Stokely Carmichael Essay, Research Paper
Nicholas SheldonNovember 20, 2000
His Life, His Message
Although Stokely Carmichael was not the first to use the phrase ?Black Power,? he was the one who made it famous. Carmichael was a widely renowned man of his generation and the Black Power Movement, and his presence in the fight for African American equality in the American mid 1900?s is a role of unforgotten importance. Carmichael achieved a great deal of celebrity was due to his severe criticism of Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful approach to the problem of racial segregation. As chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960?s, Carmichael advanced a militant stand on civil rights, something the world had seldom seen from an oppressed group of people before.
The Story: Inside the Life of Stokely Carmichael
A native of Trinidad, Stokely Carmichael moved with his family to a mostly white neighborhood in the Bronx, New York when he was 11. Carmichael graduated from Bronx High School of Science in 1960 and four years later graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. In addition to studying philosophy, Carmichael became involved in civil rights protests during his years at Howard. He participated in demonstrations staged by the Congress of Racial Equality, the Nonviolent Action Committee, and SNCC. He was arrested as a Freedom Rider in 1961 and served seven weeks in Parchman Penitentiary for violating Mississippi’s segregation laws. Carmichael returned to the South after college and devoted himself to the organization of SNCC’s black voter registration project in Lowndes County, Alabama. There he also founded an independent political party called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization that used the black panther as its symbol.
Carmichael became the chairman of SNCC in 1966, and he soon achieved national attention from the media in August of that year when he ended a speech with a call for ?Black Power.? ?Black Power!? soon became a rallying cry for black protests during the 1960?s and 1970?s, and it also created a wedge between SNCC and more moderate civil rights groups. Defined in many ways, Black Power emphasized independent political and economic development by blacks as a necessary element of social change.
A 1967 world tour to publicize the black struggle in the United States brought Carmichael more controversy. Carmichael?s passport was revoked while on a visit to Cuba, and he soon faced an indictment for the crime of sedition. Luckily for Carmichael, he was never prosecuted, and he became prime minister of the Black Panther Party the following year.
In 1969 Carmichael began to focus his political activity on Africa. After his work with the Black Panthers, he went to work for the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party in Ghana. That same year, Carmichael went to live in the African nation of Guinea with his wife. While residing there, Carmichael took the first and last names of his newfound mentors, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Ahmed S?kou Tour? of Guinea. Carmichael, now known as Kwame Tour?, continued to travel and lecture about U.S. imperialism, Pan-Africanism, and socialism until his death in 1998 from prostate cancer.
The Man: Leader, Speaker, Visionary
Those who encountered Stokely Carmichael as an undergraduate at Howard University in the early 1960?s used words like ?brash? and ?brilliant? to describe him. It was thanks to his elite education in native Trinidad and in New York that Carmichael became a formidable orator, and his experiences as a battle-tested Movement veteran also contributed to his power as a speaker. He was arrested over thirty-six times in his efforts for African American empowerment, once for attempting to integrate buses and terminals as a Freedom Rider. For his actions, he was sentenced to Mississippi’s brutal Parchman Penitentiary for 49 days. Cleveland Sellers, a modern activist and student in Washington D.C. presently continuing the legacy Carmichael left behind, is quoted in saying, ?Anyone who goes [to Parchman] and comes back out?it says something about commitment, courage, and strength.?
Stokely Carmichael’s passion for his people and the Black Power Movement persevered throughout his life. In 1964, he gained a deal of media attention when he corrected three police officers that stopped his car and addressed him with degrading slanders, including ?nigger? and ?boy.? Carmichael?s response to these comments was the following statement:
?Let me remind you, I am to be addressed as Mr. Stokely Carmichael.?
Carmichael was immediately carted off to jail following his words to the police, yet his determination and dedication to the movement never wavered while he was in prison. Columbia University political scientist Charles V. Hamilton responded to Carmichael?s actions, saying, ?His sheer presence there, challenging white authority, was a fantastic lesson in how to overcome fear. When people saw his actions, they had to recognize this was a new kind of force.?
Stokely Carmichael was a man of purpose, fortitude, and unwavering valor. His education, his place in American history, and his position among his contemporaries truly reveal why he was such a strong-minded individual and therefore an exceptional speaker. Carmichael?s initial impetus in speaking to audiences around the world was to educate the public concerning the Black Power Movement and the resistance the faction received. Responding to those who called the ?Black Power? slogan as racist and inflammatory, Carmichael wrote that by black power he meant political and economic empowerment, not a notion of supremacy. Carmichael responded to his critics in many interviews, bestowing statements like the following:
?We want control of the institutions of the communities where we live. We want to stop the exploitation of nonwhite people around the world.?
