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Carmichael, Stokely 1941–

Stokely Carmichael 1941

Activist, lecturer, author

At a Glance

Joined Civil Rights Movement

Turning From Nonviolence

International Focus

Selected writings

Sources

Flailing at the white society he condemns, the young man galvanizes his audience with the strident call for Black Power Such was the sensational portrait of Stokely Carmichael offered by Life magazine in the late 1960s. Considerable emphasis was placed on Carmichaels stridency, and the fear of this incendiary speaker, organizer, and author was palpable in much mainstream rhetoric about him. Over many years of organizing and activism, Carmichael moved from the peaceful integrationist doctrine of the civil rights marchers to a more radical pro-revolutionary position, eventually inspiring so much hatred from U.S. institutions that he opted for self-imposed exile in Guinea, West Africa. And decades after his first inflammatory speeches, he demonstrated only a deepened commitment to revolutionary politics.

After the dovish sermons and speeches of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whites were unprepared for the uncompromising demands of black militants such as the Black Panthers and the All Afrikan Peoples Revolutionary Party, and Carmichael was an important figure in both organizations. Carmichael himself has been credited for the Black Power slogan, which frightened whites and turned off even activists like King. Fellow militant Eldridge Cleaver quoted Carmichaels strategy: The civil rights movement was good because it demanded that blacks be admitted into the system. Now we must move beyond the stage of demanding entry, to the new stage of changing the system itself. Black Power, wrote James Haskins in 1972s Profiles in Black Power, has become the philosophy of the black revolution, and because of that Stokely Carmichael is assured a place in history.

Carmichael was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in 1941. His carpenter father, Adolphus, moved with Stokelys mother, Mabel, to the United States when their son was two years old, leaving him in the care of two aunts and a grandmother. Adolphuswho had been swept up by the cause of Trinidadian independence but left his homeland to better his familys economic fortunesmoonlighted as a cab driver, while Mabel found work as a maid. Stokely attended Tranquility Boys School, learning, he would recall angrily years later, the mentality of the colonized. I remember that when I was a boy, he wrote in What We Want, which originally appeared in a 1967 issue of the New York Review of Books and was later reprinted in Chronicles of Black Protest, I used to go to see Tarzan movies on Saturday. White Tarzan used to beat up the black natives. I would sit there yelling, Kill the beasts, kill the savages, kill

At a Glance

Born June 29, 1941, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; immigrated to U.S., 1952; immigrated to Guinea, 1969; son of Adolphus (a carpenter) and Mabel (also known as Mae Charles) Carmichael; married singer Miriam Makeba, 1968 (divorced). Education: Howard University, B.A., 1964.

Civil rights activist and organizer; organizer with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, also known as Student National Coordinating Committee), Atlanta, GA, 196466, chairman, 196667; director of civil rights activities, Mississippi Summer Project, 1964; organizer for All Afrikan Peoples Revolutionary Party; honorary prime minister of Black Panther party, 196769; began self-imposed exile in Conakry, Guinea, 1969, and changed name to Kwame Ture; lecturer and author Member of Agenda for Black Power panel sponsored by Knopf Publishing Group, 1993.

Awards: Honorary LL.D. from Shaw University.

Addresses: HomeConakry, Guinea. Publisher Random House, Inc., 201 East 50th St., New York, NY 10022.

em! I was saying: Kill me. It was as if a Jewish boy watched Nazis taking Jews off to concentration camps and cheered them on. Carmichael joined his parents in New York Citys Harlem when he was 11, later attending the Bronx High School of Science after his parents moved to the Bronx. He had been the only black member of a street gang called the Morris Park Dukes but settled down after discovering the lure of intellectual life. His status as a foreigner and self-described hip demeanor assured him of popularity among many of his liberal, affluent white schoolmates, he said in an interview with Life; he dated white girls and attended parties on swank Park Avenue.

Carmichael was interested in politics even then, especially the work of black socialist Bayard Rustin, whom he heard speak many times. Bayard played a crucial role in my life, Carmichael told Fire in the Streets author Milton Viorst. He was one of the first people I had direct contact with that I could really say, Thats what I want to be. He was so at ease with all the problems. I mean, he was like Superman, hooking socialism up with the black movement, organizing blacks. At one time Carmichael volunteered to help his mentor organize black workers in a paint factory. But the friendlinessdoctrinal and otherwiseof Rustin and other black intellectual leftists with the white liberal establishment would eventually alienate Carmichael.

Joined Civil Rights Movement

Before beginning college, Carmichael had become aware of the flowering of the civil rights movement in the South and the injustice experienced by blacks and others who challenged segregation. Suddenly I was burning, he told Lifes Gordon Parks. Soon he joined antidiscrimination pickets in New York and sit-ins in Virginia and South Carolina. He began his studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1960. Several white schools offered me scholarships, he informed Parks, but Howard seemed a natural. It was black. I could keep in touch with the movement there.

While at Howard, Carmichael met members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; often pronounced snick), an Atlanta-based organization that received funds from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). During his freshman year he participated in the first of the famous Freedom Rides sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, traveling south and getting beaten and arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, for his activism. It was the first of many incarcerations in the career of a confrontational activist.

In 1964 Carmichael graduated from Howard with a bachelors degree in philosophy, but he intended to stay very much involved in the civil rights movement. That summer saw six civil rights workers murdered in the South, in addition to many arrests, beatings, and other indignities and harassment. Carmichael soon became an organizer for SNCC and participated in the groups drive to register black votersthe first of these well-publicized effortsin Lowndes County, Alabama. SNCC helped start the Lowndes County Freedom Association, a political party that chose a black panther as its symbol to fulfill a state requirement that all parties have visual symbols to assist voters. The panther was indigenous to Alabama and seemed both a dignified symbol for empowered blacks and an effective response to the white rooster that symbolized the Alabama Democratic party. In his book Freedom Bound, historian Robert Weisbrot related that Carmichael and other SNCC activists, despite their differences with the SCLC and Martin Luther Kings resolute nonviolence, continued to associate themselves with King because older black Alabamans regarded the Reverend, in Carmichaels own words, like a God.

Turning From Nonviolence

A turning point in Carmichaels experience came, however, as he watched from his locked hotel room, while outside, black demonstrators were beaten and shocked with cattle prods by police. The horrified Carmichael began to scream and could not stop. As Carmichaels activism deepened, however, and as he saw the violence doled out to violent and nonviolent resisters alike, he began to distance himself from Kings tactics. In 1965 he replaced the moderate John Lewis as head of SNCC and began to trumpet the message of Black Power. White members of the group were not encouraged to stay, and Carmichael and other SNCC leaders began to talk about revolution.

Carmichaels articulation of Black Power, evidenced by his 1967 book of that title (co-written with Charles V. Hamilton), and his article What We Want, advanced the idea that mere integration was not the answer to American racism, and that America formed only a piece in the puzzle.

Carmichael and Hamilton linked the struggle for African-American empowerment definitively to economic self-determination domestically and the end of imperialism and colonialism worldwide. What We Want described the need for black communal control of black resources Ultimately, the economic foundations of this country must be shaken if black people are to control their lives but also delved into the crippling psychological effects of racism. From birth, Carmichael wrote, black people are told a set of lies about themselves, concluding, We are oppressed not because we are lazy, not because were stupid (and got good rhythm); but because were black.

The term Black Power, however disconcerting to moderate black leaders, absolutely terrified mainstream whites; it was not interpreted to mean empowerment but rather black domination and possibly even race war. Journalists demanded repeatedly that Carmichael define the phrase, and the activist soon came to believe that no matter what his explanation, they would continue to make it sound sinister. Lifes Parks, a black journalist, pressed Carmichael and received a somewhat exasperated reply: For the last time, Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs, rather than relying on the established parties. Black Power doesnt mean anti-white, violence, separatism or any other racist things the press says it means. Its saying, Look, buddy, were not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playgrounds and jobs on us. Nonetheless, as Haskins recorded in Profiles in Black Power, Carmichael gave the term a different spin when he spoke to black audiences: When you talk of black power, you talk of building a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created.

