|Stokley Carmichael expounds on "black power" theory in 1967 at Michigan State University.|
|4th Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee|
May 1966 – June 1967
|Preceded by||John Lewis|
|Succeeded by||H. Rap Brown|
June 29, 1941|
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
|Died||November 15, 1998
|Alma mater||Howard University (B.A., Philosophy, 1964)|
Kwame Ture, also known as Stokely Carmichael (June 29, 1941 – November 15, 1998), was an Trinidadian-American activist active in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and later, the global Pan-African movement. Growing up in the United States from the age of eleven, he graduated from Howard University and rose to prominence in the civil rights and Black Power movements, first as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), later as the "Honorary Prime Minister" of the Black Panther Party, and finally as a leader of the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Freedom Rides
- 3 SNCC
- 4 Vietnam
- 5 Transition out of SNCC
- 6 Self-imposed exile
- 7 Marriage and family
- 8 Death and legacy
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Early life and education
Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Stokely Carmichael moved to Harlem, in New York, New York, in 1952 at the age of eleven, to rejoin his parents, who had migrated when he was aged two, leaving him with his grandmother and two aunts. He had three sisters. As a boy, he had attended Tranquility School in Trinidad until his parents were able to send for him.
His mother, Mabel R. Carmichael, was a stewardess for a steamship line, and his father, Adolphus, was a carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver. The reunited Carmichael family eventually left Harlem to live in Van Nest in the East Bronx, at that time an aging neighborhood of primarily Jewish and Italian immigrants and descendants. According to a 1967 interview he gave to Life Magazine, Carmichael was the only black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang involved in alcohol and petty theft.
He attended the elite, selective Bronx High School of Science in New York, with entrance based on academic performance. After graduation in 1960, Carmichael enrolled at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C.. His professors included Sterling Brown, Nathan Hare and Toni Morrison, a writer who later won the Nobel Prize. Carmichael and Tom Kahn, a Jewish-American student and civil-rights activist, helped to fund a five-day run of the Three Penny Opera, by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill: "Tom Kahn—very shrewdly—had captured the position of Treasurer of the Liberal Arts Student Council and the infinitely charismatic and popular Carmichael as floor whip was good at lining up the votes. Before they knew what hit them the Student Council had become a patron of the arts, having voted to buy out the remaining performances. It was a classic win/win. Members of the Council got patronage packets of tickets for distribution to friends and constituents". His apartment on Euclid Street was a gathering place for his activist classmates. He graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1964. Carmichael was offered a full graduate scholarship to Harvard University, but turned it down.
While at Howard, Carmichael had joined the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), the Howard campus affiliate of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Kahn introduced Carmichael and the other SNCC activists to Bayard Rustin, an African-American leader who became an influential adviser to SNCC. Inspired by the sit-ins in the South, Carmichael became more active in the Civil Rights Movement.
In his first year at the university, he participated in the Freedom Rides of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to desegregate the restaurants along U.S. Route 40 between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and was frequently arrested, spending time in jail. In 1961, he served 49 days with other activists at the infamous Parchman Farm in Sunflower County, Mississippi. He was arrested many times for his activism, so that he lost count, sometimes estimating at least 29 or 32. In 1998, he told the Washington Post that he thought the total was fewer than 36.
Along with eight other riders, on June 4, 1961, Carmichael made the trip by train from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Jackson, Mississippi, to integrate the formerly "white" section on the train. Before getting on the train in New Orleans, they encountered white protestors blocking the way. Carmichael says: "They were shouting. Throwing cans and lit cigarettes at us. Spitting on us." Eventually, they were able to board the train.
When the group arrived in Jackson, Carmichael and the eight other riders entered a "white" cafeteria. They were charged with disturbing the peace, arrested and taken to jail. Eventually, Carmichael was transferred to Parchman State Prison Farm, where he gained notoriety for being a witty and hard-nosed leader among the prisoners.
At 19 years of age, Carmichael became the youngest detainee in the summer of 1961. He spent 53 days at Parchman Farm in "a six-by-nine cell. Twice a week to shower. No books, nothing to do. They would isolate us. Maximum security." Carmichael said about the Parchman Farm sheriff:
"The sheriff acted like he was scared of black folks and he came up with some beautiful things. One night he opened up all the windows, put on ten big fans and an air conditioner and dropped the temperature to 38 degrees. All we had on was T-shirts and shorts."