Carmichael continued to speak against the entities of political and economic repression throughout his life as a leader of the Black Power Movement. Followers of Carmichael and the movement quickly took up the phrase ?Black Power!? and echoed the cry for freedom in communities from Oakland to Newark. This was success for Success for Carmichael. He was simply tapping into the minds of the oppressed and the disheartened and providing them with a strong, formidable response to the powers that exploited them. His intentions were to provide hope to those in despair and to educate those he inspired with words of confidence and support. Carmichael knew the amount of desolation the African American people of the United States and beyond were experiencing. Therefore, by taking on the powers of authority through speech, Stokely Carmichael could become the general of an army of irritated and motivated men and women. Thus, he was left with a tremendous amount of power and potential to bring change.
Yet as Stokely Carmichael’s call for black power galvanized many young blacks, it troubled many others. Much of the public beyond that of Carmichael?s army thought ?Black Power!? sounded anti-white, provocative, and even violent. Adverse reaction was powerful and immediate to Carmichael and Black Power?s efforts. After the integrationist, nonviolent speeches and sermons of Martin Luther King Jr. and others, many Americans, white and black, were unprepared for the somewhat uncompromising demands of the black militants who rallied behind Carmichael’s cry for empowerment and representation.
The media held much disgust for the ?Black Power!? cry. Editorials in print media and on television warned of ?reverse racism? and the consequences it could yield. Contributions to civil rights groups from sympathetic whites quickly diminished, as the Movement grew larger. Even voting results and local elections around the country in the 1960?s reflected a white backlash. Many black leaders of the civil rights movement, though eager to avoid a split, were upset by the use of the ?Black Power!? phrase and the separatism it seemed to advocate. Martin Luther King even called the phrase, ?an unfortunate choice of words,? while Roy Wilkins of the N.A.A.C.P. scorned the phrase as, ?an example of the raging of race against race.? Perhaps the most indignant response came from Whitney Young Jr., the director of the National Urban League, who said:
?Anyone can arouse the poor, the despairing, the helpless. That’s no trick. Sure they’ll shout ?black power,? but why doesn’t the mass media find out how many of those people will follow those leaders to a separate state or back to Africa??
Was this a failure for Carmichael as a speaker and a leader? In the novel Black Power, which Carmichael wrote in 1967 with Charles Hamilton, the authors attempted to explain the term again and again:
?It is a call for black people in this country to unite. It is a call for black people to recognize their heritage and to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.?
But even as the book, which is still in print, appeared, Carmichael’s speeches became more provocative. Instead of young people singing ?We Shall Overcome,? new images of militant black men and women were being shown on television, donning black berets, clinching raised fists, and toting excessively large weapons. And along with goals of social justice and integration came ideas of black separatism and power harking back to the black nationalism that had been preached in the 1920’s by Marcus Garvey.
Stokely Carmichael was able to find a tremendous connection with his audience due to his motivation and ease in identifying with his listeners. The African American people of the world were motivated to learn more concerning their freedom and rights in their respective places of residence, and Carmichael attempted to provide his listeners with just that through his cry for ?Black Power!? Yet, Carmichael?s failure may have been the lack of understanding many had concerning his message. This may have been due to Carmichael?s irritated, arrogant tone when he gave his speeches, or it may have been due to his threatening, sharp hand gestures that made the Black Power Movement seem like a menace to avoid.
The Speaker: ?Hell No! We Ain?t Goin???
In 1966 and 1967, Stokely Carmichael lectured at campuses around the United States and traveled abroad to several countries, including North Vietnam, China and Cuba. He made perhaps his most provocative statement in Havana, when he uttered the following words:
?We are preparing groups of urban guerrillas for our defense in the cities. It is going to be a fight to the death.?
Stokely Carmichael?s testimonies concerning the white dominance of American society consistently displayed to his audiences a passionate intensity that wowed even the most skeptical spectators. Carmichael?s appearance, his power at the podium, and his inspired delivery recurrently enthused his audiences wherever he would speak, and those who would doubt his message would be astounded by his speaking abilities no matter who they supported.
The fiery intensity of Stokely Carmichael has been captured many times on film for research, reference, and broadcast purposes. However, Carmichael?s most famous speech on file, ?We Ain?t Goin??? is deemed by some as one of the most powerful civil rights speeches during the life and times of Carmichael and other rights leaders like Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. ?We Ain?t Goin%9