding his estate after his murder, has died. She was 69.
Marin County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters responded to Shakur’s houseboat in Sausalito, Calif., Monday night after she fell ill and suffered a suspected heart attack, police said.
A family member and a close friend were present when she became unresponsive, cops said.
“At this point, there is nothing to indicate to us that there was any foul play, nothing suspicious about this other than this being sadly a natural event,” Marin County Sheriff’s Lt. Doug Pittman said.
Paramedics arrived around 9:30 p.m., and Shakur was rushed to Marin General Hospital, where she was treated for about an hour before she was pronounced dead, according to Pittman.
An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.
“It’s a sad day,” Tupac’s biological dad, Billy Garland, told the Daily News. “Her contributions to this world will always be remembered. We weren’t really active in each other’s lives, but the pain is magnified when it’s the mother of your child.”
The New Jersey trucker, 66, recalled Shakur as a strong woman. He lamented their court battle after Tupac’s death in 1996, which ended with a judge denying his inheritance claim in 1997 because he contributed little to the superstar’s upbringing.
“We had a lot of legal issues that got blown out of proportion, and I regret that,” he told The News. “It’s just a shock that she’s gone. I hope she’ll be at peace.”
Shakur, born Alice Faye Williams in Lumberton, N.C., changed her name when she moved to New York City and joined the Black Panther movement. She and other party members were arrested in 1969 and charged with conspiracy to bomb multiple city landmarks.
In May 1971, Shakur was acquitted on all charges after she represented herself in court while heavily pregnant. She gave birth to Tupac a month later.
Shakur was the subject of her son’s 1995 hit song “Dear Mama,” which hailed her triumph over poverty and drug addiction.
“There’s no way I can pay you back/But the plan is to show you that I understand/You are appreciated,” he rapped.
After Tupac’s 1996 shooting death, Shakur took the helm of his estate, which earns more than $1 million a year. She has funneled much of the money to charity.
“She was a remarkable woman. In her youth she was a lion in the black movement. She was indefatigable,” Richard Fischbein, a New York lawyer who worked with her in the Bronx when Tupac was a young boy, told The News.
Shakur called Fischbein after Tupac’s death, and he became the administrator of the estate.
“She guided that estate in honor of Tupac. We must have put out five albums after he died. She took a lot of that money and spent her time trying to help young black kids, and kids in general,” he said.
Shakur is survived by daughter Sekyiwa Shakur, 40, who was living on a nearby houseboat. A source told The News it was Sekyiwa who called 911.
Fischbein said Sekyiwa likely will take over the estate and foundation created in Tupac’s name.
“She is going to do a great job. She’ll follow Aseni’s wishes, I’m sure,” he said.
Dina LaPolt, a California attorney who handled Tupac Shakur’s estate for nearly 10 years, fought back tears as she described Shakur, who inspired the lawyer to open up her own firm in 2001.
“She’s an advocate. She’s an activist. She taught me never to compromise your values — to always fight for what you believe in,” she told The News.
LaPolt oversaw the legal work behind 11 posthumously released albums while she represented the estate between 2001 and 2010.
The lawyer developed a close professional relationship with Shakur, who LaPolt described as “one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with,” citing how the Black Panther represented herself in court. The activist mother also influenced LaPolt’s personal life, she said.
“I met her when I was 91 days sober. Now I’m 18 years sober,” she said. “She was very, very instrumental in my life. I carry her with me to this day.”
Earlier this year, Shakur filed for divorce from her husband of 12 years, Gust Davis, and was allegedly in a legal battle over her son’s fortune, TMZ reported. Davis demanded half of the $20,000 Shakur took home every month.
A man who answered Davis’ cell phone Tuesday said he was not speaking to the press.
In 2014, Shakur co-produced “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” a Broadway jukebox musical featuring her son’s works.
A movie about Tupac’s life, “All Eyez on Me,” is set for release in November, with Danai Gurira cast as Shakur. Shakur served as an executive producer for the film.