International Focus

As the revolutionary fervor of the 1960s deepened, SNCC became a Black Power vehicle, more or less replacing the hymn-singing integrationism of earlier days. Yet Carmichael had gone as far as he could with the organization, deciding not to run for reelection as its leader in 1967, just before SNCC fell apart. Carmichaels political emphasis had shifted as well; he began speaking out not only against the war in Vietnam but against what he called U.S. imperialism worldwide. Time reported with supreme disdain that Carmichael had traveled the world denouncing his adopted country, speaking to cheering throngs in Cuba, and declaring, We do not want peace in Vietnam. We want the Vietnamese people to defeat the United States. The magazine called him a purveyor of negritude and nihilism and noted that many U.S. politicians wanted to jail him for sedition on his return to the country he called hell.

When he did return, in 1968, U.S. marshals confiscated Carmichaels passport. Meanwhile, the radical Oakland, California-based Black Panther party made him honorary prime minister; he would resign from the position the following year, rejecting Panther coalitions with white activists. He based himself in Washington, D.C., and continued to speak around the country. In March of 1968 he announced his engagement to South African singer-activist Miriam Makeba; they were wed two months later. The Tanzanian ambassador to the United States hosted their reception. Carmichael and Makeba were permitted to honeymoon abroad after they agreed not to visit any forbidden countries; even so, many nations refused them entrance. In 1969 Carmichael left the U.S. for Conakry, Republic of Guinea, in West Africa. He moved there in part to assist in the restoration to power of the deposed Ghanaian ruler Kwame Nkrumah, who lived in Guinea and served as an exponent of the sort of anti-imperialist, pan-African empowerment Carmichael had espoused in the United States.

While in Guinea, Carmichael took the name Kwame Ture. Over the ensuing decades he solidified his commitment to revolution as the answer to racism and injustice. In 1993, speaking at Michigan State University, he made it clear that he still considered capitalism the source of most of the problems he had been studying during his career as an activist.Those who labor do not enjoy the fruits of their labor, he said, as quoted in the Michigan Chronicle. We know that to be slavery. But Carmichaels 1992 afterword to a new edition of Black Power showed that he felt real progress had been made in certain respects in the U.S. From 1965 to 1992, no one could deny that change has occurred, he acknowledged in the Chronicle and that a coalition of oppressed minorities plus poor whites represents the real force for change. The 1992 Los Angeles rebellion [civil unrest following the acquittal by a white jury of the four police officers who had been videotaped beating black motorist Rodney King] reflects this reality; other oppressed nationalities joined the rebellion in mass character. He told the crowd at Michigan State that the riots were good for us. He insisted in his conclusion to the Black Power afterword that mass political organization on a Pan African scale is the only solution. Thus, Black Power can only be realized when there exists a unified socialist Africa.

Steeped in the civil rights struggle, Stokely Carmichael emerged as one of the firebrands of the black militant movement of the 1960s, and unlike many of his compatriots from that time, he has in the intervening years experienced neither burnout nor conversion; the years have only refined the flame of his convictions. Since we shed blood continually and sporadically and in a disorganized manner for reforms, he insisted in his 1992 afterword to Black Power, let us permanently organize ourselves and make Revolution.

Selected writings

(With Charles V. Hamilton) Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, Random House, 1967, revised edition, 1992.

What We Want, in Chronicles of Black Protest, edited by Bradford Chambers, New American Library, 1968.

Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism, Random House, 1971.

Sources

Books

Eldridge Cleaver: Post-Prison Writings and Speeches, edited by Robert Scheer, Random House, 1969.

Haskins, James, Profiles in Black Power, Doubleday, 1972.

Johnson, Jacqueline, Stokely Carmichael: The Story of Black Power, Silver Burdett Press/Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Viorst, Milton, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s, Simon & Schuster, 1979.

Weisbrot, Robert, Freedom Bound: A History of Americas Civil Rights Movement, Norton, 1990.

Periodicals

Life, May 19, 1967, pp. 7680.

Michigan Chronicle, February 24, 1993, p. 1.

New York Times, August 5, 1966.

Time, December 15, 1967, p. 28.

Simon Glickman

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Carmichael, Stokely

CARMICHAEL, STOKELY

African American activist, leader, and militant stokely carmichael is known for the galvanizing cry "Black Power!" which helped transform the later years of the civil rights movement. The raised fist that accompanied the slogan was a rallying point for many young African Americans in the late 1960s. Carmichael's forceful presence and organizing skill were compelling reasons to join. In 1966, he was elected chairman of the student nonviolent coordinating committee (SNCC), a civil rights organization popularly called Snick. Leaving Atlanta-based SNCC in 1967 with a more radical vision, Carmichael became prime minister of the Oakland-based black panther party for self-defense (BPP), perhaps the most militant of 1960s African American groups. Members of Congress denounced him for allegedly seditious speeches, other politicians and civic leaders blamed him for causing riots, and the federal bureau of investigation (FBI) matched this fervor with counterintelligence activities. Bitterly severing his ties with the black power movement in 1969, Carmichael announced that he would work on behalf of Pan-Africanism, a socialist vision of a united Africa. He moved to Guinea, West Africa, where he lived and worked until his death in 1998.

Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on June 29, 1941. Two years later, he was placed in a private school, as his father, mother, and two sisters immigrated to the United States. At school he earned the nickname Little Man for his quick intelligence and precocious awareness, traits that had him urging his aunt to vote when he was turned away from polling booths at the age of seven. He received a British education at the Tranquillity Boys School, a segregated institution, from the age of

ten to eleven, before nearly dying of pneumonia. As an adult, he would recall the Tranquillity School experience with bitterness for "drugging" him with white European views. His parents brought him and three sisters to live with them in Harlem in June 1952.

In Harlem, he found conditions disappointingly different from those in Trinidad, where the black majority had found access to positions in elective government and professional employment. His mother, Mabel Carmichael, worked as a maid. His father, Adolphus Carmichael, who had been successful enough as a skilled carpenter to build a large house in Port of Spain, struggled at driving a cab to make ends meet but remained optimistic about the United States. For this dream, Carmichael later said, his father paid a high price, working himself to death, and dying the same way he began, poor and black.

"An organization which claims to speak for the needs of a community … must speak in the tone of that community."
Stokely Carmichael

By junior high school, Carmichael's disillusionment revolved around a life of marijuana, alcohol, theft, and a street gang of which he was the only nonwhite member. However, when he entered the respected Bronx High School of Science, his scholastic interests blossomed, and he began to read widely in politics and history. Social opportunities began to appear for him, too. Yet, later, he could not dispel a sense of alienation and anger. "I made the scene in Park Avenue apartments," he recalled in a 1967 interview. "I was the good little nigger and everybody was nice to me. Now that I realize how phony they all were, how I hate myself for it."

Social and political change were in the air as Carmichael was finishing high school. The civil rights movement was in full swing and a new generation of young African Americans began holding lunch counter sit-ins in segregated cafés and restaurants in the South. At first skeptical about these "publicity hounds," Carmichael changed his mind when he saw televised images of white students pouring sugar and ketchup on the heads of the peaceful protesters. By mid-1960 he was in Virginia taking part in a sit-in organized by the congress of racial equality (CORE), a civil rights group founded nearly two decades earlier. Beaten up during his first demonstration, Carmichael was undeterred. He attended more sit-ins and pickets, notably against the F.W. Woolworth Company in New York, as such demonstrations spread widely across the country, resulting in integrated businesses in several states.

