Honoring A People’s Champion Who Put “Active” in Activism
He also was known to some as the “Mayor of Fifth Ward.”
Robert E. Lee III was born on Dec. 16, 1942 to Robert and Selma Lee. His parents were unaware that the man they were about to raise would become a true people’s champ.
“He was an outstanding human being. He looked at people, at their strengths. He always tried to help,” his brother, William Lee, said. “He believed in the community. He believed in family.”
Besides wearing his honorary title given to him by residents, he also was talented community organizer, writer, storyteller and folk artist.
Raised in the Fifth Ward, he was also raised in the community and company of other political and activist giants who came from Fifth Ward and attended Phillis Wheatley High School.
Wheatley High School first opened at 3415 Lyons Avenue in the former McGowan Elementary School building on January 31, 1927.
It was at one time the largest Black high schools in the United States with 2,600 students and 60 teachers, and it was such throughout the segregation era.
Part of Team of Champions
While at Wheatley, Lee walked the halls with several other soon to be great champions in their own right, including the late Houston Congressman Mickey Leland and People’s Party II leader Carl Hampton.
George Thomas “Mickey” Leland was born Nov. 27, 1944, in Lubbock. He also graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in Houston’s Fifth Ward and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern.
“Leland understood that the struggle for basic human rights – food, clothing, shelter and health care – was necessarily a global one. Leland dedicated his life to giving back, championing the causes of the poor and disempowered,” Rodney Ellis and Leland’s widow, Alison Leland wrote about Leland on the 20th anniversary of his death in 2009.
The late U.S. congressman, who succeeded Barbara Jordan in representing Houston’s historic 18th Congressional District, died in a plane crash in famine-stricken Ethiopia in 1989. He was leading an international delegation, personal mission to help others, especially in the fight against hunger.
Carl Hampton, the leader of the People’s Party II in Houston Texas was slain by police July 26, 1970 in an ambush by law enforcement.
The People’s Party II was an African American organization along the lines of the Black Panther Party and was seeking affiliation with the larger organization. They maintained close relations with the John Brown Revolutionary League, a white organization in the city.
Hampton’s organization set up a storefront office along Dowling Street in what was the heart of a working class area of Houston. The group put forward demands including black juries and judges for African Americans charged with crimes, reparations for African Americans for slavery and Jim Crow, decent housing and jobs and exemption of African Americans from military service.
The group also advocated armed self-defense against police violence.
National & Community Activist
Lee was great and a natural at being involved in his community and provided an early definition of the actions of community organizing.
It is said that ‘Organizers Organize Organizations” and Lee tapped and lived every element of is being to fit that definition and be involved in the process of building power through involving a constituency in identifying problems they share and the solutions to those problems that they desire.
The talented Lee could identify the people and structures that can make those solutions possible; enlisted those targets in the effort through negotiation and using confrontation and pressure when needed; and help build an institution that was democratically controlled by that constituency that developed the capacity to take on further problems and the will and the power of that constituency.
Lee’s grassroots affinity was ignited in San Francisco, where he worked with physically challenged children as part of VISTA, the Volunteers in Service to America – an anti-poverty domestic Peace Corps program.
He was promoted to a branch on the South Side of Chicago where he interacted with the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang, and navigated the city’s underworld.
Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale introduced him to the organization, where he learned and developed his community work and organizing abilities.
Seale is one of a generation of young African-American radicals who broke away from the usually nonviolent Civil Rights Movement to preach a doctrine of militant black empowerment, helping found the Black Panthers
In 1966, Seale and Huey Newton were ready to organize their beliefs, and they formed the Black Panthers (later renamed the Black Panther Party). Originally created as an armed force protecting the black community from the notoriously racist Oakland police, the Panthers’ reputation grew and with it the scope of the organization itself. The Panthers became a new voice in the Civil Rights Movement, and they rejected outright the mainstream movement’s nonviolent approach as well as the “Back to Africa” teachings put forth by the more radical Black Nationalists.
The Panthers focused much of their energies on community outreach, and the California movement spawned chapters across the nation.
Lee was even prominently featured in the 1969 documentary, American Revolution 2, which focused on organizing following unrest associated with the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Lee returned to Houston in 1970.
He was active as a longtime social worker for the former Harris County Hospital District, and spent many years comforting HIV patients at the Thomas Street Health Center. He had compassion for great causes and saw the value and impact of the Harris Health System on lives in the community.
For 50 years, the Harris Health System has provided services to the community by caring for the community’s under served populations and is one of America’s best community-owned healthcare systems.
The system cares for all residents of Harris County, Texas with 23 community health centers, five school based clinics and a dental center and dialysis center, mobile health units, a rehabilitation and specialty hospital and two full-service hospitals.
Patients it serves includes Hispanic – 58.4% African American – 25.7% . Of those 62-percent are Uninsured – 62 -percent and 20-percent have Medicaid and CHIP, according to system figures.
Also, for three decades in Harris County and Houston, the Kashmere Gardens resident also to help his brother the beloved and Late El Franco Lee, who served on the commissioners court for more than three decades before his death last year.
Lee also worked to create northeast Harris County programs such as a Street Olympics and to always stayed deeply connected to the community.
In recent years, Lee battled multiple sclerosis for at least two decades.
A convert to Islam, he also was known as Robert Alwalee. He leaves a host of relatives, friends and admirers including his wife, Faiza.
He will be remembered for years to come for truly making a difference with his great example of community service, compassion for others and for being a genuine and active “People’s Champion”.
By: Darwin Campbell