While being hurt one time, Carmichael began singing to the guards, "I'm gonna tell God how you treat me," to which the rest of the prisoners joined in.
Carmichael kept the group's morale up while in prison, often telling jokes with Steve Green and the other Freedom Riders, and making light of their situation. He knew their situation was serious.
"What with the range of ideology, religious belief, political commitment and background, age, and experience, something interesting was always going on. Because no matter our differences, this group had one thing in common, moral stubbornness. Whatever we believed, we really believed and were not at all shy about advancing. We were where we were only because of our willingness to affirm our beliefs even at the risk of physical injury. So it was never dull on death row."
In 1964, Carmichael became a full-time field organizer for SNCC in Mississippi. He worked in the Greenwood voting rights project under Robert Parris Moses. Throughout Freedom Summer, he worked with grassroots African-American activists, including Fannie Lou Hamer, whom Carmichael named as one of his personal heroes. He also worked closely with Gloria Richardson who led the SNCC chapter in Cambridge, Maryland. During a protest with Richardson in June 1964, Carmichael was hit directly with tear gas and had to be hospitalized.
In November 1964 Carmichael made a joking remark in response to a SNCC position paper authored by his friends Casey Hayden and Mary E. King on the position of women in the movement. In the course of an irreverent comedy monologue he performed at a party after SNCC's Waveland conference, Carmichael said "The position of women in the movement is prone."  In a 2006 The Chronicle of Higher Education article, historian Peniel E. Jackson wrote: "While the remark was made in jest during a 1964 conference, Carmichael and black-power activists did embrace an aggressive vision of manhood — one centered on black men's ability to deploy authority, punishment, and power. In that, they generally reflected their wider society's blinders about women and politics."
When asked about the comment, former SNCC field secretary Casey Hayden stated: "Our paper on the position of women came up, and Stokely in his hipster rap comedic way joked that 'the proper position of women in SNCC is prone'. I laughed, he laughed, we all laughed. Stokley was a friend of mine." A former SNCC worker identified only as "Tyler" on the internet claimed: "I will forever remember Stokely Carmichael as the one who said 'the position of women in the movement is prone'. This viciously anti-women outlook is another reason why all of these nationalist movements went nowhere." In her memoir, Mary E. King wrote that Carmichael was "poking fun at his own attitudes" and that "Casey and I felt, and continue to feel, that Stokely was one of the most responsive men at the time that our anonymous paper appeared in 1964.”
In 1965, working as a SNCC activist in the black-majority Lowndes County, Alabama, Carmichael helped to increase the number of registered black voters from 70 to 2,600—300 more than the number of registered white voters. Black voters had essentially been disfranchised by Alabama's constitution passed by white Democrats in the early 20th century. Their constitutional voting rights would be enforced under federal supervision after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Black residents and voters organized and widely supported the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, a party that had the black panther as its mascot, over the white-dominated local Democratic Party, whose mascot was a white rooster. Although black residents and voters outnumbered whites in Lowndes, their candidate lost the county-wide election of 1965.
Carmichael became chairman of SNCC in 1966, taking over from John Lewis, who later became a US Congressman. A few weeks after Carmichael took office, James Meredith was shot and wounded by a shotgun during his solitary "March Against Fear". Carmichael joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Floyd McKissick, Cleveland Sellers and others to continue Meredith's march. He was arrested during the march and, upon his release, he gave his first "Black Power" speech, using the phrase to urge black pride and socio-economic independence:
|“||It is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.||”|
According to historian David J. Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a few days after Carmichael used the "Black Power" slogan at the "Meredith March Against Fear," he reportedly told King: "Martin, I deliberately decided to raise this issue on the march in order to give it a national forum and force you to take a stand for Black Power." King responded, "I have been used before. One more time won't hurt."[page needed]
While Black Power was not a new concept, Carmichael's speech brought it into the spotlight and it became a rallying cry for young African Americans across the country. Everywhere that Black Power spread, if accepted, credit was given to the prominent Carmichael. If the concept was condemned, he was held responsible and blamed. According to Carmichael: "Black Power meant 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]". Strongly influenced by the work of Frantz Fanon and his landmark book Wretched of the Earth, along with others such as Malcolm X, under Carmichael's leadership SNCC gradually became more radical and focused on Black Power as its core goal and ideology.