With Flo Anthony
JAMES HAUGHTON, WHO FOUGHT RACIAL BARRIERS IN BUILDING TRADES
James Haughton, a civil rights advocate who aggressively challenged racial barriers to hiring at construction sites in the 1960s and ’70s and promoted programs to train black and Hispanic apprentices in the building trades, died on April 17 in Manhattan. He was 86.
The cause was a chronic urinary tract infection, his partner, Ronnie Asbell, said.
Mr. Haughton, a construction worker’s son, was best known for breaking with more moderate proponents of equal opportunity in hiring and housing to form what became known in 1969 as Fight Back, a group based in Harlem.
Fight Back documented discrimination; staged boycotts, protests and sit-down strikes; and filed lawsuits (sometimes with Columbia University’s Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law) against contractors and unions that were closed to newcomers, a consequence, the group said, of nepotism and racism.
Fight Back also provided counseling and placement services when jobs became available.
In 1972, racial minorities made up more than a third of New York City’s population but accounted for only about 2 percent of union members in skilled construction jobs. Today, minorities make up about two-thirds of the city’s population and about half the membership of unions affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Council, the organization says.
“The construction trades have changed a lot since then,” said Michael Merrill, dean of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College of the State University of New York. “Haughton was part of the tide, and he brought visibility and prominence to the issue.”
Mr. Haughton also lobbied for greater investment by the federal government in housing, both to improve living conditions and to provide employment. Timothy J. Cooney, an assistant city housing administrator, was so impressed with Mr. Haughton, who had been picketing his office in 1967 seeking more minority jobs, that he quit his municipal post and joined Fight Back.
“He was the first black man I’d ever met who had a real feeling for the potential power of a housing public-works program to put black and Puerto Rican people to work,” Mr. Cooney told The New Yorker in 1970.
James Haughton Jr. was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 8, 1929, the son of West Indian immigrants, James Haughton Sr. and the former Mary Miller. He grew up near the Fort Greene section and graduated from Boys High School and, in 1951, the City College of New York. He served as an Army lieutenant during the Korean War and received a master of public administration degree from New York University in 1960.
His wife, Eleanor Burke Leacock, an anthropologist, died in 1987. Besides Ms. Asbell, he is survived by four stepchildren, Elspeth, Claudia, David and Robert Leacock; and six step-grandchildren.
After serving in Korea, Mr. Haughton worked as a youth counselor with street gangs in New York and Los Angeles and as an assistant to A. Philip Randolph, the president of what in 1960 was called the Negro American Labor Council. Mr. Haughton left in 1964 and founded the Harlem Unemployment Center, which also dealt with hiring in other industries.
In “Constructing Affirmative Action: The Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity” (2011), David Hamilton Golland gave credit to Fight Back for increasing the number of skilled blacks employed in the construction of SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, the Harlem State Office Building and the World Trade Center.
Mr. Haughton’s assertive tactics, in which hundreds of demonstrators were arrested, won concessions from public agencies and private developers on hiring goals and job training, although a number of contractors complained of excessive pressure by some local groups to hire neighborhood residents, as community coordinators or security guards.
Mr. Haughton argued that “community pressure on contractors is the only way these workers can obtain jobs.”
“The criminality is with the government, for not giving jobs to black and Hispanic workers,” he said.
BOB FITCH, PHOTOJOURNALIST OF CIVIL RIGHTS ERA
Bob Fitch, a self-taught photojournalist whose images chronicled America’s deep-seated ambivalence over civil rights and illustrated the passion underscoring other protest movements since the 1960s, died on Friday at his home in Watsonville, Calif. He was 76.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said Brian Murtha, his friend and executor.
Mr. Fitch, a preacher’s son who became an ordained minister himself, was transformed from a Berkeley, Calif., teenager who rejected religious ritual into an instrument of social justice by sundry catalysts: his family’s fundamental Christian ethos, the writing of James Baldwin and the music of Pete Seeger.
