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Stokely Carmichael – Part 1: The Initiator of Black Power

 Posted by giemmevi


Stokely Carmichael speaks at the University of California's Greek Theater, Berkeley, California, October 29, 1966, jammed with 14,000 people. (AP Photo)

This blog came primarily into being because I wanted to publish portions of my research on the black activist Stokely Carmichael and his rhetoric of Black Power.

I have always been fascinated by the strategic use of language and when I stumbled upon the following passage of Joshua Meyrowitz’s “No sense of Place” I decided to dedicate my attention to Carmichael’s rhetorical style.

“When Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael found himself attracting media attention in the late 1960s, for example, his access to a larger social platform turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing. In the shared arenas of television and radio, he found himself facing at least two distinct audiences simultaneously: his primary audience of blacks, and an “eavesdropping” audience of whites. In personal (unmediated) appearances, he had been able to present two completely diffrent talks on Black Power to black and white audiences, respectively. But in the combined forums of electronic media, he had to decide whether to use a white or black rhetorical style and text. If he used a white style, he would alienate his primary audience and defeat his goals of giving blacks a new sense of pride and self-respect. Yet if he used a black rhetorical style, he would alienate whites, including many liberals who supported integration. With no clear solution, and unable to devise a composite genre, Carmichael decided to use a black style in his mediated speeches. While he sparked the fire of his primary audience, he also filled his secondary audience with hatred and fear and brought on the wrath of the white power structure”.

In my dissertation I analyzed and compared two speeches of the black activist, one addressed to a primarily black audience, the other one to a primarily white audience. My principal intention was to examine the distinctive characteristics of what the sociologistJoshua Meyrowitz referred to respectively as Carmichael’s black rhetorical style and white rhetorical style.

In order to support my analyses/interpretations of Carmichael’s critical discourses towards the United States I had to investigate in various directions, since the black activist not only accused the American social and political system for being permeated by racism, but stressed that even the nation’s cultural expressions upheld ‘white supremacy’.

In my next posts I will first of all introduce my readers to the person Stokely Carmichael and will successively concentrate on his political views before venturing on his public speeches.

Continuation of text ⇒ Stokely Carmichael – Part 2: Carmichael’s Youth, from Port of Spain to New York City




Stokely Carmichael – Part 2: Carmichael’s Youth, from Port of Spain to New York City

 Posted by giemmevi


Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born in Trinidad in 1941. Since his mother Mabel Florence Charles Carmichael and his father Adolphus Carmichael both left Trinidad for the United States in search of work (respectively in 1944 and 1946) the young Stokely grew up at his grandmother’s house at Port of Spain. When in 1952 his parents were economically more secure Stokely was allowed to join his parents in Harlem, NY.

Stokely Carmichael - Born in Trinidad, grown up in New York City

Stokely Carmichael - Born in Trinidad he grew up in New York City

The first days in New York had a strong impact on Carmichael. Although a black community, Harlem displayed a visible contrast compared with Port of Spain, a contrast which bewildered the young boy: white people were in charge of the community, they held control. Policemen, teachers, merchants, entrepreneurs were all white. In contrast, in Trinidad, being 96% of the population black, it was natural to see black people holding crucial positions, such as policemen, teachers, attorneys, even if Trinidad was actually controlled by white colonists.

Thus, what seemed less evident to Carmichael in Trinidad, he was able to perceive taking a glance at the streets of New York: the black people‘s status of second-class citizens in the United States, more generally the black man’s subjugation to “The Man”. Conscious of this matter of fact, Stokely Carmichael’s parents had a deep distrust toward white people.

Notwithstanding, “by back-breaking, around-the-clock-work, Carmichael’s parents (his father was a carpenter and his mother was a maid) succeeded in buying a house in a good [...] Bronx neighborhood.” The family moved to Morris Park, East Bronx, a predominantly white neighborhood (inhabited by Italians, Jews and Irish).

As an immigrant from the West Indies, and therefore a non-native American citizen, Carmichael “had to do all the bad things to prove his point”. In order to not become an outsider the adolescent became the only black member of the juvenile gang “Morris Park Dukes”. Due to his intelligence and cleverness he soon became a “specialist in stealing hubcaps and car radios”.

Continuation of text ⇒ Stokely Carmichael – Part 3: The Years at Bronx Science



Stokely Carmichael – Part 3: The Years at Bronx High School of Science

 Posted by giemmevi

Continuation of “Stokely Carmichael’s Youth – From Port of Spain to New York City”.

… In 1956 Stokely Carmichael broke with the past. Being an “[...] intellectually precocious child, he [had] found American education a breeze compared with the British-based rigors he’d experienced in the Trinidadian school system”. Passing a tough entrance test he was admitted to the elitist Bronx High School of Science. Here Stokely soon had to find out that his intellectual background could not compete with that of his fellow students. In his biography Carmichael reports that “[his] parents never finished school, we had no intellectual background. All these students’ fathers had been at Harvard, Yale, doctors, dentists, PHDs. They had what I didn’t have”. As opposed to the others at Bronx Science, Stokely did not know anything about Karl Marx nor was he familiar with notions such as “dialectical materialism“. Competition was tough and Stokely thought about quitting school during his freshman year, but his parents, especially his mother, believing firmly in the american dream “wouldn’t accept it though. She wanted me to go to Science and she would have it no other way. No questions asked. ‘Remember one thing,’ she would say, ‘they’re white, they’ll make it. You won’t unless you’re on the top“.