This became most evident during the controversial Atlanta Project in 1966. SNCC, under the local leadership of Bill Ware, engaged in a voter drive to promote the candidacy of Julian Bond for the Georgia State Legislature in an Atlanta district. However, unlike previous SNCC activities,such as the 1961 Freedom Rides or the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, Ware excluded Northern white SNCC members from the drive. Initially, Carmichael opposed him and voted against this move, but he eventually changed his mind. When, at the urging of the Atlanta Project, the issue of whites in SNCC came up for a vote, Carmichael ultimately sided with those calling for the expulsion of whites. Reportedly he wanted to encourage whites to organize poor white southern communities, while SNCC focused on promoting African-American self-reliance through Black Power.
Carmichael saw nonviolence as a tactic as opposed to a principle, which separated him from moderate civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Carmichael became critical of civil rights leaders who called for the integration of African Americans into existing institutions of the middle-class mainstream.
“ Now, several people have been upset because we’ve said that integration was irrelevant when initiated by blacks, and that in fact it was a subterfuge, an insidious subterfuge, for the maintenance of white supremacy. Now we maintain that in the past six years or so, this country has been feeding us a "thalidomide drug of integration," and that some Negroes have been walking down a dream street talking about sitting next to white people; and that that does not begin to solve the problem; that when we went to Mississippi we did not go to sit next to Ross Barnett; we did not go to sit next to Jim Clark; we went to get them out of our way; and that people ought to understand that; that we were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy. Now, then, in order to understand white supremacy we must dismiss the fallacious notion that white people can give anybody their freedom. No man can give anybody his freedom. A man is born free. You may enslave a man after he is born free, and that is in fact what this country does. It enslaves black people after they’re born, so that the only acts that white people can do is to stop denying black people their freedom; that is, they must stop denying freedom. They never give it to anyone. ”
Under Carmichael's term, SNCC continued to maintain coalition with several white radical organizations, most notably Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and inspired them to focus on militant anti-draft resistance. At an SDS-organized conference at UC Berkeley in October 1966, Carmichael challenged the white left to escalate their resistance to the military draft in a manner similar to the black movement. For a time in 1967, Carmichael considered an alliance with Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation, and generally supported IAF's work in Rochester and Buffalo's black communities.
SNCC did its first direct actions against the military draft and the Vietnam War under Carmichael's term. Carmichael popularized the oft-repeated anti-draft slogan "Hell no-we won't go!" during this time
Carmichael encouraged Martin Luther King Jr. to demand an unconditional withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, even as some King advisors such as Stanley Levison cautioned him that such opposition might have an adverse effect on financial contributions. Carmichael joined Martin Luther King Jr. in New York on April 15, 1967, to share his views with protesters on race related to the Vietnam War:
|“||The draft exemplifies as much as racism the totalitarianism which prevails in this nation in the disguise of consensus democracy. The President has conducted war in Vietnam without the consent of Congress or the American people, without the consent of anybody except maybe Lady Bird.||”|
Transition out of SNCC
In May 1967, Carmichael stepped down as chairman of SNCC and was replaced by H. Rap Brown. SNCC was a collective and worked by group consensus rather than hierarchically; many members had become displeased with Carmichael's celebrity status. SNCC leaders had begun to refer to him as "Stokely Starmichael" and criticize his habit of making policy announcements independently, before achieving internal agreement. According to historian Clayborne Carson, Carmichael did not protest the transfer of power and was "eager to relinquish the chair." (Although it is sometimes misreported that Carmichael left SNCC completely at this time and joined the Black Panther Party, those events did not occur until 1968.)
During this period, Carmichael was personally targeted by J. Edgar Hoover's [Cointelpro]] counter-intelligence program, which specialized in isolating and slandering black militants. Carmichael accepted the position of Honorary Prime Minister in the Black Panther Party, but also remained on the staff of SNCC,  and attempted to forge a merger between the two organizations. In July 1968, Hoover stepped up his efforts to divide the black power movement. Declassifed documents show a plan was launched to smear Carmichael as a CIA agent, as well as to undermine the SNCC-Panther merger. Both efforts were largely successful. Carmichael was formally expelled from SNCC that year, and rival Panthers began to denounce him.
