Stokely Carmichael and the Civil Rights Movement


Essay, 2015
10 Pages, Grade: 1,0
Anonymous

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2
Introduction
,,If Martin was the undisputed King of the black freedom struggle, Carmichael remains
the Prince of a black revolution that, despite its missteps and shortcomings, paved the
way for America's journey from Black Power to Barack Obama."
1
- Peniel E. Jospeh
This remark of Professor Peniel E. Joseph about Stokely Carmichael
2
, later named Kwame
Touré, in his article on the website of the George Mason University's History News Network
on occasion of his publication "Stokely: A Life" was
quite controversial.
3
In the collective memory Stokely Carmichael is stigmatised as an angry black nationalist and
representative of the movement after his first cry of Black Power during Meredith March a few
days after the initiator James Meredith had been shot by a sniper in summer 1966.
4
One of the latest example of his negative perceptions was the statement of Juan Williams about
Michelle Obama as "Stokely Carmichael ­ only in a `designer dress'" at the O'Riley Show on
the 29
th
of January in 2009. The backlash was immense even within the conservative audience.
While the majority condemned the accusation of the First Lady in particular and black woman
in general being black nationalist and adherence to the politic of victimization, the position of
Carmichael was not scrutinised.
In her essay "The Long Civil Right Movement and the Political Uses of the Past" Professor
Jacquelyn D. Hall challenges the narrative and defines the non-violent protest of Martin Luther
King Jr. as well as the Black Power Movement as phases of the long Civil Right Movement.
5
In this context the essay aims to achieve a sophisticated picture of Carmichael as a central figure
of the transition between both phases.
Beginning with the first chapter `Life' the essay will include a brief summary of Carmichael's
life as a whole. Based on this overview the main chapter `Political activism' leads through his
development within the Civil Right Movement, following different stages, defined by Donald
1
Peniel E. Joseph, `Whatever You Think of Stokely Carmichael, You're Probably Wrong', (05.11.2014),
http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/155517 (18.03.2015).
2
In favour of readability and to adjust the essay with the popular convention the text will use the name Stokely
Carmichael instead of his later name Kwame Touré.
3
Cf. Joseph, `Whatever You Think of Stokely Carmichael, You're Probably Wrong'.
4
Cf. Davi Johnson Thornton, `The Rhetoric of Civil Rights Photographs: James Meredith's March Against Fear',
Rhetoric & Public Affairs 16 (2013), p. 479; Cf. Inc The JBHE Foundation, ed., `The Death of Stokely Carmichael
(later, Kwame Ture) 1941-1998', The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (1998), p. 80.
5
Cf. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, `The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past', The Journal of
American History 91 (2005), p. 1233­63.

3
J. McCormack.
6
The chapter `Critics' will focus on the reception of his activism and ideas at
that time and beyond to complete the foundation for the final conclusion.
Life
Stokely Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on the 29
th
of June in 1941. His parents
moved with his siblings to New York in 1943 while he was raised in Trinidad by his aunt up to
the age of 11 and visited the Tranquillity Boy's School in Port of Spain. In 1952 he joined his
family in Harlem, New York, where his mother Mabel worked as a steamship stewardess and
his father Adophus as a taxi driver and carpenter.
7
In the seventh grade he moved into the white neighbourhood of Morris Parks in the West Bronx
with his family, where he joined a white street gang until he passed the admission test for the
elite Bronx High School of Science. After his graduation in 1960 Carmichael choose the
traditional black Howard University in Washington D.C. and rejected scholarships of several
white universities. During this time, he started to participate in the Freedom Rides organised
by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In spite of his commitment to the Civil Rights
Movement and multiple arrests he graduated with Bachelor of Arts in 1964.
8
In the same year he joined the Freedom Summer initiative led by the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in cooperation with other organizations to empower the black
community in Mississippi.
9
After the defeat of the newly formed black Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party the local Democratic Party and the Democratic convention in Atlantic City
in 1964, Carmichael left Mississippi for the Alabama black belt in 1965. As a SNCC field
organizer Carmichael managed to mobilize the black majority in Lowndes County to enrol in
the voting register and directed the foundation of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization
(LCFO), popularly known as Black Panther Party. Due to immense support of this action and
the organization wide objective to initiate similar project, SNCC elected Carmichael as their
new chairman in the spring of 1966.
10
In his effort to implement the new projects on a broader scale Carmichael convinced the SNCC
to participate in the "Meredith March against Fear" to develop new networks. During this march
6
Cf. Donald J. McCormack, `Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism: Back to Black Power', The Journal of
Politics 35, no. 2 (1973): p. 387­ 388.
7
Cf.
`Stokely
Carmichael',
Munzinger
Online,
18
January
1999,
www.munzinger.de/search/portrait/Stokely+Carmichael/0/11763.html.
8
Cf. Michael T. Kaufman, `Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined "Black Power," Dies at 57', The
New York Times, (16.11.1998), http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/16/us/stokely-carmichael-rights-leader-who-
coined-black-power-dies-at-57.html (17.03.2016).
9
Cf. ibid.; Cf. Charlie Cobb, `Revolution: From Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture', The Black Scholar 27
(1997), p. 35.
10
Cf. Kaufman, `Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined "Black Power," Dies at 57'.

