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Tanbou Pays Homage to Seven Great Souls Who Departed in 2023

Melvin Herbert King

Mel King, 1928–2023

Our great figures of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century are dying. A few months ago, on March 28, 2023, it was Mel King’s turn. Legendary community organizer, educator, patriarch of Boston, great fighter for African-American and all people’s civil rights, Melvin Herbert King left us at age of 94. I dedicate to him my poem “Boston’s Vigilant Watchful Eyes” (published in the poetry series), in which I called him the “Urban lion, eyes watchful of our hordes’ woe and pain.”

Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte, 1927–2023

Then it was the turn of two other giants: Harry Belafonte and Benjamin Dupuy. We know the former as a great singer, actor, and champion of the US civil rights movement. He mastered and performed in different musical genres, including calypso, blues, and folk. Comrade of Martin Luther King, Belafonte used his prestige and influence in Hollywood and his money to support the movement until his death this past spring, April 25, 2023, of congestive heart failure in New York. Belafonte’s militancy and the means he deployed were crucial in the organization of the March on Washington in 1963.

The latter, Ben Dupuy, was a great Haitian patriot who passed away in Miami, Florida on April 24, 2023, at the age of 91. In 1983, when Haiti was suffering under the repressive yoke of the Duvaliers’ Tonton-Macoutes, Ben Dupuy founded a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn, New York, Haïti-Progrès, which became one of the most fervent and militant voices of the opposition against the Duvalier dictatorship and the series of military dictatorships that followed. Dupuy was a proponent of a Haiti liberated from Neocolonial chains, adhering to Socialist, egalitarian popular rule. His organization, the Committee Against Repression in Haiti (founded in 1984), and his party PPN (Pati Nasyonal Popilè), were important instruments to that end. He was named itinerant ambassador during Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s short-lived first presidency.

Francis “Frank” Nicosia

Francis “Frank” Nicosia, October 29, 1944–November 21, 2023

Benjamin Dupuy

Ben Dupuy, 1931–2023

Just a few months later we learned of the passing of another great man, Frank Nicosia, on November 21, 2023, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. I’ve known Frank, a celebrated historian, educator, and activist, for more than 20 years through his wife, anthropologist Ellen Oxfeld who is a good friend of my wife, Jill. I developed a fondness for Frank’s gracious manner and his calm ways of tackling the most intricate current crisis (be it the Iraq invasion by the United States or Israel’s atrocities in the occupied Palestinian territories) with an historical perspective, knowing that we are never too far from the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s. It pains me to realize that the last time we would see him in person was when Ellen and he invited us to join them on Cape Cod in the late summer of 2017. We’re glad to invite our readers to read Frank Nicosia’s eulogy published in the Addison Independent, a Vermont newspaper.

Again, on December 10, 2023, Haitian arts have lost a potomitan, a great artist and guru in the person of Ronald Mevs, a multimedia artist and public intellectual who passed away at the age of 78.

Ronald Mevs, 1945–2023

Ronald Mevs, 1945–2023

I had a chance to meet him when I visited Jacmel in 2016, introduced by my good friend John Barnes. He showed compassion and kindness to me, my wife and our son. Ronald left me with a deep and positive impression of an independent soul, looking for answers he knew he might not find, yet still searching while enjoying human company. He added to the quality and complexity of his art a penetrating critique of society.

Ronald Mevs’ passing is a huge loss to the artistic community all over Haiti and the diaspora, the town of Jacmel in particular. Jacmel-based painter Rose Marie Lamour, a good friend, salutes him as someone who had “an incomparable energy in the way he works”. The gallery Les Ateliers Jérôme says his death feels as if a “Mapou tree of the Haitian artistic world has just fallen. The departure of Ronald Mevs is an inestimable loss for our community!” Jonah Toussaint, who stayed with him during his internship at the Audio Institute (Artists Institute) near Jacmel, says of Ronald Mevs: “I had the great pleasure of being hosted by Ronald Mevs at his home in Jacmel during my time there in 2016 and 2018. He is a man of incredible character, and one of the greatest artists I have ever known. I am grateful for the time, space, and materials he shared with me.”

Here’s what the musician Alix Buyu Ambroise wrote about Ronald Mevs after learning of his death: “Ronald Mevs was an extraordinary artist and a visionary whose talent was exceptional and constantly beyond the curve. As evidenced in his artwork, Ronald continually explored the unconventional forms of visual arts by challenging the orthodoxies of aesthetics. When I visited his atelier at his residence in the foothills of Jacmel, the experience was one of a kind and everlasting. What a special and memorable journey it was. He walked me through a maze of his imaginative creation. My deepest condolences to his family. May he rest in peace and power!”