After stepping down as SNCC chair, Carmichael wrote the book Black Power (1967) with Charles V. Hamilton, while clarifying his thinking. He also continued as strong critic of the Vietnam War, and imperialism in general. During this period he traveled and lectured extensively throughout the world; visiting Guinea, North Vietnam, China, and Cuba. Carmichael became more clearly identified with the Black Panther Party as its "Honorary Prime Minister." During this period, he acted more as a speaker than an organizer, traveling throughout the country and internationally advocating for his vision of Black Power.
|“||The death of Che Guevara places a responsibility on all revolutionaries of the World to redouble their decision to fight on to the final defeat of Imperialism. That is why in essence Che Guevara is not dead, his ideas are with us.||”|
Visit to Britain
Carmichael visited the United Kingdom in July 1967 to attend the Dialectics of Liberation conference. Recordings of his speeches were released by the organizers, the Institute of Phenomenological Studies. He was banned from re-entering Britain.
1968 D.C. riots
Carmichael was present in D.C. the night after King's assassination. He led a group through the streets, demanding that businesses close out of respect. Although he tried to prevent violence, the situation escalated beyond his control. Due to his reputation as a provocateur, the news media blamed him for the ensuing violence as mobs rioted along U Street and other areas of black development.
Carmichael held a press conference the next day, at which he predicted mass racial violence in the streets.
Since moving to Washington, D.C., Carmichael had been under nearly constant surveillance by the FBI. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., FBI director J. Edgar Hoover instructed a team of agents to find evidence connecting Carmichael to the rioting. A 1968 memo from Hoover suggests his fears that Carmichael would become a black nationalist "messiah". He was also subjected to COINTELPRO's bad-jacketing technique which led to Huey P. Newton suggesting he was a Central Intelligence Agency agent.
Carmichael soon began to distance himself from the Panthers. He disagreed with them about whether white activists should be allowed to help them. The Panthers believed that white activists could help the movement, while Carmichael had come to agree with Malcolm X, and said that the white activists should organize their own communities first. In 1968, he married Miriam Makeba, a noted singer from South Africa, and they left the US for Guinea the next year. Carmichael became an aide to the Guinean president Ahmed Sékou Touré, and a student of the exiled Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah. Makeba was appointed Guinea's official delegate to the United Nations. Three months after his arrival in Guinea, in July 1969, Carmichael published a formal rejection of the Black Panthers, condemning them for not being separatist enough and for their "dogmatic party line favoring alliances with white radicals".
Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture, to honor the African leaders Nkrumah and Touré, who had become his patrons. At the end of his life, friends still referred to him interchangeably by both names, "and he doesn't seem to mind." In 2007, the publication of previously secret Central Intelligence Agency documents revealed that the agency had tracked Carmichael from 1968 as part of their surveillance of black activists abroad. The surveillance continued for years.
Carmichael remained in Guinea after separation from the Black Panther Party. He continued to travel, write, and speak in support of international leftist movements. In 1971 he collected his essays in a second book, Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. This book expounds an explicitly socialist, Pan-African vision, which he retained for the rest of his life. From the late 1970s until the day he died, he answered his phone by announcing, "Ready for the revolution!"
While in Guinea, he was arrested one more time. Two years after Sékou Touré's death in 1984, the military regime that took his place arrested Carmichael and jailed him for three days on suspicion of attempting to overthrow the government. Despite the common knowledge that Touré had ordered torture of his political opponents, Carmichael never criticized his namesake.
Marriage and family
Carmichael had married Miriam Makeba, the noted singer from South Africa, while in the US in 1968. They divorced in Guinea after separating in 1973.
Later he married a second time, to Marlyatou Barry, a Guinean doctor. They divorced some time after having a son, Bokar, together in 1981. By 1998, Marlyatou Barry and Bokar were living in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, DC. Relying on a statement from the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party, Carmichael's 1998 obituary in The New York Times referred to his survivors as two sons, three sisters, and his mother, but without further details.