Carmichael listened to his parents and started to read voraciously all the books his fellow students had already read and were discussing during lunch break: in this way he became familiar with Marx and got to know Darwin’s theories and Camus’ philosophy. Stokely “tried to develop [his] own [intellectual background] just beginning to read as quickly as [he] could, anything that anybody mentioned”.


Stokely Carmichael frequented the highly competitive Bronx High School of Science

Stokely Carmichael frequented the highly competitive Bronx High School of Science

With the new school Carmichael’s interest and friends changed. His Morris Park buddies stemming from the white working-class were exchanged with new friends from the white upper middle-class. These guys were about to attend elitÉ universities such as Harvard, Columbia or Brandeis. Among them was the son of Eugene Dennis who introduced him to New York’s left-wing social world and consequently to the European revolutinary theories, this is how Stokely recalled the impact:

For the first time I encountered a systematic radical analysis, a critical context and vocabulary that explained and made sense of history. It explained the inequities and injustice I’d long been conscious of in the society around me and prescribed (even predicted) revolutionary solutions.

Nevertheless, Stokely Carmichael never joined any socialist organization because American socialism did not ascribe importance to the solution of the black problem inside the American society, quite the contrary, “[...] they didn’t want any discussion of black nationalism“. Ivanhoe Donaldson, another young New Yorker and fellow SNCC activist, underlined Carmichael’s point clarifying the reason why the socialist organizations were not able to attract black people:

“Race drove us first. We recognized class but placed it differently. Everybody in our generation did. Even the white folks in SNCC had a little bit of black nationalism in them”.





Stokely Carmichael – Part 4: The Stepladder Speakers' Impact on the Soon-to-be Activist

 Posted by giemmevi


Continuation of Stokely Carmichael – Part 3: The Years at Bronx High School of Science

… On the streets of Harlem, more precisely on 125th street, Stokely Carmichael found what was missing in the white leftist world: a dynamic oratory concerning black nationalism and America’s racial problem. Both issues were addressed extensively by Harlem’s “stepladder speakers”, brilliant orators, who instructed their listeners on the history of black resistance and, more importantly, on the methods that needed to be adopted in the future.

To give my readers an idea of the Harlem Stepladder Speakers I uploaded an excerpt of Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”, in which the camera swings from Malcolm X addressing a Harlem street crowd to two Stepladder Speakers.

Listening to the stepladder speakers Carmichael began to understand the enormous power of their rhetorical style, which he tried to absorb. In his biography Carmichael reports that “important elements of [his] adult speaking style-the techniques of public speaking in the dramatic African tradition of the spoken word, can be traced to these street corner orators of Harlem. To them and the Baptist preachers of the rural South”.

Moreover, the stepladder speakers with their black nationalist theories convinced Stokely Carmichael that the communists/socialists that supported black people inciting them to begin the “civil rights revolution” did so only because they needed an atmosphere  of chaos in order to raise a  systemic revolution.

To be continued…


Stokely Carmichael – Part 5: The Sit-in Movement and Howard University

 Posted by giemmevi

Continuation of Stokely Carmichael – Part 4: The Stepladder Speakers’ Impact on the Soon-to-be Activist

… In 1960, when Carmichael attended his senior year at Bronx Science, the sit-in movement broke out throwing the spotlight on racial segregation that still persisted in the South.

When Carmichaell heard about it in the beginning he was quite skeptical towards the young black activists who carried out the first sit-ins:

when I first heard about the Negroes sitting-in at lunch counters down South, I thought they were just a bunch of publicity hounds.”

After a few weeks Stokely Carmichael changed his opinion:

Student activists sitting-in at a lunch counter had to support shameful white backlash.

Student activists sitting-in at a lunch counter had to support shameful white backlash.

“[...] but one night when I saw those kids on TV, getting back up on the lunch counter stools after being knocked off them, sugar in their eyes, catsup in their hair – well, something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning“.


Carmichael decided to get involved. Together with other New Yorkers, he  joined aboycott of a Washington D.C Woolworth store. Shortly afterwards Carmichael accompanied a youth division of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) on a trip to Virginia where, during a sit-in, he met members of the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), a student group from Howard University, affiliated to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

In this occasion Carmichael was profoundly “impressed by the way they conducted themselves, the way they sat there and took the punishment,” to the point that he decided to decline various scholarship offers from prestigious universities in order to enroll to Howard University, a well known Negro School located in Washington D.C. , where Carmichael intended to join the Nonviolent Action Group.

To be continued…


Stokely Carmichael – Part 6: Freedom Rides and White Backlash

 Posted by giemmevi

Continuation of “Stokely Carmichael – Part 5: The Sit-in Movement and Howard University”

… After having participated in various sit-ins during his freshman year at Howard University, Carmichael decided to take part in another form of nonviolent protest: the freedom rides.

