Willie “Sundiata” (pronounced Soon-Dee-Ata) Tate, also known as “Sundi,” was born in Selma, Alabama in 1944. He is the son of a former sergeant of the United States Army. At about the age of eight, he and his family made their way to California because his father was being stationed in Santa Maria. The Tate family lived in Fresno, CA where Sundi spent his early teenage years.
At the age of 16, Willie Tate was incarcerated. He went on to spend 14 years of his life behind bars and was released at the 30. While incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison, he and five others (Hugo Pinell, Johnny Larry Spain, David Johnson, Fleeta Drumgo and Luis “Bato” Talamantez) were accused of participating in an August 21, 1971 “escape attempt” that left six people dead, including George Jackson, founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang. It is said that “the whole situation was a set-up by guards, prison authorities, and that the FBI purposely designed to kill Jackson. They wanted him dead before he could testify against the correctional system in his upcoming “Soledad Brothers” trial, in which he would reveal things they wanted kept concealed.” (http://www.lucifereffect.com/links_add_quentin.htm)
Johnny Spain was found guilty of murder, while Johnson and Pinell were found guilty of assaulting prison guards. Drumgo, Talamantaz, and Tate were found not guilty on various counts of murder, conspiracy, and assault. All inmates, but one, served their time and were eventually released. Four of them are alive and well, one is deceased (Fleeta Drumgo). The one that is still incarcerated is Hugo Pinell. He has served over 46 years and is still incarcerated. While in prison Sundiata became politically conscious about the struggle and wanted to make a differene in this country. He became an activist and has been active since.
He is currently a member of an organization named “All of Us or None.” This is an organization of ex-prisoners, plus friends and family of current/ex-prisoners. Their main focus is to change policies in regards to prisoners. Members feel that once a person has served their time there should be no more punishment when they come home. They also feel there needs to be resources for these ex-prisoners so they can go on to be productive members of society. This organization strongly supports voting rights of ex-prisoners. “Our voting rights should never be taken from us. Our vote can make a difference”- Willie Tate.
In many states ex-felons cannot vote, while in some states they regain their right to vote after they are off of parole. Sundi and the rest of the organization are still trying to get a bill passed by the senate to change this. All of Us or None is a nationwide organization. There are members in Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, just to name a few. There are different programs that they have to give back to the community. Community Giveback is an annual program where the organization gives away bicycles and toys to children whose parents are incarcerated, mainly in East Palo Alto. They also have Black Family Day where the organization feeds families of the incarcerated.
Willie “Sundiata” Tate still attends many rallies to support various issues. When I spoke to him he let me know we had to get off of the phone so he can make it to the Occupy protest at the Oakland Port.
My uncle Willie Tate, or rather what my family calls him; Uncle Suni, is a prime example that black males are not limited to the stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. He is clearly very active in his community and is trying to make a difference in the world. Most stereotypes about black men are negative; the brute, lazy, dead-beat dad, gang members, hyper-sexual, etc. Tate does not fall under any of these “categories,” nor does he fall under the stereotypes that are viral because of hip-hop and the media.
Sundiata is a very positive role model in my eyes. He is proof that one, against all odds, can change and better himself/herself. He had many years of his life taken from him and still stayed positive. Many people aren’t that strong, they would have given up a long time ago. My uncle is ambitious and I respect him for that. There is a task at hand and I truly believe he will fight for it as long as he is on this earth.
He is a supporter education to the fullest, especially for black men. Every time I see him he asks the same questions, “You still in school?,” “How’s that going?,” and after I tell him he answers “Right on, right on” then always tells me how proud he is and tells me how important school is. I have never heard of anything negative about him. He seems to always be in a good mood, also. Just talking to him about the subject of “the struggle” I can tell he is very passionate about it. Once he started talking about the subject, there was no stopping him. He is a very modest man; he doesn’t take “credit” for any of his accomplishments. He would just say like “well, that’s up to the beholder.”
I really respect the fact that he fused all his energy to become a very positive person. He could have chosen to take an immeasurable amount of alternative directions. He is one of the best role models in my family. He has conquered many battles that would have broken the average man. This man has been through so much and you would never be able to tell by meeting him. I am very proud to say that my uncle is Willie “Sundiata” Tate.
Bato and Sundi Remember Comrade George