4
in 1966 he coined the term "Black Power". After the first positive press coverage by the
backlash was tremendous.
11
Carmichael was in the spotlight immediately. During this period, he was lecturing over
campuses all over the United States, travelled countries like Cuba, China and Northern
Vietnam, published his first book "Black Power" in collaboration with the political scientist
Charles V. Hamilton and were emphasizing his anti-imperialism. After he left the SNCC under
uncertain conditions he became honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party, formed by
Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, in recognition of the LCFO. His break with the Black
Panther Party happened under similar conditions like with the SNCC.
12
In 1968 Carmichael married the South African singer Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama
Africa. The marriage was a huge controversy in the US and affected her career severely before
the couple moved to Guinea in early 1969. In Guinea, Carmichael followed his idol, the first
and former president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah and dedicated his life to the All African
Peoples Revolutionary Party. After over 20 years lecturing about Pan-Africanism Stokley
Carmichael died at the age of 56 on the 15
th
of November 1998 in Guinea after a long lasting
fight against cancer.
13
Political activism
According to his former SNCC colleague Charlie Cobb, Carmichael's got his first encounter
with socialism was through a white classmate in Harlem whose father was a member of the
U.S. Communist Party. There he was able to met the former party leader Gus Hall and other
personalities of the political left but according to him the ideology fell short of the problem of
black Americans. During 1958 and 1959 Carmichael volunteered in the office of Bayard Rustin,
a black civil rights activist with socialistic background and identified him as first main idol
during his freshman year in college.
14
These experiences evoked his political activism within the Civil Right Movement and took of
in his first year at Howard university in 1960.
11
Cf. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, `Sncc, Black Power, and Independent Political Party Organizing in Alabama, 1964-
1966', Journal of African American History 91(2006), p. 184­ 186.
12
Cf. Kaufman, `Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined "Black Power," Dies at 57'; The JBHE
Foundation, `The Death of Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) 1941-1998', p. 81.
13
Cf. Kaufman, `Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined "Black Power," Dies at 57'.
14
Cf. Cobb, `Revolution', p. 34.

