Fatimah Ali, Daily News columnist, dies at 56

Posted: January 24, 2012

She sure could get people riled up.

Like the time she suggested that if John McCain beat Barack Obama for president of the United States, "look for a full-fledged race war."

The reaction hit the fan!

Fatimah Ali, who dared to make such a prediction in a column in the Daily News, was deluged with mail that would singe the eyebrows, little of it printable.

DrudgeReport.com headlined the story about her column: "Philadelphia columnist warns if McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race war."

Was she remorseful. Did she back down?

That was not Fatimah's style. In a subsequent column, she said she'd been "dead wrong" in her prediction: "We don't have to wait until after the election for a race war. We're in one now."

Fatimah Ali, born Susan Hughes in Philadelphia to a doctor and a teacher, a fierce advocate for social justice who broadcast her views on local radio and wrote a column for the Daily News from 2006 to 2011, died in her sleep in her North Philadelphia home Monday night. She was 56.

"She lived life on her own terms," said her former husband, state Sen. Vincent Hughes. "She was very thoughtful, very insightful, very intelligent and very committed to social change.

"She was a child of the Sixties and that spirit never left her. She discussed issues that others didn't want to talk about."

Like many others, her death shocked him.

"She lived a very healthy life," he said. "She was always very health-conscious."

One of her daughters, Khadija Ahmaddiya, said the cause of death was not known.

Fatimah was best known locally for her Daily News column and her two-hour daily broadcasts on WURD 900 AM, where she called her show "The Real Deal with Fatimah Ali."

It began in March 2011, and her last broadcast was a report on the activities of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Fatimah described herself as a "God-loving mother of five and grandmother. I'm a journalist, a radio head, who loves her family, her roots, people, art, food, news and information and culture."

She never hesitated to tell it like it was, or at least the way she saw it. Far ahead of the Occupy Wall Street gang, she wrote in 2008 with George W. Bush in the presidency: "The politics of the current White House have brutalized our economy, yet the wealthiest think that everything is fine."

A firm believer in the promise of Barack Obama, she wrote: "Obama understands that people are suffering. Every week, prices go up at the supermarket, and people are unable to feed their families. It already is dark and stormy for millions, who can't even afford pencils, book bags and lunch money for their children."

"The beauty of Fatimah Ali's career is that despite career changes, she seized new opportunities for her vibrant voice to be heard," said Sarah Glover, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and a Daily News photographer.

"She's a Philly gal who kept it real, produced thoughtful commentary in written and spoken words, and gave back to the community."

In fact, longtime friend Karen E. Quinones Miller, a freelance writer, said Fatimah was always available to do whatever was asked of her by local charitable organizations, and she was generous to friends and strangers.

"If you needed it, she would scrape up money for you," Karen said. "She did a lot of community work. She was always available to volunteer for a good cause."

"We were always grateful to have Fatimah's thoughtful voice in the mix of our editorial contributors," said Sandra Shea, Daily News editorial-page editor. "Our thoughts and prayers are with her family."

Jenice Armstrong, former PABJ president and a Daily News columnist, said: "Philadelphia has lost a great talent, champion and friend. Her voice will be missed. What a loss!"

Fatimah's Daily News career began in 2006 when she sent a letter to the editor expressing her concerns about the dismal condition of Robin Hood Dell, where she had volunteered in her youth.

Michael Schefer, then an assistant editorial-page editor, printed the letter. "She wrote well and passionately," he said. "I knew about her and I was surprised and pleased to see what she wrote. The letter got a lot of response."

When the paper was looking for an occasional columnist, he recommended Fatimah and she started writing her column. She also became an associate member of the paper's editorial board.

"She was very smart and passionate about her concerns and causes," Schefer said. "She had opinions about everything. She was very provocative, which is good in an opinion writer.

"As a friend, she had a big heart. She was a very caring person."

Amy Simmons, a friend and writer, called Fatimah "a rare warrior woman."

"She took on every task given to her with courage, intellect, grace and power. She was relentess in her pursuit of truth, and in the reporting of it, even when it was not popular, and without the Schadenfreude that often creeps into the telling of difficult stories these days."

Fatimah was born to Dr. Deurward Hughes, a gynecologist, and Mary Hughes. She grew up in West Mount Airy and graduated from Germantown Friends School in 1974. She attended Wesleyan University, majoring in English and history,

She worked for a number of radio stations, including WDAS, WHAT, and WURD in Philadelphia, and stations in New York City, including 1010 WINS, the all-news station.

She also was associated with One Step Away, a newspaper written and edited by the homeless, the We Are Black Women Network, and J. Whyatt Mondesire's Philadelphia Sun.

She was married to Sen. Hughes (who coincidentally had the same last name) and to Philadelphia radio and TV journalist A. Brahin Ahmaddiya, who died in 2000. Her current partner was Natu Ali.

Besides Khadija, she is survived by three other daughters, Ariell Hughes, Rashida Ali and Yasmin Ali; a son, Malik Ahmaddiya; two sisters, Diane Webster and Brenda Miller, and two grandchildren.

Services: Were being arranged.

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