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Carmichael amidst a demonstration near the United States Capitol protesting the House of Representatives' action denying Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., his seat, 1967.
May 1966 â€“ June 1967
|Preceded by||John Lewis|
|Succeeded by||H. Rap Brown|
|Born||June 29, 1941
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
|Died||November 15, 1998 (aged 57)
Kwame Ture (June 29, 1941 â€“ November 15, 1998), also known as Stokely Carmichael, was a Trinidadian-American black activist active in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. He rose to prominence first as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "snick") and later as the "Honorary Prime Minister" of the Black Panther Party. Initially an integrationist, Carmichael later became affiliated with black nationalist and Pan-Africanist movements. He popularized the term "Black Power".
His father, Adophus, a carpenter and taxi driver, and his mother, Mabel, a stewardess for a steamship line, had immigrated to the United States when he was a toddler, leaving him in the care of his grandmother. Carmichael later joined them and attended the Bronx High School of Science in New York City and then entered Howard University in 1960. At Howard, Carmichael became involved with the Nonviolent Action Group, a campus-based civil rights group that was affiliated to SNCC. Carmichael graduated from Howard with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1964. At Howard University, his professors included Sterling Brown, Nathan Hareand Toni Morrison. During Carmichael's civil rights organizing, he was arrested and taken to the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm) in Sunflower County, Mississippi.
In 1965, working as a SNCC activist in Lowndes County, Alabama, Carmichael helped to increase the number of registered black voters from 70 to 2,600 â€” 300 more than the number of registered white voters. 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 outnumber whites in Lowndes, they lost the county wide election of 1965.
Carmichael became chairman of SNCC later in 1966, taking over from John Lewis. A few weeks after Carmichael took office, James Meredith was attacked with 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 once again 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:
|â€ś||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.||â€ť|
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. According to Stokely 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] Heavily 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 â€” like the 1961 Freedom Rides or the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer â€” Ware excluded Northern white SNCC members from the drive. Initially, Carmichael opposed this move and voted it down, 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 to encourage whites to begin organizing poor white southern communities while SNCC would continue to focus 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 like Martin Luther King, Jr.. Carmichael became critical of civil rights leaders who simply called for the integration of African Americans into existing institutions of the middle class mainstream.
|â€ś||Now, several people have been upset because weâ€™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 theyâ€™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.||â€ť|
According to Bearing the Cross (1986), David J. Garrow's Pulitzer Prize winning book about the Civil Rights movement, 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."
|Molefi Kete Asante|
|Ahmed SĂ©kou TourĂ©|
|W. E. B. Du Bois|
|C. L. R. James|
|Cheikh Anta Diop|
In 1967, Carmichael stepped down as chairman of SNCC and was replaced by H. Rap Brown. The SNCC, which was a collective and, in keeping with the spirit of the times, worked by group consensus rather than hierarchically, was 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, and gave him a formal letter of expulsion in 1967. There is some speculation around Carmichaelâ€™s reasoning for stepping down from the chairman position of SNCC. According to his personal narratives, Carmichael witnessed African American demonstrators being beaten and shocked with cattle prods by the police. Witnessing the helplessness of people so fully committed to the non-violent approach gave Carmichael a new perspective, one which condoned the use of violent techniques against the brutality of the racist police force. Carmichaelâ€™s new tactics sought to reciprocate the fear instilled in African Americans by the police force.  which led to the creation of the militant social group known as â€śThe Black Panthers.â€ť
After his time with the SNCC, Carmichael attempted to clarify his politics by writing the book Black Power (1967) with Charles V. Hamilton and became a strong critic of the Vietnam War. During this period he traveled and lectured extensively throughout the world; visiting Guinea, North Vietnam, China, and Cuba. After his expulsion from the SNCC, Carmichael became more clearly identified with the Black Panther Party as its "Honorary Prime Minister." During this period he became more of a speaker than an organizer, traveling throughout the country and internationally advocating for his vision of "black power."
|â€ś||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.||â€ť|
|â€ś||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.||â€ť|
As word of King's murder in Memphis, Tennessee spread on the evening of Thursday, April 4, 1968 crowds began to gather at 14th and U Streets NW in Washington DC. Carmichael led members of the SNCC to stores in the neighborhood demanding that they close out of respect for King. Although polite at first, the crowd fell out of control and began breaking windows. By 11pm, widespread looting had begun, as well as in over 30 other cities.