5
Due to the focus on his development during the Civil Right Movement the following part will
be structured according to Donald J. McCormack's article "Stokely Carmichael and Pan-
Africanism" from 1973. The first phase of the non-violent Carmichael between 1960 and
summer 1966, his transitional phase after the first Black Power at the Meredith March from
summer 1966 up to spring 1967 and ending with his final phase as Pan-Africanist from mid
1967 until his departure for Guinea in 1969.
15
First period
When Carmichael joined the Howard University in 1960 he came in the right place at the right
time. In the non-violent Action Group (NAG) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) he
found his first like-minded people and the support of professors like Sterling Brown and Harol
Lewis. With this groups he participated in the Freedom Ride in 1961, planned bus trips via
interstate busses in the South were the participants extravagated the segregation rules.
16
His first - of several - imprisonments also happened during the Freedom Rides in 1961. While
his 49-day arrest at the Mississippi Parchman Penitary he was supporting and motivating his
inmates. While and after harsh treatments by the officers he intoned "I'm gonna tell God how
you treat me" to keep up the moral. According to Cobb, Carmichael spent his summers working
in Mississippi during his studies until he joined the Freedom Summer project of SNCC after
his graduation in 1964.
17
During that time the SNCC grew from 24 field workers and organizers to more than 150
members who changed the organisation sustainable. The SNCC shifted from the direct action
campaigns to a focus on political organisation and voter registration.
18
Parallel to the
adjustment, the hostile circumstances and the personal experiences in Mississippi, the members
began to debate alternative `tactics' besides the non-violence and began emphasised armed self-
defence.
19
A central turning point for Carmichael and the SNCC was the Democratic National Convention
in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August 1964. Since 1963 the SNCC had started to seed stronger
15
Cf. McCormack, `Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism', p. 387­ 388.
16
Cf. Kaufman, `Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined "Black Power," Dies at 57'; Cobb, `Revolution',
p. 34.
17
Cf. Cobb, `Revolution', p. 35.
18
Cf. Akinyele O. Umoja, `The Ballot and the Bullet A Comparative Analysis of Armed Resistance in the Civil
Rights Movement', Journal of Black Studies 29 (1999), p. 574.
19
Cf. ibid., p. 566.

6
political awareness in the black community with mock elections and other campaigns on
community level.
20
The attempts of the SNCC led to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in spring
1964 which should represent Mississippi better than the pure white Mississippi Democrats
Party at the convention. When the officers of the national Democratic Party denied the request
of the MFDP and enabled the state wide party to select 2 honorary delegates out of 60 to
participate the convention, many activists within assumed a lack of commitment of liberals.
21
Additionally, it heated the debate on the chances of success through the non-violent approach.
22
Shortly after the experience of Atlantic City the first SNCC representatives visited several
independent African countries and started to draw a connection between the situation of Africa
and the struggle of African Americans in the United States.
23
While the MFDP continued to work with the Democratic Party the SNCC drifted from this idea
and expanded under project manager Silas Norman in the fall of 1964.
24
After a conflicted
between the SNCC and Martin Luther's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in
Selma Carmichael left Mississippi for the rural county Lowndes in the Alabama black belt and
initiated the LCFO.
25
As a member of SNCC during this formative period Carmichaels ideology was directly affected
by his experiences and reflected the incidents. The pre-Atlantic City Carmichael believed,
according to McCormack, in the classic statement of the Federalist No. 10 by James Madison.
The theory states that social groups will only be successful if they establish close fractions with
similar groups to achieve a superior goal.
26
Back then, his idea of a revolution was similar to
the approach of philosopher Albert Camus, which argued that the act of a rebellion will be
achieved by individual experiences which will change the general ideas.
27
With the defeat at
Atlantic City Carmichael revised his ideology a started to read Frantz Fanon a black philosopher
who discussed the liberation of the Third World and conceptualised white supremacy.
28
20
Cf. Jeffries, `Sncc, Black Power, and Independent Political Party Organizing in Alabama, 1964-1966', p. 174.
21
Cf. Cobb, `Revolution', p. 35.
22
Cf. Jeffries, `Sncc, Black Power, and Independent Political Party Organizing in Alabama, 1964-1966', p.174­
175.
23
Cf. ibid., p. 177.
24
Cf. ibid., p. 179.
25
Cf. Cobb, `Revolution', p. 36.
26
Cf. McCormack, `Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism', p. 395.
27
Cf. ibid., p. 389.
28
Cf. ibid., p. 390.