Antonio Negri

Antonio Negri, August 1933–December 2023

As we were wrapping this issue, we learned of the death of the great political philosopher Antonio Negri on Saturday, December 16, 2023, in Paris, France, at the age of 90. He was a great thinker, wrote a remarkable trilogy with Michael Hardt—Empire (2000), Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004), and Commonwealth (2009)—that I’ve had a great pleasure to read.

The book Empire has had a tremendous impact. Clay Risen writes in a eulogy in the New York Times of December 22 that Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s “proposal was what they called empire—not a single entity or place, but a fluid, controlled form of power structures that moved easily among governments, corporations and international institutions like the World Bank. […] Empire appeared at the perfect moment, when people were trying to make sense of the worldwide upsurge in protests against central banks, the World Trade Organization and the Group of 8.” He quotes Negri and Hardt: “Empire creates a greater potential for revolution than did the modern regimes of power, …because it presents us, alongside the machine of command, with an alternative: the set of all the exploited and the subjugated, a multitude that is directly opposed to Empire, with no mediation between them.” Antonio Negri’s death is a huge loss to critical thinking. His witty and deep critique of globalisation, imperialism and late capitalism’s excesses will be deeply missed.

Georges Jean-Charles

Georges Jean-Charles, 1932–2023

Again, in the waning days of December 2023, came the news of the death of Dr. Georges Jean-Charles, a teacher, essayist and union organizer at the age of 91. Known for his expertise regarding the Haitian novelist Jacques Stéphen Alexis (1922–1961), Jean-Charles devoted many books of literary analysis on the work of Alexis, such as L’Humanisme de Jacques Stéphen Alexis, his doctoral dissertation at CUNY (City University of New York), in 1984. Trilingual Press has had the honor of publishing two of his most recent works on Alexis: Jacques Stéphen Alexis: Romancier d’avant-garde de Compère Général Soleil (Trilingual Press, 2013), and Arbres, merveille, Histoire… dans l’univers romanesque de Jacques S. Alexis (Volume I, Trilingual Press, 2017). Georges Jean-Charles had completed the second volume of this work but unfortunately, he could not see it through before the onset of his final illness. Other works by Jean-Charles include his co-authorship of the Dictionnaire historique de la Révolution Haïtienne (1789–1804), Edition CIDHICA, Québec, 2003, under the editorship of Claude D. Moïse; and Toussaint Louverture, l’Illustre précurseur de notre Indépendance nationale, (Edition PANACEA, sponsored by Fondation Toussaint Louverture).

In a moving eulogy to his friend and mentor published in this edition of Tanbou, Julien Jumelle writes: “In Gonaïves, Dr. Georges Jean-Charles devoted his time to teaching literature and the history of Haiti. Schoolchildren admire him for his knowledge and relevance. He also worked as a lawyer, defending free of charge the members of the workers’ union of the Sedren corporation. […] Dr  Georges Jean-Charles became so politically influential in Gonaïves that he was persecuted by the Duvalierists. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Police Department in the early 1960s. After his release, he was forced to leave the country to go to Africa and practice his teaching profession. A few years later, he went to Canada, which he then left to return to the United States where he rejoined his wife and children.”1

Personally, I liked his mild-mannered style of saying the most earth-shaking remarks in a calm voice. One day we spoke on the phone about the Haitian electoral crisis of 2015–2016 (the one that would eventually give us Jovenel Moïse). Georges Jean-Charles asked me what I thought about it. I told him that the left and the popular sectors in general could win a democratic election at that moment if they agreed on a single candidate. He said he agreed, “but what Haiti really needs is a revolution” he added. I told him that I completely agreed with that assertion.

This latest loss has compounded the passing of the older generations of men like the Laraque brothers, Paul and Franck, great friends of Georges Jean-Charles, who had so valiantly struggled for the advent of a better world. Being imprisoned by Duvalierist torturers was not enough to break Georges Jean-Charles’ spirit, he who has kept his left-wing political convictions, particularly his solidarity with the Haitian workers and exploited people, throughout his life, maintaining his existential optimism even in the face of evil and the constant dehumanization of people and degradation of life. We shall miss him greatly

May the new generations find inspiration, guidance, and encouragement in the hopeful civic engagement, and exemplar public dedication, that characterized the lives of each of these extraordinary men.


1.Our translation from the French.

You may read here the French eulogy of Georges Jean-Charles by Julien Jumelle:
« L’une de nos lanternes spirituelles est ėteinte »

—Tontongi for Tanbou, December 2023

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