Several scholarship offers awaited Carmichael, including one from Harvard. His decision to reject them in favor of attending Howard University in Washington, DC, marked a turning point in his life. In 1961, CORE sponsored trips by young activists to the South. Known as the Freedom Rides, these journeys were intended to fight segregation. As a freshman, Carmichael went along. He escaped the violent mob beatings that many of the activists suffered while white police officers watched and did nothing, but he and several other CORE activists were arrested in Mississippi, jailed for 53 days, zapped with cattle prods, and forced to sleep on hard cell floors. Such treatment was not the worst inflicted on the Freedom Riders: three were murdered. Released finally, he returned to the university and changed his major from medicine to philosophy, in which he took a bachelor's degree upon graduation in 1964.

Leaving Howard, Carmichael became an organizer with SNCC. Founded during his final year in high school, the group had emerged from meetings organized by ella j. baker, the associate executive director of the southern christian leadership conference (SCLC)—the civil rights organization of which martin luther king jr. was president. SNCC contained the seeds of a major change in direction for the civil rights movement. As it grew in the early 1960s, SNCC attracted young volunteers who were impatient with the progress of older organizations such as CORE and the SCLC. It sent black and white young people from predominantly northern, middle-class backgrounds into rural areas of the Deep South, their goal being to educate illiterate farmers, increase voter registration, and set up health clinics. A field organizer for a SNCC task force in Lowndes County, Mississippi, Carmichael brought about noteworthy successes: the number of registered black voters increased from 70 to 2,600, a dramatic rise for a county in which African Americans outnumbered whites but had no share in political power.

In 1966, Carmichael was elected chairman of SNCC. The group's goal was evolving from integration to liberation. In Mississippi, he had organized a political party called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Its symbol, a black panther leaping with a snarl, would become nationally recognized in the years to follow. So would the words Black Power! that Carmichael shouted to black sharecroppers as he and other participants in the james meredith Freedom March passed them in June 1966. The cross-state march was a project launched by Meredith, who had been the first African American to attend Mississippi University, to prove that black citizens could enjoy their rights in the state without fear. Such fear was well placed. On the second day, shotgun blasts badly wounded Meredith. As another march took place and more violence followed, "Black Power!" became the marchers' chant.

In Carmichael's view, black power meant several things: political power, economic power, and legal power. It was both local and international in scope. "We want control of the institutions of the communities where we live, and we want control of the land, and we want to stop the exploitation of non-white people around the world," he said. This control would be achieved by any means necessary, he promised, drawing on the famous words of the activist malcolm x. SNCC members carried guns for self-defense, a practice defended by Carmichael this way: "We are not [Martin Luther] King or SCLC. They don't do the kind of work we do nor do they live in the same areas we live in." In contrast to the harmonious message of King, Carmichael's rhetoric stirred fear and antagonism in many members of the mass media, who quickly accused him of reverse racism. Time magazine dubbed him a black powermonger. As riots tore through major U.S. cities in the summers of 1966 and 1967, Carmichael was condemned for making inflammatory speeches that his critics said sparked them.

Within SNCC, more than rhetoric was changing. As the organization began to speak of oppressors and the oppressed, it also took practical steps that distanced it from older civil rights groups. Carmichael had SNCC pull out of the White House Conference on Civil Rights, a move that brought condemnation from the SCLC, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp), and the Urban League; CORE, however, was moving in the same direction. Support for SNCC began to dry up. Older black activists deserted the organization; white supporters withdrew funding. In late 1966, SNCC purged all white members from its ranks.

Law enforcement agencies turned their sights on the increasingly militant group. Fights between the group's members and police officers broke out in several cities. In August 1966, a raid by 80 Philadelphia police officers on a SNCC office resulted in several arrests and charges that dynamite was stored there. As a result, the city's mayor and chief of police tried to bar Carmichael from speaking in Philadelphia. He was soon arrested and convicted in Atlanta of inciting a riot. Federal authorities also became concerned. The FBI had begun surveillance of SNCC in 1960; now it stepped up the supervision. In the summer of 1967, cointelpro, the FBI's Counterintelligence Program, officially added SNCC to its list of revolutionary groups to monitor, infiltrate, and, if possible, discredit.

Stepping down from the SNCC chairmanship, Carmichael gave lectures on college campuses and traveled worldwide. To an international audience that viewed him as a revolutionary leader, he gave speeches in Europe, Africa, and North Vietnam. In a talk given in London in July 1967, he so enraged British political leaders that he was barred from entering more than 30 countries in the British Commonwealth. Harsh criticism in the U.S. press followed an appearance in Havana where he said, "We are preparing groups of urban guerrillas for our defense in the cities.… It is going to be a fight to the death." President Fidel Castro of Cuba offered Carmichael political asylum, which he declined. Upon Carmichael's return to the United States on December 12, 1967, u.s. marshals seized his passport. Lawmakers in Congress denounced him for treason and sedition, and, as a result, considered legislation favoring bans on travel by U.S. citizens to countries deemed enemies of the United States.

Overseas, Carmichael had espoused his view of Pan-Africanism. This political movement favored uniting African countries under a common socialist leadership. SNCC expelled Carmichael in August 1968, disagreeing with his political turn, but by this time he had already joined the BPP. Organized to prevent police brutality toward African Americans, the Black Panthers had adopted the symbol Carmichael popularized in Lowndes County, a leaping, snarling black panther. The BPP's members carried guns, demanded equality and justice, and occasionally exchanged gunfire with police officers, leading to the conviction of one of its

founders, huey p. newton. As honorary prime minister of the BPP, Carmichael organized over two dozen chapters across the country.

Black power's growing appeal—and, in the eyes of many white U.S. citizens, its danger—seemed to reach a symbolic height at the 1968 Olympics. There, two medal-winning members of the U.S. Olympic Team raised their fists in expression of their solidarity with the movement, a protest that ended in U.S. officials stripping them of their medals.

Events during this period increased Carmichael's sense of alienation from the United States. He alleged that the FBI harassed him and his wife, Miriam Makeba, a South African–born singer, by following them wherever they went. Carmichael and Makeba felt that Makeba lost singing jobs and recording contracts because of Carmichael's notoriety. When the Black Panthers allied themselves with white radicals he broke with the organization. "The history of Africans living in the U.S. has shown that any premature alliance with white radicals has led to complete subversion of the blacks by the whites," he said in July 1969. He called upon all Africans "as one cohesive force to wage an unrelenting armed struggle against the white Western empire for the liberation of our people." His departure sounded a death knell for the black power movement; by the early 1970s it had all but vanished.

In 1969, Carmichael prepared to leave for self-imposed exile in Africa. Before going, he organized a branch of the All-African People's Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) in Washington, DC, a Pan-Africanist group established the previous year in Guinea, West Africa. After settling in Africa, he briefly returned to the United States in March 1970, and appeared before a congressional subcommittee on national security matters. Questioned about revolutionary groups in the United States, he pleaded the fifth amendment throughout the hearing. Back in Guinea, he worked for the AAPRP, taught at the university in Conakry, and, in 1978, changed his name to Kwame Ture, partly in honor of Sékou Touré, former president of Guinea, who was his friend and benefactor. Following the death of President Touré and the rise of the military government in Guinea, he was jailed several times for unknown reasons.

Carmichael traveled and spoke in a number of countries since the 1980s. In 1982, the British Commonwealth briefly lifted its ban on his crossing its borders, but it quickly renewed the prohibition after he made a 1983 visit to Britain advocating international black solidarity and the overthrow of capitalism. British officials claimed that he urged black lawyers to throw bombs. Later, he paid several visits to the United States. In 1989, looking back on the accomplishments of the civil rights and black power movements, he expressed skepticism. Citing the 304 African American mayors then in office in the United States, he dismissed them as impotent to effect real change. "All of them singularly and in block are powerless inside the racist political structure of the U.S.A.," he said. "These African mayors represent the biggest cities … yet the conditions of the masses of our people are worse today in these very cities than before the advent of African mayors."

Carmichael and Makeba divorced in 1978 and he later remarried. He received an honorary doctor of law degree from Shaw University, in North Carolina, and authored two books, Black Power: Politics of Liberation in America (1967) and Stokely Speaks: Black Power to Pan-Africanism (1971).

