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Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael (June 29, 1941 November 15, 1998), also known as Kwame Toure, was a Trinidadianmarker-Americanmarker 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".


Carmichael was born to Adolphus and Mabel Carmichael. Adolphus moved his family to the United States in 1943 when Stokley was two. Carmichael attended the Bronx High School of Sciencemarker in New York City and then entered Howard Universitymarker in 1960. It was at Howard that Carmichael was introduced to SNCC and at Howard where he and his classmate, Walter P. Carter, joined the student organization. Carmichael graduated, from Howard, with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1964.At Howard his professors included Sterling Brown, Nathan Hare and Toni Morrison.

Black Power

Carmichael participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, serving as a regional director for SNCC workers and helping to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). He was deeply disillusioned with the national Democratic Party when the party refused to seat the multi-racial MFDP delegation in place of the official all-white, pro-segregation Mississippi Democratic Party during the 1964 Democratic Party National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jerseymarker. This incident led him to seek alternative means for the political empowerment of African-Americans and to become increasingly influenced by the ideologies of Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah.

In 1966 Carmichael journeyed to Lowndes County, Alabamamarker, where he brought together the county's African-American residents to form the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The organization was an effort to form a political party that would bring black residents of Lowndes — who were a majority in the county, but held no elected offices and were locked out of local politics — into power. The organization chose a black panther as its emblem, ostensibly in response to the Alabamamarker Democratic Party's use of a White Rooster. In the press the LCFO became known as the "Black Panther Party" a moniker that would eventually provide inspiration for the more-well known Black Panther Party later founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, Californiamarker. Carmichael often satirically made references to the media's one-sided renaming of the party:

While he was in Lowndes, the number of registered black voters rose from 70 to 2,600 — 300 more than the number of registered white voters.

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:

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 Atlantamarker district. However, unlike previous SNCC activities — like the 1961 Freedom Rides or the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer — 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. The goal was 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. Carmichael believed that in order to genuinely integrate, Blacks first had to unite in solidarity and become self-reliant.

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."

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 Carmichael’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. Carmichael’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 “The Black Panthers.”

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 Guineamarker, North Vietnam, Chinamarker, and Cubamarker. 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."

Carmichael also lamented the 1967 execution of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, professing:


Carmichael joined Martin Luther King Jr. in New York on April 15, 1967 to share his views with protesters on race in terms of the war in Vietnam.

Washington, D.C. Riots

Aftermath from the riots
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,( in fact the wide spread looting started much earlier) 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 Universitymarker 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 Heightsmarker and the U Street corridor did not begin to recover economically until the opening of the U St/Cardozomarker and Columbia Heightsmarker Metromarker stations in 1991 and 1999, respectively, while the H Street NE corridor remained depressed for several years longer.

Similar riots happened in other cities.

Walter Washington, who reportedly refused FBImarker director J. Edgar Hoover's suggestion to shoot the rioters, went on to become the city's first elected mayor and its first black mayor.

Self-imposed exile

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-Conakrymarker where he became an aide to Guinean prime minister Ahmed Sékou Touré and the student of exiled Ghanaianmarker 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 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."

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 Touré'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 Touré 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, Virginiamarker. 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.

Death and legacy

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 Conakrymarker, Guineamarker. He claimed that his cancer "was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them." He claimed that the FBImarker 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 Tobagomarker, 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 in 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".

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Stokely Carmichael on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

See also


  1. Stokely Carmichael, King Encyclopedia, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University. Accessed 20 November 2006.
  2. NY Times Obit
  3. [1], Britannica on "Black Power". Accessed 24 February 2007.
  4. [2], H.K. Yuen Social Movement Archive. Accessed 24 February 2007.
  5. Stokely Carmichael, King Encyclopedia, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University. Accessed 20 November 2006
  6. Atlanta in the Civil Rights Movement
  7. [3], James Forman, "The Making of Black Revolutionaries" xvi - xv (2d ed. 1997). Accessed 17 March 2007.
  8. "The Undying Revolutionary: As Stokely Carmichael, He Fought for interracial relationships. Now Kwame Ture's Fighting For His Life," by Paula Spahn, April 8, 1998, Washington Post p. D 1. Accessed via online cache June 27, 2007.
  9. , Stokely Carmichael, King Encyclopedia, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University. Accessed 20 November 2006,
  10. [4], Charlie Cobb, From Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture. Accessed 17 March 2007.
  11. [5], NY Times "Ready for Revolution" Book review. Accessed 17 March 2007.
  12. "Miriam Makeba" undated biography at Answers.Com. Accessed June 27, 2007.
  13. "The Undying Revolutionary: As Stokely Carmichael, He Fought for interracial relationships. Now Kwame Ture's Fighting For His Life," by Paula Spahn, April 8, 1998, Washington Post p. D 1. Accessed via online cache June 27, 2007.
  14. "Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined 'Black Power,' Dies at 57" November 16, 1998, New York Times. Accessed March 27, 2008.
  15. Statement of Kwame Ture undated between 1996 diagnosis and 1998 death. Accessed June 27, 2007.
  16. "Stokely Carmichael Biography" Accessed June 27, 2007.
  17. "Some Examples of CIA Misconduct", June 26, 2007 Associated Press report published in the Washington Post. AP report also published same date here in the New York Times. Accessed June 27, 2007.
  18. Richard W. Race, Analyzing ethnic education policy-making in England and Wales (PDF), Sheffield Online Papers in Social Research, University of Sheffield, p.12. Accessed 20 June 2006.
  19. Black Panther Leader Dies, BBC, November 16, 1998. Accessed 20 June 2006.
  20. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.

Further reading

  • Carmichael, Stokely, et al. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). Scribner 2005, 848 pages. ISBN 0-684-85004-4.
  • Carmichael, Stokely, et al. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Vintage; Reissue edition 1992, 256 pages. ISBN 0-679-74313-8.
  • Carmichael, Stokely, et al. Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. Random House 1971, 292 pages. ISBN 0-394-46879-1.

External links

Research resources


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