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Ralph Poynter passed away peacefully at the age of 89, on Christmas day, December 25th, 2023. He is survived by seven children, fourteen grandchildren, three (soon to be four) great grandchildren, longtime companion Betty Davis, as well as extended family, comrades and friends.
Ralph was born in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania in 1934 to George Norman and Annie Leola Poynter, when Pittsburgh was the steel capital of the world. Ralph’s father, George, was a steel mill foreman and union organizer who forged in his six children, especially in Ralph, the steeliness necessary to survive the brutality of being Black 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 Fletcheree (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 Ed to release children's standardized testing scores, empowering parents to hold schools accountable. His activism led directly to the placement of the first Black 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.
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 injustices that they did not tackle. Ralph often spoke of a conversation between he 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 has long been a source of pride and many, many, 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.
After returning home in 1969 as a convicted person, Ralph was no longer allowed to teach. He worked at Horizon House, a Drug Free Therapeutic community and then opened his own business FAR EAST CYCLES, a motorcycle shop on Avenue B, and later Ralph’s Cycles on West Street in the West Village. His next career was as a private investigator working cases with Lynne, who was at that point a criminal defense attorney. The Larry Davis case in the Bronx where Ralph investigated the case and Lynne championed the right of self-defense against police brutality in the courtroom, gave Ralph great satisfaction.
After Lynne was arrested, tried and jailed as a result of post 911 fervor and the undermining of the Constitution by the Patriot Act, Ralph became the uncompromising leader of the Free Lynne Stewart campaign. After organizing thousands in her support, he won her freedom. After Lynne’s return from jail Ralph’s primary focus was replicating his efforts towards the release of all political prisoners serving unconscionable sentences related to the civil rights movements of the sixties and seventies. He continued this work with Betty Davis, through public speaking, community events, and his much-cherished radio program on WBAI “What's Happening” that was broadcast nationally every Wednesday night. Ralph continued to co-host the show from his ICU bed until the week before his death.
As Ralph and Lynne and their blended family aged, they often retreated to upstate NY, enjoying good food, music (most often jazz and classical) and visits with family and friends, and especially all of his grandchildren. Ralph loved unreservedly and took great joy in his children and his grandchildren. Talking and singing around the fire. Chopping wood. Looking at the night sky. Ralph was the epitome of the proud husband, father, grandfather (aka Poppy) and great-grandfather.
Ralph is predeceased by Lynne F. Stewart (wife), Fletcheree (Renie) Poynter (wife), Norman Poynter, Garland Poynter, Albert Poynter, George Poynter (Father), and Leola Poynter (Mother).
Ralph is survived by longtime political collaborator Betty Davis, his two sisters, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Siblings: Evelyn Poynter and Laura Stewart.
Children: Kevin Poynter (son), Brenna Stewart-Torres and Elvin Torres (daughter and son in-law), Geoffrey and Marta Stewart (son and daughter in-law), Laura and Victor Eyssallenne (daughter and son in-law), Matthew Poynter (son), Christine and Gary Bond (daughter and son in-law), and Zenobia and Timothy Brown (daughter and son in-law),
Grandchildren: Milana Stewart Velasquez, Natae Adams & Dante Poynter, Ernesto & Arthur Stewart, Aillanna, Christiane Eve, Anna Rosa & Victor Eyssallenne, Payton, Seraphina & Leola Brown, and Noel & Gregory Bond.
Great Grandchildren: G. Connor Dueno, Mackenzie Adams, Kitana Velasquez.
· Donations are requested on behalf of Ralph Poynter to https://wbai.wedid.it/#donation-body. Please select "What's Happening" as your favorite program when making your donation.
· Democracy Now (in honor of Ralph Poynter) https://www.democracynow.org/donate
· National Jericho Movement in honor of Ralph Poynter (https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=5VLM5ZY4H5SGJ)
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