Ralph Poynter was born in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to George Norman and Annie Leola Poynter. Ralph’s father, George, was a steel mill foreman and union organizer who forged in his six children, especially Ralph, the distinctive grit necessary to survive the brutality of being African in America.
In 1962, after receiving degrees in music, mathematics, and education from Duquesne University, Ralph arrived in New York City with his first wife Fletcher-ee (Renie) Poynter, and son Kevin. Ralph began teaching elementary school in Harlem at P.S. 175–now named the Henry Highland Garnet School.
He became a loyal and progressive member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), remaining true to the principles of unionism. When the UFT joined management and supported the racist New York City Board of Education against the legitimate demands and struggle of the community, Ralph then founded the Teachers’ Freedom Party and became a leader in the struggle for Community Control of the NYC public schools.
One of his proudest achievements was forcing the Board of Education to release children’s standardized testing scores, empowering parents to hold schools accountable. His activism led directly to the placement of the first African and Puerto Rican principals in the NYC Board of Education. During this time, Ralph collaborated with many civil rights leaders including Queen Mother Moore, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.
“Ralph Poynter defined the very essence of integrity, heart, initiative, selflessness, purpose, energy, solution, and love for Africans both in the U.S., Africa, and across the globe.”
These activities were not without consequence, and Ralph was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and incarcerated at Rikers Island for six months. Always looking for opportunities to right the wrongs of an unjust system, Ralph organized his fellow prisoners in a successful movement that wrested concessions from the prison administration to provide basic human rights for inmates.
It was also while teaching in Harlem that Ralph met the great love of his life, the school librarian, Lynne Stewart. They were soulmates in the fight for social justice, human rights, and women’s rights. Together there were few if any injustices that they did not tackle.
Ralph often spoke of a conversation between him and Lynne about creating a family and shared life while engaging in the politics of change. Lynne convinced him they could have it all and they ultimately did. Ralph and Lynne’s success and the incredible life they shared have long been a source of pride and many stories told by Ralph over his lifetime. No injustice was too big or too small, and Ralph was the steel alongside Lynne’s mighty legal acumen.
What we all agree is that when Ralph Poynter gave his word to you, it was all genuine gold. We can look at the Black Is Back Coalition, the fight against the 10-2 law in Louisiana, where Brother Ralph and Sister Betty Davis showed up to support CEO Belinda Parker Brown and CFO Zena Crenshaw Logal’s epic fight at the U.S. Supreme Court, and such support in mass influenced the court to overturn the slave law, and the Court agreed to have over 8,000 inmates released.
In the form of a most prominently statured, and compelling African warrior, our mentor, and Comrade, the esteemed Ralph Poynter recently stated, “We all know the issues,” yet now we must boldly exact serious applications for our true liberation from these genocidal terrorists, who apply torture, rape, and extreme brutal force on Africans every day.
We must begin to construct and control our institutions, institutions not to mimic, parrot, or in any shape or form to be liked by our captors–for if and when we do, we are defeating the very goals we say we need to achieve.
On Dec. 25, 2023, Brother Ralph Poynter passed away at 89 years old, leaving his mark in world history. Ralph Poynter defined the very essence of integrity, heart, initiative, selflessness, purpose, energy, solution, and love for Africans both in the U.S., Africa, and across the globe.
“We must carry on”!
Forward Ever, Backward Never!
Long Live Ralph Poynter! Presente!