He photographed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent black civil rights figures as the official chronicler of the organization they founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Dorothy Day of the Catholic Workers Movement; Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers (his photo was the prototype for a 2002 postage stamp), and the Jesuit priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan and their followers who opposed the draft and the war in Vietnam. (Daniel Berrigan died on Saturday.)
Ron Dellums, the former California congressman and Oakland mayor, once baptized Mr. Fitch “Bullet Bob,” saying that each vivid shot from his camera was “a bullet of truth into the heart of evil.”
“It was a tough decision to take that photo,” he told a campus magazine at his alma mater, Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Ore., last September. “It felt like blasphemy to put a camera in his face. But then I thought, ‘The world needs to see this horrible truth.’”
Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University historian enlisted by Mrs. King to edit her husband’s papers, recalled that Mr. Fitch was so trusted even in unguarded moments that he was the only white person present at an emotional meeting among Dr. King, Stokely Carmichael and other civil rights figures in Greenwood, Miss., in 1966, the night before Mr. Carmichael recast the movement by invoking the slogan “black power.”
Mr. Fitch harbored no illusions, though, about why his offer to sign on as a photographer for the civil rights group had been accepted by Dr. King’s lieutenant, Hosea Williams.
“I was told, ‘Bob, we can’t send African-American journalists and photographers into the field ’cause they’ll get beat up and killed,’” Mr. Fitch recalled in an interview on the website wagingnonviolence.org. “‘Every week you’ll come back with a news story in print and photos, and you’ll send them to the major black print media around the nation.’”
While many photojournalists were assigned to protests primarily in case violence erupted, Mr. Fitch photographed the quotidian consequences of poverty and racially motivated crime and of individual victories, like that of a black man in Batesville, Miss., who, born before the Civil War registered to vote for the first time at 106.
Robert De Witt Fitch was born in Los Angeles on July 20, 1939. His father, Robert, was a United Church of Christ minister and professor of Christian ethics. His mother was the former Marion Weeks De Witt.
After attending high school in Berkeley in the 1950s, where he mingled with a socially conscious crowd, he graduated from Lewis & Clark in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and later earned a bachelor’s and a master’s of divinity at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where his father was dean. He was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1965.
Mr. Fitch took up photography after Glide Memorial asked him to provide pictures for books on urban issues that the church had begun publishing. He consulted professionals, took free courses, studied the works of Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson and discovered, he said, that “I had a pretty good eye.” He volunteered his services to an acquaintance at the Southern Christian Leadership Council and was invited to visit.
In 2014, encouraged by Dr. Carson, the founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford, Mr. Fitch transferred his collection of about 275,000 images and negatives to the university with the proviso that they be available to researchers.
His photographs have been featured in Smithsonian Institution exhibits and in books, including “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement” published in 2011.
Mr. Fitch is survived by his partner, Karen Denise Schaffer; a daughter, Nicole Ma Ka Wa Alexander; two sons, Daniel Robert Jaxon Ravens, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Washington State, and Benjamin Andrew Fitch, an actor; two grandchildren; and a sister, Shelley Herting.
His friend Mr. Murtha said he died at home as he paused while reading Dr. King’s prescriptive book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?,” which was published less than a year before he was assassinated in 1968. Mr. Fitch once said that he had been inspired to join Dr. King after reading “The Fire Next Time,” James Baldwin’s seminal 1963 book expressing anger and despair over the state of race relations.
“I had a vision of myself being engaged with what I had encountered in the book in some sort of aesthetic manner,” Mr. Fitch recalled. “I decided the next morning that the ‘aesthetic’ would not be writing — writing’s too hard — and it wouldn’t be as a painterly artist,” he said, “but maybe photography, since I had developed those skills as a hobby.”
He expanded on his life’s work in talking to a group of college students a few years ago. “I’m not a professional photographer, I’m a political organizer,” he said. “I happen to use the camera to tell the story of the work I do.”