Mayor-Commissioner Walter Washington ordered the damage cleaned up immediately the next morning. However, anger was still evident when Carmichael addressed a rally at Howard University warning of violence on Friday morning. After the close of the rally, crowds walking down 7th Street NW came into violent confrontations with police, as well as in the H Street NE corridor. By midday, numerous buildings were on fire, with firefighters attacked with bottles and rocks and unable to respond to them.
The riots continued as crowds overwhelmed the District's police force, followed by President Lyndon Johnson dispatching federal troops and the D.C. National Guard. By the time the city was considered pacified on Sunday, April 8, twelve had been killed, mostly in burning homes, 1,097 injured, and over 6,100 arrested. Additionally, some 1,200 buildings had been burned, including over 900 stores. Damages reached $27 million. This can be estimated to be equivalent to over $156 million today.
The riots utterly devastated Washington's inner city economy. With the destruction or closing of businesses, thousands of jobs were lost, and insurance rates soared. Made uneasy by the violence, city residents of all races accelerated their departure for suburban areas, depressing property values. Crime in the burned out neighborhoods rose sharply, further discouraging investment.
On some blocks, only rubble remained for decades. Columbia Heights and the U Street corridor did not begin to recover economically until the opening of the U St/Cardozo and Columbia Heights Metro stations in 1991 and 1999, respectively, while the H Street NE corridor remained depressed for several years longer.
Similar riots happened in other cities.
However, Carmichael soon began to distance himself from the Panthers. The Panthers and Carmichael disagreed on whether white activists should be allowed to help the Panthers. The Panthers believed that white activists could help the movement, while Carmichael thought as Malcolm X, saying that the white activists needed to organize their own communities first. In 1969, he and his then-wife, the South African singer Miriam Makeba, moved to Guinea-Conakry where he became an aide to Guinean prime minister Ahmed SĂ©kou TourĂ© and the student of exiled Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah. Makeba was appointed Guinea's official delegate to the United Nations. Three months after his arrival in Africa, in July 1969, he published a formal rejection of the Black Panthers, condemning the Panthers for not being separatist enough and their "dogmatic party line favoring alliances with white radicals".
It was at this stage in his life that Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture to honor the African leaders Nkrumah and TourĂ© 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."
Carmichael remained in Guinea after separation from the Black Panther Party. He continued to travel, write, and speak out in support of international leftist movements and in 1971 collected his work in a second book Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. This book expounds an explicitly socialist, Pan-African vision, which he seemingly 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 TourĂ©'s death in 1984, the military regime which took his place arrested Carmichael and jailed him for three days on suspicion of attempting to overthrow the government. Despite common knowledge that President TourĂ© engaged in torture of his political opponents, Carmichael had never criticized his namesake.
Carmichael and Makeba separated in 1973. After they divorced, he entered a second marriage with Marlyatou Barry, a Guinean doctor whom he also divorced. By 1998, his second wife and their son, Bokar, born in 1982, were living in Arlington, Virginia. Relying on a statement from the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party, his 1998 obituary in the New York Times referenced two sons, three sisters, and his mother as survivors but without further details.
After two years of treatment at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, he died of prostate cancer at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea. He claimed that his cancer "was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them." He claimed that the FBI had introduced the cancer to his body as an attempt at assassination. After his diagnosis in 1996, benefits were held in Denver; New York; Atlanta; and Washington, D.C., to help defray his medical expenses; and the government of Trinidad and Tobago, where he was born, awarded him a grant of $1,000 a month for the same purpose.
In 2007, the publication of previously secret Central Intelligence Agency documents revealed that Carmichael had been tracked by the CIA as part of their surveillance of black activists abroad, which began in 1968 and continued for years.
In a final interview given to the Washington Post, he spoke with contempt for the economic and electoral progress made during the past thirty years. He acknowledged that blacks had won election to major mayorships, but stated that the power of mayoralty had been diminished and that such progress was essentially meaningless.
Stokely Carmichael is credited with coining the phrase "institutional racism", which is defined as a form of 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".
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".
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