Death and legacy
After his diagnosis of prostate cancer in 1996, Carmichael was treated for a period in Cuba, while receiving money from the Nation of Islam. Benefit concerts for Carmichael were held in Denver; New York; Atlanta; and Washington, D.C., to help defray his medical expenses. The government of Trinidad and Tobago, where he was born, awarded him a grant of $1,000 a month for the same purpose. He went to New York, where he was treated for two years at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center before returning to Guinea.
In 1998 Carmichael died of prostate cancer at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea. He had said that his cancer "was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them." He claimed that the FBI had infected him with cancer in an assassination attempt.
In a final interview given in April 1998 to the Washington Post, Carmichael had criticized the economic and electoral progress made by African Americans in the US during the previous 30 years. He acknowledged that blacks had won election to the mayor's office in major cities, but said that, as the mayors' power had generally diminished over earlier decades, such progress was essentially meaningless.
Stokely Carmichael, along with Charles V. Hamilton, is credited with coining the phrase "institutional racism". This is defined as racism that occurs through institutions such as public bodies and corporations, including universities. In the late 1960s Carmichael defined "institutional racism" as "the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin".
The civil rights leader Jesse Jackson gave a speech celebrating Carmichael's life, stating: "He was one of our generation who was determined to give his life to transforming America and Africa. He was committed to ending racial apartheid in our country. He helped to bring those walls down". Then NAACP Chair Julian Bond said that Carmichael "ought to be remembered for having spent almost every moment of his adult life trying to advance the cause of black liberation."
David J. Garrow criticized Carmichael's handling of the Black Power movement as "more destructive than constructive." Garrow described the period in 1966 where Charmichael and other members of the SNCC managed to successfully register approximately 4,000 African American voters in Lowndes County, Alabama as the most consequential period in Charmichael's life "in terms of real, positive, tangible influence on people's lives." Evaluations from from Carmichael's associates are also mixed, with most praising his efforts and others criticizing him for failing to find constructive ways to achieve his objectives. SNCC's final Chair, Phil Hutchings, who expelled Carmichael over a dispute concerning the Black Panther Party, wrote that "Even though we kidded and called him 'Starmichael,' he could sublimate his ego to get done what was needed to be done...He would say what he thought, and you could disagree with it but you wouldn't cease being a human being and someone with whom he wanted to be in relationship." Washington Post staff writer Paula Span described Charmichael as someone who was rarely hesitant to push his own ideology.
Tufts University historian Peniel Joseph credits Carmichael with expanding the parameters of the civil rights movement, asserting that his black power strategy "didn’t disrupt the civil rights movement. It spoke truth to power to what so many millions of young people were feeling. It actually cast a light on people who were in prisons, people who were welfare rights activists, tenants’ rights activists, and also in the international arena." Tavis Smiley calls Carmichael "one of the most underappreciated, misunderstood, undervalued personalities this country’s ever produced."
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- Carmichael, Stokely, Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. Random House, 1971, 292 pages. ISBN 0-394-46879-1.
- Joseph, Peniel E., Waiting 'Til The Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America. Henry Holt, 2007. 399 pages. ISBN 0-8050-8335-9
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- Stokely Carmichael at the Internet Movie Database
- Stokely Carmichael at DMOZ
- Stokely Carmichael - Life, Politics and Rhetoric
- Stokely Carmichael
- Stokely Carmichael page. Stokely Carmichael spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, on April 19, 1967. Audio and slideshow. Retrieved May 3, 2005.
- Stokely Carmichael FBI Records - Stokely Carmichael records at FBI's The Vault Project.
- Images of Stokely Carmichael from the Afro-American newspaper
- Stokely Carmichael-Lorna D. Smith Collection, 1964-1972 (5 linear ft.) is housed in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University Libraries
- Kwame Ture on Zionism
- February 17, 1968 on PBS.org
- consciousness and unconsciousness
- With H. Rap Brown, Oakland, 1968 (longer version of PBS clip)
- C-SPAN interview, "Life and Career of Kwame Ture", April 15, 1998
- Memorial service for Kwame Ture, January 9, 1999
- University of Nebraska Omaha, 1993