In June 1998, Carmichael donated his papers to the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center of Howard University. He died on November 15, 1998, at the age of 57, of prostate cancer. In May 1999, Carmichael was posthumously awarded an honorary doctorate by Howard University and his friends and supporters began a drive to establish the Kwame Toure Work-Study Institute and Library in Conakry, Guinea.

further readings

Carmichael, Stokely. 1971. Stokely Speaks: Black Power to Pan-Africanism. New York: Random House.

Johnson, Jacqueline. 1990. Stokely Carmichael: The Story of Black Power. Parsippany, N.J.: Silver Burdett Press.

Kaufman, Michael T. November 16, 1998. "Stokely Carmichael Dies at 57." New York Times. Available online at <www.interchange.org/Kwameture/nytimes111698.html> (accessed June 13, 2003).

Makeba, Miriam. 1987. Makeba: My Story. New York: New American Library.

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Stokely Carmichael

Stokely Carmichael

Stokely Carmichael (born 1941) was a "militant" civil rights activist and stood at the forefront of the "Black Power" movement. He soared to fame by popularizing the phrase "Black Power" and was one of the most powerful and influential leaders in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Stokely Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on June 29, 1941. His father, Adolphus, who died when he was in his late forties, moved with Stokely's mother, Mabel, to the United States when their son was only two-years-old. Although his father had been swept up by the cause of Trinidad's independence, he left his homeland to better his family's economic fortunes and moonlighted as a New York City cab driver, while Mabel found work as a maid. Young Carmichael was left in the care of two aunts and his grandmother and attended Tranquillity Boy's School. Carmichael joined his parents in New York City's Harlem when he was eleven-years-old and became the only black member of a street gang called the Morris Park Dukes. His status as a foreigner and his self-described "hip" demeanor assured him of popularity among many of his liberal, affluent white schoolmates. He said in an interview with Life that he dated white girls and attended parties on swank Park Avenue during this period. But Carmichael, a bright student, settled down after his family moved to the Bronx and he discovered the lure of intellectual life. After his parents moved to the Bronx, he was admitted to the Bronx High School of Science, a school for gifted youths.

Carmichael was interested in politics even then, especially the work of African-American socialist Bayard Rustin, whom he heard speak many times. At one point, he volunteered to help Rustin organize African-American workers in a paint factory. But the friendliness, doctrinal and otherwise, of Rustin and other African-American intellectual leftists with the white liberal establishment would eventually alienate Carmichael.

Joined Civil Rights Movement

While he was in school the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. The Supreme Court had declared that school segregation was illegal, and African-Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, successfully desegregated the city's busses through a yearlong boycott. During Carmichael's senior year in high school, four African-American freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural Camp; Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina, staged a sit-in at the white-only lunch counter in Woolworth's.

The action of these young students captured the imagination of African-Americans and some sympathetic white students throughout the United States. Some young people in New York City, including Carmichael, joined a boycott of the city's Woolworth stores which was sponsored by the youth division of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). CORE hoped that the boycott would pressure Woolworth's owners to desegregate all of its stores' facilities throughout the country. Carmichael traveled to Virginia and South Carolina to join anti-discrimination sit-ins and because of his growing sensitivity to the plight of African-Americans in the United States, especially in the segregated South, he refused offers to attend white colleges and decided to study at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C.

At Howard from 1960 to 1964, Carmichael majored in philosophy while becoming increasingly involved in the civil rights movement. He joined a local organization called the Non-Violent Action Group which was affiliated with an Atlanta-based civil rights organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, called "Snick"). During his summers or whenever there was free time, Carmichael traveled South to join with the Congress of Racial Equality sponsored "freedom riders," composed of integrated groups riding interstate busses in an attempt to make the federal government enforce statutes which provided that interstate busses and bus terminals be desegregated. In bus depots there were separate toilet facilities for blacks and whites with signs that read something like "white ladies here, colored women in the rear."

Many southern whites were violently hostile to the efforts of these young people to force desegregation on them, and some of the freedom rider busses were bombed or burned. The riders were often beaten and jailed. A CORE leader remarked that for the seasoned freedom riders, jail was not a new experience, but that the determined exuberance of the young freedom riders was a shock to the jailers in Mississippi and other southern states. In the spring of 1961, when Carmichael was 20, he spent 49 days in a Jackson, Mississippi jail. One observer said that Carmichael was so rebellious during this period that the sheriff and prison guards were relieved when he was released.

After graduating in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, Carmichael stayed in the South as much as possible, sitting-in, picketing, helping with voter registration drives, and working alongside of other leaders of SNCC. He was especially active in Lowndes County, Alabama, where he helped found the Lowndes County Freedom Party, a political party that chose a black panther as its symbol in order to comply with a state requirement that all political parties must have a visual symbol to assist voters. The black panther was indigenous to Alabama and seemed both a dignified symbol for empowered African-Americans and an effective response to the white rooster that symbolized the Alabama Democratic party. Southern response to the civil rights workers was often so violent that demonstrators were bruised, wounded, or even killed by policemen, by members of the Ku Klux Klan, or other individuals. There were six civil rights workers murdered that year, but this only made Carmichael, and others, more determined than ever to work for desegregation.

Turning From Non-Violence

The turning point in Carmichael's experience came as he watched from his locked hotel room while outside, African-American demonstrators were beaten and shocked with cattle prods by police. The horrified Carmichael began to scream and could not stop. As his activism deepened and he saw the violence doled out to violent and non-violent protesters alike, he began to distance himself from non-violent tactics and its proponents, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1965, after Carmichael replaced the moderate John Lewis as the president of the SNCC, he joined Martin Luther King, Jr., Floyd McKissick of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and James Meredith, who had been the first African-American student to attend the University of Mississippi, on a "freedom march" in Mississippi which Meredith had first attempted alone. After he was shot during his solitary march, Meredith welcomed the help of other civil rights leaders. Carmichael and McKissick had trouble agreeing with King that the march would be non-violent and interracial. Carmichael had become increasingly hostile to the aid offered by white civil rights workers. During this march, Carmichael began to articulate his views about "Black Power" before the assembled television cameras. Americans reacted strongly to a slogan that seemed to indicate that African-Americans wanted to replace white supremacy with African-American supremacy. Carmichael later defined "Black Power" to mean the right of African-Americans to define and organize themselves as they saw fit and to protect themselves from racial violence. After the march, white members of the SNCC were not encouraged to stay and Carmichael and other SNCC leaders began to talk about "revolution."

Carmichael's articulation of "Black Power" evidenced by his 1967 book Black Power (co-written with Charles V. Hamilton), and his article "What We Want" advanced the idea that mere integration was not the answer to American racism, and that America formed only a piece in the puzzle. Carmichael and Hamilton linked the struggle for African-American empowerment definitively to economic self-determination domestically and the end of imperialism and colonialism worldwide. "What We Want" described the need for African-American communal control of African-American resources.

The term "Black Power," however disconcerting to moderate African-American leaders, absolutely terrified mainstream whites; many interpreted this term to mean not empowerment, but rather African-American domination and possibly even race war. Journalists demanded repeatedly that Carmichael define the phrase, and he soon began to believe that no matter what his explanation, they would interpret it as sinister. Pressed by Life magazine, Carmichael said "For the last time, 'Black Power' means black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs [rather than relying on established parties]. 'Black Power' doesn't mean anti-white, violence, separatism or any other racist things the press says it means. It's saying 'Look buddy, we're not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playgrounds and good jobs on us."' However, Carmichael sometimes gave the term a different spin when he spoke to African-American audiences. As James Haskins recorded in his book, Profiles In Black Power (1972), Carmichael explained to one crowd, "When you talk of 'Black Power,' you talk of building a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created." Through statements like this, Carmichael and his movement continued to be seen by many in mainstream America as a movement not to build, but to destroy.