7
Within this ideological context the separated and county-wide LCFO reflected the attempt do
establish a black people only party which was set the do defend the political and economic
goals which were common for all members.
29
It was the field experience in Lowndes and his ideas of independent black organisation which
made him the valid representative of the changed SNCC. This status was manifested with his
election as SNCC chairman in spring 1965.
30
Second period
The black power cry at the Meredith March, shortly after the death of James Meredith is
memorized as the awakening of the new angry and aggressive black youth. The awakening was,
after the initially positive reception, soon condemned as an extremist movement within the
black activists in times of growing white resistance.
31
As chairman of the SNCC and face behind `Black Power' Carmichael became the centre of
attention in the aftermath. This pressure was also reflected in his essays between May 1966 and
January 1967. According to McCormack they were full of redundancy and reputation and
violated the scientific method. McCormack goes even so far to call Carmichael an "unqualified
activist" during this time.
32
This lack of a well articulated grounded foundation in immediate aftermath opened the
definition of the slogan to the press and other interest groups. The mainstream media defined
`Black Power' as a violent and "illogical `hate whitey' ideology" by the race radicals around
Carmichael who had hijacked the moderate and nonviolent SNCC.
33
Even his attempts like the
memorable speech at Berkley, where he defined `Black Power' as a slogan against white
supremacy and promoted the white audience to work on the race issue within their own
community, did not change his public appearance.
34
Remarkable within this period is the attempt of Carmichael to emphasise the US Imperialism
and in this context Fanon's Liberation of the Third World as bigger and sustainable problem
behind the struggle of African Americans.
29
Cf. ibid., p. 396­ 397.
30
Cf. Cobb, `Revolution', p.36.
31
Cf. Thornton, `The Rhetoric of Civil Rights Photographs', p. 479.
32
Cf. McCormack, `Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism', p. 393.
33
Cf. `Sncc, Black Power, and Independent Political Party Organizing in Alabama, 1964-1966', p. 176.
34
Cf. Victoria J. Gallagher, `Black Power in Berkeley: Postmodern Constructions in the Rhetoric of Stokely
Carmichael', Quarterly Journal of Speech 87, (.2001): p. 155­ 156.

8
Final period
Carmichael was completing his transformation with the publication of his book `Black Power:
The Politics of Liberation in America' with political scientist Charles Hamilton in 1967.
35
According to Carson he relinquished the chairmanship of the SNCC due to medial focus on
him as a person in spring 1967 and was followed by the unknown activist Rap Brown.
36
In
parallel, he started his domestic and international organization tour with the focus on Third
World countries which made Black Power a theme in global politics and promoted him as an
icon.
37
Beside his lectures in the US Carmichael also participated in the Civil Right Movement during
this time and became the Honorary Prime Minister of the Black Power Party until he left the
party from his exile in Guinea in 1969.
38
The reasons for the break of his last links with the US
Civil Rights Movement seems unclear.
39
Criticism
There are numerous critics of Carmichael.
Some are blaming him to be an arsonist of race tensions in the later decades or an black racist.
Instead the following chapter will focus on his idealistic development within the civil rights
movement and excludes personal rivalry.
With demand of black political self-determination after Atlantic City in 1964 Carmichael was
aware of the critical and crucial problem of SNCC work after 1964. With his chairmanship and
the new main purpose to establish similar political organisations like the LCFO on a broader
scale the SNCC ran into a dead-end. In a federal state like the United States with a majority
vote, the impact of such an organisation is and will always be limited to the lowest
governmental level due to the assumption of a state-wide black minority.
40
35
Cf. McCormack, `Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism', p. 387­ 388.
36
Cf. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, Enlarged ed. (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 251.
37
Cf. Peniel E. Joseph, `The Black Power Movement, Democracy, and America in the King Years', The American
Historical Review 114, no. 4 (2009), p. 1008­ 1009.
38
Cf. Kaufman, `Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined "Black Power," Dies at 57'.
39
Cf. Cobb, `Revolution', 37; The JBHE Foundation, `The Death of Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture)
1941-1998', p. 81.
40
Cf. McCormack, `Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism', p. 401­ 402.

