On June 29, 1941, Stokley Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. His parents migrated to the United States when he was just an infant. He would live with his grandparent’s until the age of 11 when he joined his parents in the United States. His mother worked as a stewardess on a steamship, and his father was a carpenter and a cab driver. Carmichael believed his father worked himself to death chasing the American dream. His father was a hard-working man who died in his 40’s. In 1954 Carmichael gained his American citizenship at the age of 13; around that same time his family moved to the Morris Park neighborhood in the Bronx, New York.
1956 was the year he begin attending the all-white, liberal, elite, Bronx High School of Science. Attending this high school was the first time Carmichael found himself surrounded by an all-white elite. As an adult he realized that those white kids did not fully accept him because he was black. That statement was a wake-up call for him; he was a popular figure amongst his peers. Even though he befriended a mostly white crowd he still was conscious about the racial struggles in America. As a high school senior Carmichael witnessed a sit-in on television which compelled him to join the civil rights movement. “When I first heard about the Negroes sitting in at lunch counters down South,” he later recalled, “I thought they were just a bunch of publicity hounds. But one night when I saw those young kids on TV, getting back up on the lunch counter stools after being knocked off them, sugar in their eyes, ketchup in their hair—well, something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”
His next step was to join the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They were picketing stores in New York and joining sit-ins in Virginia and South Carolina. In 1960 he graduated high school and attended Howard University where he majored in philosophy. He studied the works of Camus and Santayana, and used their philosophies to help face civil rights issues. Carmichael participated in a freedom ride in 1961 through the south challenging the segregation of interstate travel. He was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for entering the “whites only” section of the bus, and jailed for 49 days. Despite his jailing he continued his fight against oppression in America. He participated in another freedom ride in Maryland, a demonstration in Georgia, and a hospital worker’s strike in New York. Carmichael accomplished these feats all before he graduated from Howard University in 1964.
After graduation Carmichael joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the “summer of freedom”, of 1964. They were focused on raising the number of black registered voters in the south. In Lowndes County, Alabama Carmichael was able to use his brilliance to help raise the number of black registered voters from 70 to 2,600. Because of the negative backlash he received from the political parties for his voter registration efforts he started his own party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. The logo he used for his political party was a Black Panther, which was the inspiration behind the Black Panther Party’s logo. Carmichael agreed with Dr. King’s idea of non-violence at this time; but those ideas would soon begin to change. Many of the young activists grew tired of the constant brutality by the police and white hate groups.
In 1966 Carmichael became the national chairman of SNCC and he would change the direction of the organization. White members were no longer welcome into the organization and Carmichael was becoming focused more on change. James Meredith embarked on the “Walk of Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. When Meredith was shot 20 miles into Mississippi, Carmichael decided SNCC would continue the walk in place of Meredith. On June 16th, 1966 Carmichael spoke passionately in Greenwood, Mississippi where he was forever remembered for saying; “We been saying ‘freedom’ for six years, what we are going to start saying now is ‘Black Power.’ The term “black power” became the slogan for empowerment for Africans around the globe. Carmichael explained that black power is a call for black people to unite and build a sense of community. The black power movement was also Carmichael’s way of saying the non-violent movement and integration into white America was over. The ideas of the movement were not well received by whites or blacks who supported Dr. King.
In 1967 Carmichael became prime minister of the Black Panther Party. He would use this time to help spread the idea of Pan-Africanism which he would spend the rest of his life pursuing. In 1969 Carmichael would leave the Black Panthers and move to Guinea where he changed his name to Kwame Ture. His name change was in honor of Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. In 1985 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer which he would later succumb to in 1998. He was a brilliant orator, author, leader and human being. He was a visionary with no fear. He was brave enough to challenge Dr. King’s ideas of non-violence because he wanted to see his people safe. Mr. Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture, we stand proudly stand on your shoulders. And one more thing, black power.
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