International Focus

As the revolutionary fervor of the 1960s deepened, the SNCC became a "Black Power" vehicle, more or less replacing the hymn-singing integration of earlier days. Yet Carmichael had gone as far as he could with the organization, deciding not to run for re-election as its leader in 1967, just before the organization fell apart. Carmichael's political emphasis had shifted as well; he began speaking out not only against the war in Vietnam, but against what he called U.S. imperialism worldwide. Time reported that Carmichael had traveled the world denouncing his adopted country, speaking to cheering crowds in Cuba, and declaring, "We do not want peace in Vietnam. We want the Vietnamese people to defeat the United States." Time called him a purveyor of "negritude and nihilism" and noted that many U.S. politicians wanted to jail him for sedition upon his return to the country he called "hell."

Upon his return in 1968, U.S. marshals confiscated his passport. Meanwhile, the radical Oakland, California-based Black Panther Party, a Black group which advocated African-American liberation by "any means necessary," had made him their honorary prime minister. He would resign from that post the following year, rejecting Panther coalitions with white activists. He based himself in Washington, D.C. and continued to speak around the country. In March of 1968, he announced his engagement to South African singer-activist Miriam Makeba. They were wed two months later and the Tanzanian ambassador to the United States hosted their reception. They were permitted to honeymoon abroad after they promised not to visit any "forbidden" countries; even so, many nations refused them entrance. In 1969, Carmichael left the United States for Conakry, Republic of Guinea, in West Africa. He moved there, in part, to assist in the restoration to power of the deposed Ghanaian ruler Kwame Nkrumah, who lived in Guinea and served as an exponent of the sort of anti-imperialist, pan-African empowerment Carmichael had espoused in the United States.

While in Guinea, Carmichael took the name Kwame Ture and, over the next decades, founded the All-African Revolutionary Party and continued to speak as an advocate of revolution to answer the problems of racism and injustice. In 1993, speaking at Michigan State University, he made it clear that he still considered capitalism the source of most of the problems he had been studying during his career as an activist. In a Michigan Chronicle interview he stated, "Those who labor do not enjoy the fruits of their labor, we know that to be slavery," but his 1992 afterward to a new edition of Black Power showed that he felt real progress had been made in certain respects in the U.S., "From 1965 to 1992, no one could deny that change has occurred."

In 1996 Carmichael was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was honored by his birth nation with a $1,000 a month grant, awarded to him by the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Benefits in Denver, New York, and Atlanta were also held to help pay his medical expenses.

Steeped in the civil rights struggle, Carmichael emerged as one of the firebrands of the African-American militant movement in the 1960s, and unlike many of his compatriots from that time, he has in the intervening years experienced neither burnout nor conversion; the years have only refined the flame of his convictions, even in the face of cancer.

He continues to advance revolution to answer the problems of racism and unfairness. "Since we shed blood continually and sporadically and in a disorganized manner for reforms," he stated in his afterward to Black Power, "let us permanently organize ourselves and make Revolution."

Further Reading

Carmichael discussed his views in Black Power; the Politics of Liberation in America (1967), co-authored with Charles V. Hamilton, and in Stokely Speaks: Black Power to Pan-Africanism (1971). Several authors have written about the history of SNCC. Two examples are Howard Zinn SNCC, The New Abolitionists (1964) and Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell The River of No Return, the Autobiography of a Black Militant in the Life and Death of SNCC (1973).

Further information on Carmichael and his views can be found in James Haskins Profiles in Black Power (1972), Jacqueline Johnson Stokely Carmichael: The Story of Black Power (1990), Milton Viorst Fire in the Streets (1979), and Robert Weisbrot Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement (1990). For information on Carmichael's views in his own words, see the May 19, 1967 issue of Life, the February 24, 1993 issue of the Michigan Chronicle, the August 5, 1966 issue of the New York Times, and the December 15, 1967 issue of Time. Additional biographical material on Carmichael can be found in the April 14, 1996 issue of the New York Times, the February 8, 1992 issue of the Chicago Defender, and the March 30, 1997 issue of the Denver Post.

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Carmichael, Stokely

Stokely Carmichael

Born: June 29, 1941
Port of Spain, Trinidad
Died: November 15, 1998
Conakry, Guinea

Trinidadian-born American civil rights activist

Stokely Carmichael was a civil rights activist during the turbulent 1960s. He soared to fame by popularizing the phrase "Black Power." Carmichael championed civil rights for African Americans in a rapidly changing world.

Inspiration in New York

Stokely Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on June 29, 1941. His father moved his family to the United States when Stokely was only two years old. In New York City's Harlem neighborhood, Carmichael's self-described "hip" presence quickly made him popular among his white, upper-class schoolmates. Later his family moved to the Bronx, where Carmichael soon discovered the lure of intellectual life after being admitted to the Bronx High School of Science, a school for gifted students.

Carmichael's political interests began with the work of African American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (19101987), whom he heard speak many times. At one point Carmichael volunteered to help Rustin organize African American workers in a paint factory. But the radical and unfriendly views of Rustin and other similar African American activists would eventually push Carmichael away from the movement.

The civil rights movement

While Carmichael was in school in the Bronx in the early 1960s, the civil rights movement exploded into the forefront of American culture. The Supreme Court declared that school segregation (separating people based on their race) was illegal. African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, successfully ended segregation on the city's buses through a yearlong boycott. During the boycott, they recruited others to stop using the buses until the companies changed their policies. During Carmichael's senior year in high school, four African American freshmen from a school in North Carolina staged a famous sit-in, or peaceful protest, at the white-only lunch counter in a department store.

The action of these students captured the imagination of young Carmichael. He soon began participating in the movements around New York City. Carmichael also traveled to Virginia and South Carolina to join sit-ins protesting discrimination (treating people differently based solely on their race).

Joining the movement

Carmichael refused offers to attend white colleges and decided to study at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. At Howard, Carmichael majored in philosophy and became more and more involved in the civil rights movement.

Carmichael joined a local organization called the Nonviolent Action Group. This group was connected with an Atlanta-based civil rights organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Whenever he had free time, Carmichael traveled south to join the "freedom riders," an activist group that rode interstate buses in an attempt to end segregation on buses and in bus terminals.

Although the "freedom riders" gained support in some parts of the country, they met resistance in other areas, especially the South. Some of the freedom rider buses were bombed or burned. The riders themselves were often beaten and jailed. In the spring of 1961, when Carmichael was twenty, he spent forty-nine days in a Jackson, Mississippi, jail. One observer said that Carmichael was so rebellious during this period that the sheriff and prison guards were relieved when he was released.

After graduating in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, Carmichael stayed in the South. He constantly participated in sit-ins, picketing, and voter registration drives (organized gatherings to help people register to vote). He was especially active in Lowndes County, Alabama, where he helped found the Lowndes County Freedom Party, a political party that chose a black panther as its symbol. The symbol was a perfect choice to oppose the white rooster that symbolized the Alabama Democratic Party.

Turning from nonviolence

The turning point in Carmichael's experience came as he watched when African American demonstrators were beaten and shocked with cattle prods by police. With his activism deepening and as he saw the violence toward both violent and nonviolent protesters, he began to distance himself from nonviolent methods, including those of Martin Luther King Jr. (19291968).

In 1965 Carmichael replaced the moderate John Lewis (1940) as the president of the SNCC. He then joined Martin Luther King Jr. in his now famous "Freedom March." King led thousands from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to register black voters. But Carmichael had trouble agreeing with King that the march should be nonviolent and that people from all races should participate. During this march Carmichael began to express his views about "Black Power" to the media. Many Americans reacted strongly to this slogan that some people believed was antiwhite and promoted violence.