9
Carmichaels logical solution, the Pan-Africanism, his later dedication of united Africa was in
McComarcks words "sketchy" at his best.
41
Other authors are furthermore criticising his ties to African politicians like Idi Amin and
Muhammar Gadhafi who were ruling far from the political freedom he was fighting for in the
US.
42
Conclusion
It is hard, if not impossible, to see Stokely Carmichael as an activist or social ideologist. During
his time as activist in the Civil Right Movement he did more than just shaking up the thugs
through his Black Power cry.
He dedicated his life to black self-determination from his activism at the Freedom Fighters, the
work in Lowndes county to Pan-Africanism. To achieve this higher goal his actions and
ideological development seems logical in context of his experience as a young activist in the
Civil Right Movement in the 1960s.
Was he the Prince of the Civil Right Movement, like Peniel E. Joseph suggests?
As an activist within the SNCC and even within the BPP Carmichael was one - if not the most
- important activist of his generation but failed to claim his title when he left for Africa. Unlike
the other formative icons like Malcom X (1965) and Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) he was not
killed during the 60s and had to attend the decline of the Civil Right Movement.
Did he pave the way for the current America? ­ Not really.
Carmichael's ideas obviously had an influence on the black consciousness of today but the
America of today is not an implication of his work after 1964. Barack Obamas presidency is
rather the final result of MFDP approach instead of the LCFO.
It was probably Carmichaels absence of the movement and the African American people in a
mixture with his crude concept of Pan-Africanism which damaged his ideological achievement
and influence within the US until he faded as aggressive `Black Power' relict in the common
narrative.
41
Cf. ibid., p. 407.
42
Cf. David J. Garrow, `The Tragedy of Stokely Carmichael', Reviews in American History 43 (2015), p. 569.

10
Literature
Carson, Clayborne, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, Massachusetts
1995.
Cobb, Charlie, Revolution: From Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture, in: The Black Scholar
27 (1997), p. 32­38.
Gallagher, Victoria J., Black power in Berkeley: Postmodern constructions in the rhetoric of
Stokely Carmichael, in: Quarterly Journal of Speech 87 (2001), pp. 144­157.
Garrow, David J., The Tragedy of Stokely Carmichael, in: Reviews in American History 43
(2015), pp. 564­570.
Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,
in: The Journal of American History 91 (2005), p. 1233­1263.
Jeffries, Hasan Kwame, Sncc, Black Power, and Independent Political Party Organizing in
Alabama, 1964-1966, in: Journal of African American History 91 (2006), p. 171­193.
Joseph, Peniel E., Whatever You Think of Stokely Carmichael, You're Probably Wrong,
(05.11.2014), URL: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/155517 (18.03.2016).
Joseph, Peniel E., The Black Power Movement, Democracy, and America in the King Years,
in: The American Historical Review 114 (2009), p. 1001­1016.
Kaufmann, Michael T., Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined ,,Black Power," Dies
at 57, (16.11.1998), URL: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/16/us/stokely-carmichael-rights-
leader-who-coined-black-power-dies-at-57.html (17.03.2016).
McCormack, Donald J., Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism: Back to Black Power, in:
The Journal of Politics 35 (1973), p. 386­409.
The JBHE Foundation, Inc (Hrsg.), The Death of Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture)
1941-1998, in: The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (1998), p. 80­81.
Thornton, Davi Johnson, The Rhetoric of Civil Rights Photographs: James Meredith's March
Against Fear, in: Rhetoric & Public Affairs 16 (2013), p. 457­487.
Umoja, Akinyele O., The Ballot and the Bullet A Comparative Analysis of Armed Resistance
in the Civil Rights Movement, in: Journal of Black Studies 29 (1999), p. 558­578.
Stokely Carmichael, in: Munzinger Online/Personen ­ Internationales Biographisches Archiv
(18.01.1999), URL:
http://www.munzinger.de/search/portrait/Stokely+Carmichael/0/11763.html/ (16.03.2016).
10 of 10 pages

Details

Title
Stokely Carmichael and the Civil Rights Movement
College
University of Mannheim
Grade
1,0
Year
2015
Pages
10
Catalog Number
V353664
ISBN (Book)
9783668400191
File size
511 KB
Language
English
Tags
stokely, carmichael, civil, rights, movement, Black Power
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2015, Stokely Carmichael and the Civil Rights Movement, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/353664

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