Also known as Kwame Ture, Carmichael rose to national prominence in the 1960s as an organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, participating in sit-ins, freedom rides and numerous demonstrations of non-violent civil disobedience.
Born on 29 June 1941 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. He moved to New York when he was 11, joining his parents, who had settled there 9 years earlier. Carmichael attended the elite Bronx High School of Science.
Here are 10 interesting facts about Stokely Carmichael:
1. The inspiration behind Stokely Carmichael participating in the civil rights movement:
In 1960, as a senior in high school, Carmichael learned about the sit-in movement for desegregation in the South and joined activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) protesting in New York against Woolworth stores, a chain that maintained segregated lunch counters in the South.
The bravery of those blacks and whites who protested segregated service with sit-ins at lunch counters in the South. in 1967 He told Gordon Parks in Life Magazine,
”When I first heard about the Negroes sitting in at lunch counters down South. 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.”
2. Carmichael Turned Down a Harvard Scholarship
A stellar student, Carmichael received scholarship offers to a variety of prestigious predominantly white universities after graduating high school in 1960. He chose instead to attend the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. There he majored in philosophy considering ways to apply theoretical frameworks to the issues facing the civil rights movement. After graduating in 1964, Carmichael was offered a full graduate scholarship to Harvard University but turned it down to become a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
3. The birth of the call for Black Power:
A few weeks after Carmichael took office as chairman of SNCC in 1966, James Meredith was shot and wounded by a sniper during the solitary March Against Fear. Carmichael joined Martin Luther King Jr., Floyd McKissick, Cleveland Sellers and others to continue Meredith’s march. He was arrested during the march.
Upon his release on June 16, 1966, and Carmichael addressed a crowd of 3,000 in a park in Greenwood, Miss. He gave his first “Black Power” speech, using the phrase to urge black pride and socio-economic independence:
“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”
We have been saying ‘Freedom’ for six years,” Carmichael declared.
“What we are going to start saying now is ‘Black Power! We have begged the president. We’ve begged the federal government. That’s all we’ve been doing, begging and begging. From now on, when they ask you what you want, you know what to tell them.”
Carmichael, in his “Black Power” message, was breaking with Martin Luther King Jr.’s mantra of nonviolence. As Carmichael put it,
“We were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy. We must dismiss the fallacious notion that white people can give anybody his freedom. A man is born free.”
The crowd quickly took up the phrase ”Black Power” and it echoed in communities across the nation.
4. Martin Luther King, Jr. response on Stokely Carmichael saying that nonviolence is irrelevant:
Although critical of the ‘‘Black Power’’ slogan, King acknowledged that,
‘‘if Stokely Carmichael now says that nonviolence is irrelevant, it is because he, as a dedicated veteran of many battles, has seen with his own eyes the most brutal white violence against Negroes and white civil rights workers, and he has seen it go unpunished’’
5. Black leaders of the civil rights movement response to Black Power:
Dr. King called it ”an unfortunate choice of words.” Roy Wilkins of the N.A.A.C.P. scorned it 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?”
6. One of Carmichael’s most provocative statement was in Havana:
In 1966 and 1967 Carmichael lectured at campuses around the United States and traveled to several countries, including North Vietnam, China and Cuba. While in Havana he made one of the most provocative statements saying:
”We are preparing groups of urban guerrillas for our defense in the cities. It is going to be a fight to the death.”
7. He popularized the anti-draft slogan “Hell no-We won’t go!”
SNCC conducted its first actions against the military draft and the Vietnam War under Carmichael’s leadership. Carmichael popularized the oft-repeated anti-draft slogan, “Hell no-We won’t go!” during this time
8. Black Panthers were not radical enough for his mission:
He became honorary prime minister of the Black Panthers in 1967 after a declining SNCC severed all ties with him. But he soon found himself embroiled with Panther leaders for opposing their decision to seek support among whites. He moved to Guinea, in West Africa, in 1969, saying, ”America does not belong to the blacks,” and calling on all black Americans to follow his example.
In July 1969, three months after he moved to Africa, he made public a letter announcing his resignation from the Black Panther Party because of what he called ”its dogmatic party line favoring alliances with white radicals.”
9. He married South African singer Miriam Makeba
Now calling himself Kwame Ture, in 1968 he married Miriam Makeba, the South African singer. They lived in a seaside villa where he sometimes greeted visitors wearing the green uniform of a Guinean soldier, a pistol at his side.
10. The forces Carmichael blamed for his fatal Prostate Cancer:
At the young age of 57, Carmichael died November 15, 1998 in Conakry, Guinea. The cause was prostate cancer, for which he had been treated at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York for two years prior to his death. He once said his cancer ”was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them.”