"Black Power" and backlash

Carmichael's ideas of "Black Power," which he turned into the book Black Power (coauthored by Charles V. Hamilton), and his article "What We Want," advanced the idea that racial equality was not the only answer to racism in America. Carmichael and Hamilton linked the struggle for African American empowerment, or the process of gaining political power, in America to the end of imperialism worldwide (or the end of powerful countries forcing their authority on weaker countries, especially those in Africa).

With racial tensions at an all-time high, journalists demanded that Carmichael define the phrase "Black Power." Soon Carmichael began to believe that no matter what his explanation, the American public would interpret it negatively. In one interview, Carmichael spoke of rallying African Americans to elect officials who would help the black community. However, Carmichael sometimes explained the term "Black Power" in a different way when he spoke to African American audiences. As James Haskins recorded in his book, Profiles in Black Power (1972), Carmichael explained to one crowd, "When you talk of 'Black Power,' you talk of building a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created." Carmichael and his movement continued to be seen by many in America as a movement that could spark a "Race War."

With the civil rights movement in full swing, the SNCC became more of a way to spread Carmichael's "Black Power" movement. When Carmichael declined to run for reelection as leader of the SNCC, however, the organization soon dissolved.

An international focus

By this time, Carmichael's political attention had shifted as well. He began speaking out against what he called U.S. imperialism (domination of other nations) worldwide. Reports told of Carmichael traveling the world making statements against American policies in other countries, especially America's involvement in the Vietnam War (195575), a war fought in Vietnam in which the United States supported South Vietnam in its fight against a takeover by Communist North Vietnam. These reports only fueled dislike and fear of Carmichael in the United States.

In 1968, the radical and violent Oakland, California-based Black Panther Party made Carmichael their honorary prime minister. He resigned from that post the following year, rejecting Panther loyalty to white activists.

Carmichael then based himself in Washington, D.C., and continued to speak around the country. In May 1968 he married South African singer-activist Miriam Makeba.

Leaving America behind

In 1969 Carmichael left the United States for Conakry, Republic of Guinea, in West Africa. While in Guinea, Carmichael took the name Kwame Ture. Over the next decades, he founded the All-African Revolutionary Party.

Unlike many of his peers who emerged from the civil rights movement, Carmichael's passion and beliefs always remained strong. He continued to support a revolution as the answer to the problems of racism and unfairness until his death from prostate cancer on November 15, 1998, in Conakry, Guinea.

For More Information

Carmichael, Stokely. Stokely Speaks: Black Power to Pan-Africanism. New York: Random House, 1971.

Carmichael, Stokely, and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power; the Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Random House, 1967.

Cwiklik, Robert. Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1993.

Zinn, Howard. SNCC, The New Abolitionists. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

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Carmichael, Stokely

Stokely Carmichael, 1941–98, African-American social activist, b. Trinidad. He lived in New York City from 1952 and graduated from Howard Univ. in 1964. Carmichael participated in the Congress of Racial Equality's "freedom rides" in 1961, and by 1964 was a field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Alabama. As SNCC chair in 1966, he ejected more moderate leaders and set off a storm of controversy by calling for "black power," a concept he elaborated in a 1967 book (with C. Hamilton). He was also an anti-Vietnam War activist, and railed against both racial and economic injustice. His increasingly separatist politics isolated Carmichael from most of the civil-rights movement. He immigrated to Guinea in 1969 and spent the rest of his life there, calling himself a pan-African revolutionary but largely relegated to the political fringe. He changed his name to Kwame Ture, and was married briefly to the singer Miriam Makeba. His memoir Ready for Revolution was posthumously published in 2003.

See biography by P. E. Joseph (2014).

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Carmichael, Stokely 1941–1998

Stokely Carmichael 19411998

Activist, lecturer, author

At a Glance

Selected writings

Sources

Flailing at the white society he condemns, the young man galvanizes his audience with the strident call for Black Power. Such was the sensational portrait of Stokely Carmichael offered by Life magazine in the late 1960s. Considerable emphasis was placed on CarCarmichaei; marriedmichaels stridency, and the fear of this incendiary speaker, organizer, and author was palpable in much mainstream rhetoric about him. Over many years of organizing and activism, Carmichael moved from the peaceful integrationist doctrine of the civil rights marchers to a more radical pro-revolutionary position, eventually inspiring so much hatred from U.S. institutions that he opted for self-imposed exile in Guinea, West Africa. And decades after his first inflammatory speeches, he demonstrated only a deepened commitment to revolutionary politics.

After the dovish sermons and speeches of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whites were unprepared for the uncompromising demands of African American militants such as the Black Panthers and the All Afrikan Peoples Revolutionary Party, and Carmichael was an important figure in both organizations. Carmichael himself has been credited for the Black Power slogan, which frightened whites and turned off even activists like King. Fellow militant Eldridge Cleaver quoted Carmichaels strategy: The civil rights movement was good because it demanded that blacks be admitted into the system. Now we must move beyond the stage of demanding entry, to the new stage of changing the system itself. Black Power, wrote James Haskins in 1972s Profiles in Black Power, has become the philosophy of the black revolution, and because of that Stokely Carmichael is assured a place in history.

Carmichael was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in 1941. His carpenter father, Adolphus, moved with Stokelys mother, Mabel, to the United States when their son was two years old, leaving him in the care of two aunts and a grandmother. Adolphuswho had been swept up by the cause of Trinidadian independence but left his homeland to better his familys economic fortunesmoonlighted as a cab driver, while Mabel found work as a maid. Stokely attended Tranquility Boys School, learning, he would recall angrily years later, the mentality of the colonized. I remember that when I was a boy, he wrote in What We Want, which originally appeared in a 1967 issue of the New York Review of Books and was later reprinted in Chronicles of Black Protest, I used to go to see Tarzan movies on Saturday. White Tarzan used to beat

At a Glance

Born June 29, 1941, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; died November 15, 1998, in Conakry, Guinea; immigrated to the United States, 1952; son of Adol-phus (a carpenter) and Mabel (also known as Mae Charles) Carmichael; married singer Miriam Makeba, 1968 (divorced), married physician Marlyatou Barry (divorced); children: Bokabiro. Education: Howard University, B.A., 1964.

Career: Civil rights activist and organizer; organizer with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, also known as Student National Coordinating Committee), Atlanta, GA, 1964-66, chairman, 1966-67; director of civil rights activities, Mississippi Sum-merProject, 1964; organizer for All Afrikan Peoples Revolutionary Party; honorary prime minister of Black Panther Party, 1967-69; self-imposed exile in Conakry, Guinea, 1969-98, changed name to Kwame Ture; lecturer and author.

Awards; Honorary LL.D. from Shaw University.

up the black natives. I would sit there yelling, Kill the beasts, kill the savages, kill em! I was saying: Kill me. It was as if a Jewish boy watched Nazis taking Jews off to concentration camps and cheered them on. Carmichael joined his parents in New York Citys Harlem when he was 11, later attending the prestigious Bronx High School of Science after his parents moved to the Bronx. He had been the only African American member of a street gang called the Morris Park Dukes, but settled down after discovering the lure of intellectual life. His status as a foreigner and self-described hip demeanor assured him of popularity among many of his liberal, affluent white schoolmates, he said in an interview with Life; he dated white girls and attended parties on swank Park Avenue.

Carmichael was interested in politics even then, especially the work of African American socialist Bayard Rustin, whom he heard speak many times. Bayard played a crucial role in my life, Carmichael told Fire in the Streets author Milton Viorst. He was one of the first people I had direct contact with that I could really say, Thats what I want to be. He was so at ease with all the problems. I mean, he was like Superman, hooking socialism up with the black movement, organizing blacks. On one occasion, Carmichael volunteered to help his mentor organize African American workers in a paint factory. But the friendlinessdoctrinal and otherwiseof Rustin and other African American intellectual leftists with the white liberal establishment would eventually alienate Carmichael.

Before beginning college, Carmichael had become aware of the flowering of the civil rights movement in the South and the injustice experienced by African Americans and others who challenged segregation. Suddenly I was burning, he told Lifes Gordon Parks. Carmichael soon joined antidiscrimination pickets in New York and sit-ins in Virginia and South Carolina. He began his studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1960. Several white schools offered me scholarships, he informed Parks, but Howard seemed a natural. It was black. I could keep in touch with the movement there.

While at Howard, Carmichael met members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an Atlanta-based organization that received funds from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). During his freshman year he participated in the first of the famous Freedom Rides sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, traveling south and getting beaten and arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, for his activism. It was the first of many incarcerations in the career of a confrontational activist.

In 1964 Carmichael graduated from Howard with a bachelors degree in philosophy, but he intended to stay very much involved in the civil rights movement. That summer saw six civil rights workers murdered in the South, in addition to many arrests, beatings, and other indignities and harassment. Carmichael soon became an organizer for SNCC and participated in the groups drive to register African American votersthe first of these well-publicized effortsin Lowndes County, Alabama. SNCC helped start the Lowndes County Freedom Association, a political party that chose a black panther as its symbol to fulfill a state requirement that all parties have visual symbols to assist voters. The panther was indigenous to Alabama and seemed both a dignified symbol for empowered African Americans and an effective response to the white rooster that symbolized the Alabama Democratic party. In his book Freedom Bound, historian Robert Weis-brot related that Carmichael and other SNCC activists, despite their differences with the SCLC and Martin Luther Kings resolute nonviolence, continued to associate themselves with King because older African American Alabamans regarded the Reverend, in Car-michaels own words, like a God.

A turning point in Carmichaels experience came, however, as he watched from his locked hotel room while outside, African American demonstrators were beaten and shocked with cattle prods by police. The horrified Carmichael began to scream and could not stop. As Carmichaels activism deepened, however, and as he saw the violence doled out to violent and nonviolent resisters alike, he began to distance himself from Kings tactics. In 1965 he replaced the moderate John Lewis as head of SNCC and began to trumpet the message of Black Power. White members of the group were not encouraged to stay, and Carmichael and other SNCC leaders began to talk about revolution.

Carmichaels articulation of Black Power, evidenced by his 1967 book of that title (co-written with Charles V. Hamilton), and his article What We Want advanced the idea that mere integration was not the answer to American racism, and that America formed only a piece in the puzzle. Carmichael and Hamilton linked the struggle for African American empowerment definitively to economic self-determination domestically and the end of imperialism and colonialism worldwide. What We Want described the need for communal control of African American resourcesUltimately, the economic foundations of this country must be shaken if black people are to control their livesbut also delved into the crippling psychological effects of racism. From birth, Carmichael wrote, black people are told a set of lies about themselves, concluding, We are oppressed not because we are lazy, not because were stupid (and got good rhythm); but because were black.

The term Black Power, however disconcerting to moderate African American leaders, absolutely terrified mainstream whites; it was not interpreted to mean empowerment but rather African American domination and possibly even race war. Journalists demanded repeatedly that Carmichael define the phrase, and the activist soon came to believe that no matter what his explanation, they would continue to make it sound sinister.Lifes Parks, an African American journalist, pressed Carmichael and received a somewhat exasperated reply: For the last time, Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs, rather than relying on the established parties. Black Power doesnt mean anti-white, violence, separatism or any other racist things the press says it means. Its saying, Look, buddy, were not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playgrounds and jobs on us. Nonetheless, as Haskins recorded in Profiles in Black Power, Carmichael gave the term a different spin when he spoke to African American audiences: When you talk of black power, you talk of building a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created.

As the revolutionary fervor of the 1960s deepened, SNCC became a Black Power vehicle, more or less replacing the hymn-singing integrationism of earlier days. Yet Carmichael had gone as far as he could with the organization, deciding not to run for reelection as its leader in 1967, just before SNCC fell apart. Carmichaels political emphasis had shifted as well; he began speaking out not only against the war in Vietnam but against what he called U.S. imperialism worldwide. Time reported with supreme disdain that Carmichael had traveled the world denouncing the United States, speaking to cheering throngs in Cuba, and declaring, We do not want peace in Vietnam. We want the Vietnamese people to defeat the United States. The magazine called him a purveyor of négritude and nihilism and noted that many U.S. politicians wanted to jail him for sedition on his return to the country he called hell.

When he did return, in 1968, U.S. marshals confiscated Carmichaels passport. Meanwhile, the radical Oakland, California-based Black Panther party made him honorary prime minister; he would resign from the position the following year, rejecting Panther coalitions with white activists. He based himself in Washington, D.C., and continued to speak around the country. In March of 1968 he announced his engagement to South African singer-activist Miriam Makeba; they were wed two months later. The Tanzanian ambassador to the United States hosted their reception. Carmichael and Makeba were permitted to honeymoon abroad after they agreed not to visit any forbidden countries; even so, many nations refused them entrance. In 1969 Carmichael left the United States for Guinea, a country in west Africa. He moved there in part to assist in the restoration to power of the deposed Ghanaian ruler Kwame Nkrumah, who lived in Guinea and served as an exponent of the sort of anti-imperialist, pan-African empowerment Carmichael had espoused in the United States.

While in Guinea, Carmichael took the name Kwame Ture in honor of African socialist leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekoe Toure. Over the ensuing decades, he solidified his commitment to revolution as the answer to racism and injustice. While speaking at Michigan State University in 1993, Carmichael made it clear that he still considered capitalism the source of most of the problems he had been studying during his career as an activist. Those who labor do not enjoy the fruits of their labor, he said, as quoted in the Michigan Chronicle. We know that to be slavery. However, Carmichaels 1992 afterword to a new edition of Black Power showed that he felt real progress had been made in certain respects in the U.S., From 1965 to 1992, no one could deny that change has occurred, he acknowledged in the Chronicle and that a coalition of oppressed minorities plus poor whites represents the real force for change. The 1992 Los Angeles rebellion [civil unrest following the acquittal by a white jury of the four police officers who had been videotaped beating African American motorist Rodney King] reflects this reality; other oppressed nationalities joined the rebellion in mass character. Carmichael told the crowd at Michigan State that the riots were good for us. He insisted in his conclusion to the Black Power afterword that mass political organization on a Pan African scale is the only solution. Thus, Black Power can only be realized when there exists a unified socialist Africa. In 1996, Carmichael was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He received treatment for the disease in Cuba and, with financial assistance from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, was admitted to a hospital in New York. To raise money for Carmichaels medical expenses, benefits were held in New York, Denver, and Atlanta. The government of Trinidad and Tobago also awarded him a $1,000 a month grant.

Although Carmichaels battle with prostate cancer steadily weakened him, he continued to advocate revolution and an end to racism. When friends telephoned to wish him well, he would answer with his characteristic response, Ready for the revolution! In early 1998, Carmichael made his final appearance in the United States at a testimonial dinner held in his honor in Washington, D.C. Among those in attendance were Congressmen Bobby Rush and John Lewis, Louis Farrakhan, and former Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry.

Carmichael died on November 15, 1998. At a memorial service held at Gamal Nasser University in Conakry, Guineas capital city, Carmichael was eulogized by his longtime friend Bob Brown. According to Jet magazine, Brown told those assembled that Kwame is a struggler. He struggled all his life. He struggled until the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the last day. Memorial services for Carmichael were also held in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and other cities throughout the United States. Carmichael was laid to rest in a public cemetery in Conakry. As reported by Jet, Carmichaels son, Bokabiro, remarked during the burial that his father would be very happy, happy because he will remain in Guinea.

Selected writings

What We Want, Chronicles of Black Protest, edited by Bradford Chambers, New American Library, 1968.

(With Charles V. Hamilton) Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, Random House, 1967, revised edition, 1992.

Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism, Random House, 1971.

Sources

Books

Eldridge Cleaver: Post-Prison Writings and Speeches, edited by Robert Scheer, Random House, 1969.

Haskins, James, Profiles in Black Power, Doubleday, 1972.

Johnson, Jacqueline,Stokely Carmichael: The Story of Black Power, Silver Burdett Press/Simon &Schuster, 1990.

Viorst, Milton, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s, Simon & Schuster, 1979.

Weisbrot, Robert, Freedom Bound: A History of Americas Civil Rights Movement, Norton, 1990.

Periodicals

Jet, November 30, 1998, p. 5; December 14, 1998, p. 26.

Life, May 19, 1967, pp. 76-80.

Michigan Chronicle, February 24, 1993, p. 1.

New York Times, August 5, 1966.

Time, December 15, 1967, p. 28.

Simon Glickman and David G. Oblender

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Carmichael, Stokely

Carmichael, Stokely

June 29, 1941
November 15, 1998


Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael, an activist, graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1960 and received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Howard University in 1964. During his college years he participated in a variety of civil rights demonstrations sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As a freedom rider, he was arrested in 1961 for violating Mississippi segregation laws and spent seven weeks in Parchman Penitentiary. After college, he worked with the Mississippi Summer Project, directed SNCC voter-registration efforts in Lowndes County, Alabama, and helped organize black voters through the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.

Elected SNCC chairman in 1966, Carmichael took an outspoken, militant stance that helped distance SNCC from the moderate leadership of competing civil rights organizations. A chief architect and spokesperson for the new Black Power ideology, Carmichael coauthored (with Charles V. Hamilton) Black Power (1967) and published a collection of his essays and addresses, Stokely Speaks (1971). He left his SNCC post in 1967. The next year he was made prime minister of the Black Panther Party; in 1969 he quit the Black Panthers and became an organizer for Kwame Nkrumah's All-African People's Revolutionary Party. Studies with Nkrumah of Ghana and Sékou Touré of Guinea confirmed his Pan-Africanism and, in 1978, moved him to change his name to Kwame Ture. For the last thirty years of his life he made Conakry, Guinea, his home, and he continued his work in political education, condemning Western imperialism, Zionism, and capitalism while promoting the goal of a unified socialist Africa. He died of prostate cancer in 1998.

See also Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Stokeley Carmichael

"We are going to use the term 'Black Power' and we are going to define it because Black Power speaks to us."

from speech on black power, university of californiaberkeley, july 28, 1966. reprinted in john bracey, august meier, and elliott rudwick, eds. black nationalism in america. indianapolis: bobbs-merill, 1970, p. 470.

Bibliography

Carmichael, Stokely, and Ekwueme Michael Thelwell. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). New York: Scribner, 2003.

william l. van deburg (1996)
Updated by author 2005

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Carmichael, Stokely

Stokely Carmichael

Gifted, handsome, and well-spoken, Stokely Carmichael rose to fame as the chair of the major civil rights group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, called “Snick”). In contrast to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) and his nonviolent approach, Carmichael became known for his use of the slogan “black power,” which advocated a militant, or aggressive, struggle for liberation from white oppressors. (See Black Power Movement .) Carmichael's quest for black empowerment also included self-reliance among African Americans; pride in African American identity and culture; and a separation from white culture.

Teenage civil rights activist

Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Trinidad. He joined his parents in the United States when he was eleven, living in the Harlem area of New York City. His status as a foreigner and his self-described “hip” demeanor made him popular among his white schoolmates. Carmichael was a bright student. When his family moved to the Bronx, he was admitted to the Bronx High School of Science, a school for gifted youths.

While Carmichael was in high school, the African American civil rights movement was gaining momentum. During Carmichael's senior year, four African American college students staged a sit-in at the whites-only lunch counter at a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina . (See Sit-in Movement .) Carmichael joined a national boycott of Woolworth's stores hoping to pressure Woolworth's owners to desegregate all of its stores’ facilities throughout the country. He then traveled to Virginia and South Carolina to join antidiscrimination sit-ins.

Joins SNCC

Because of his growing sensitivity to the plight of blacks in the United States, Carmichael refused offers to attend white colleges and decided to study at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. , where he majored in philosophy. While he was in college, he joined a local organization called the Nonviolent Action Group, or “NAG,” which was affiliated with the Atlanta-based SNCC. In 1961, Carmichael traveled to the South to join the freedom riders , a group of black and white activists who rode interstate buses in an attempt to end segregation policies on buses and in stations. As one of the freedom riders, Carmichael was jailed for forty-nine days in Jackson, Mississippi . He was twenty years old.

Lowndes County Freedom Organization

After graduating in 1964, Carmichael became a full-time organizer for SNCC. He was chosen to direct the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) office in Greenwood, Mississippi, for the Mississippi Freedom Summer voter registration project that year.

Next he devoted himself to SNCC's African American voter registration project in Lowndes County, Alabama . Lowndes County's black residents were poor and landless. Though they were by far the majority of the population, 86 white families owned 90 percent of the land in the county and controlled the government. Few blacks were registered to vote.

When he realized that the Alabama Democratic Party was led by the segregationist and self-proclaimed white supremacists (people who believe white people should rule), Carmichael decided he would not encourage African Americans to register as Democrats. Instead, he helped form an independent party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The LCFO ran candidates for the offices of sheriff, coroner, tax assessor, tax collector, and three school board seats. His efforts increased the number of registered black voters in the county from 70 to 2,600.

The LCFO chose a snarling black panther as its symbol. Less than two years later, Huey Newton (1942–1989) and Bobby Seale (1937–), black activists in Oakland, California , sought permission to use the LCFO's black panther emblem for their newly formed Black Panther Party .

Turning from nonviolence

In 1965, Carmichael became the president of the SNCC. As the SNCC leader, he was asked to participate in a freedom march in Mississippi that had been the idea of James Meredith (1933–), the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. Meredith had originally planned to lead the march by himself, but he had been shot when he traveled to Mississippi. He welcomed the help of civil rights leaders King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), along with Floyd McKissick (1922–1991) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Carmichael. King and McKissick agreed that the march would be nonviolent and interracial. Carmichael strongly disagreed.

Carmichael's outrage at racism had deepened with his activism. In his years in the Deep South, he saw savage violence, threats, and intimidation doled out to protesters. He began to distance himself from civil disobedience and the nonviolent protest movement. He also became increasingly hostile to the aid offered by white civil rights workers.

Black Power

During the Mississippi freedom march, Carmichael began to articulate his views about “black power” before television cameras, defining “black power” as the right of blacks to define and organize themselves as they saw fit and to protect themselves from racial violence. In his 1967 book Black Power (co-written with Charles V. Hamilton), Carmichael explained further that ending segregation was not the answer to American racism. Carmichael believed that only economic and political independence for African Americans could lead to an end of discrimination and to black empowerment. He was willing to fight for that independence even if it meant creating a separate black nation.

As the revolutionary fervor of the 1960s deepened, SNCC changed course to become a “black power” organization. Carmichael decided not to run for re-election as its leader in 1967. His political emphasis was shifting. He spoke out against the Vietnam War . While he was abroad that year, he spoke out so strongly against U.S. policies and actions that some politicians talked of charging him with treason. Indeed, upon his return in 1968, U.S. marshals confiscated his passport. Meanwhile, the radical Oakland, California-based Black Panther Party made him its honorary prime minister. He resigned from that post the following year, rejecting Panther coalitions with white activists.

Moves to Africa

In 1968, Carmichael married South African singer-activist Miriam Makeba (1932–). The next year, he left the United States for Conakry, Republic of Guinea, in West Africa. There he worked for the restoration to power of the deposed Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), who shared many of his views about U.S. imperialism.

In Guinea, Carmichael took the name Kwame Turé. Over the next decades, he founded the All-African Revolutionary Party and continued to promote the idea of a black revolution to answer the problems of racism and injustice. In 1996, Carmichael was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The government of Trinidad and Tobago awarded him a $1,000 per month grant to help with medical bills. Groups of his American supporters also pitched in. He died in Guinea in late 1998.

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