As a nineteen-year-old college freshman Carmichael was one of the youngest freedom riders, but it should not remain his only record. Trying to desegregate a railway station in Jackson, Mississippi, the black activist set the record of being the youngest detainee in the summer of 1961.

<dl class="wp-caption alignleft"><dt class="wp-caption-dt">White Backlash in a Birmingham Trailway bus station</dt><dd class="wp-caption-dd">White Backlash in a Birmingham Trailway bus station</dd></dl>

The experience of his first detention (during his successive SNCC activities in the Deep South he would be arrested for another 26 times) was particularly sadistic. Carmichael spent 53 days in “a six-by-nine cell. Twice a week to shower. No books, nothing to do. They would isolate us. Maximum security”.

In his article “The Brilliancy of Black” (see my “Further Reading” section for more info)  Bernard Weinraub recalls a very illustrative description of the tortures Carmichael and the other detainees had to face in Jackson, Mississippi:

“[...] and those guards were out of sight. They did not play. [...] The sheriff acted like he was scared of black folks and he came up with some beautiful things. One night he opened up all the windows, put on ten big fans and an air conditioner and dropped the temperature to 38 degrees. All we had on was T-shirts and shorts. And it was so cold, so cold, all you could do was walk around for two nights and three days, your teeth chattering, going out of your mind, and it getting so cold that when you touch the bedspring you feel your skin is gonna come right off.”

Notwithstanding the inhumane treatment by the local and state authorities inside and outside of jail, not to mention the ferocious aggressions by the South’s white racist mobs, Stokely Carmichael did not hesitate to return to Mississippi the following summers joining the SNCC in its activities.

To be continued…



Stokely Carmichael – Part 7: Carmichael becomes a Full-Time SNCC Activist

 Posted by giemmevi

Continuation of “Stokely Carmichael – Part 6: Freedom Rides and White Backlash”

Stokely Carmichael as a young activist in Lowndes County, AL.

Stokely Carmichael as a young activist in Lowndes County, AL.

… In 1964, after graduating from Howard University (majoring in philosophy) Stokely Carmichael refused to continue his academic career (there were various Phd offers) in order to become a full-time rebel joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In the same year the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) – organized by the SNCC and the Council of Federated Organizations(COFO) – had  failed to substitute the Mississippi’s “white-only” regular Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic Party Convention.

Disillusioned with the Democratic Party’s rejection of the MFDP many SNCC  activist turned away from Integrationism and towards Black Nationalism.

Carmichael was among the majority of the SNCC activist who regarded superflous continuing the effort toward Integrationism. Tired of soliciting the White power structure’s favor Stokely Carmichael stressed the importance of founding Black Independent Parties.

Thanks to an Alabama State Law that supported the creation of Political Parties on a County Level it was possible to set up a completely autonomous black political party with the intent to bypass the local branches of the two established political parties.

The SNCC decided to set up the party in Lowndes  County – where Afro-Americans constituted 82% of the population as well as the majority of the registered voters – founding the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO).

Due to Alabama’s high illiteracy rate the above-mentioned state law prescribed every party to have a party symbol. Taking inspiration from a local college mascott the SNCC activists chose a black panther as their symbol bringing about the nickname Lowndes County Black Panther Party.

To be continued …




Stokely Carmichael – Part 8: The Radicalization of the SNCC under Carmichael's leadership

 Posted by giemmevi
Stokely Carmichael - The Key Organizer of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization [LCFO) a.k.a. Lowndes County Black Panther Party

Stokely Carmichael - The Key Organizer of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) a.k.a. Lowndes County Black Panther Party

Continuation of Stokely Carmichael – Part 7: Carmichael becomes a Full-Time SNCC Activist

Through his leadership skills Stokely Carmichael rose to become the Lowndes County Black Panther Party’s key organizer. Gaining increasingly more responsibilty inside the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Carmichael developed into one of its most decisive representatives.The party’s slogan “Power for Black People” left no doubt about the goals Carmichael intended to achieve. The activist demanded the attainment of political power for black people instead of continuing the integrationist efforts in order to become part of a system he regarded racist.

Most of the SNCC members agreed withCarmichael’s position characterized by an augmented „black consciousness” and subsequently by a paradigm shift – away from integrationism and towards „black nationalism” when in 1966 he was elected president. Replacing the “nonviolent apostle” John Lewis as leader of the SNCC Stokely Carmichael contributed decisively to the radicalization of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The majority of the organization agreed with Carmichael’s stance. Having experienced similar atrocities and hate during their organizational activities in the Deep South they indeed disapproved with nonviolent tactics without any reservation. Carmichael, for whom nonviolence had always been a strategy, not a philosophy of life, declared:

“I don’t go along with this garbage that you can’t hate, you gotta love. I don’t go along with that at all. Man you can, you do hate. You don’t forget that Mississippi experience. You don’t get arrested twenty-seven times. You don’t smile at that and say love thy white brother. You don’t forget those beatings and, man, they were rough. Those mothers were out to get revenge. You don’t forget. You don’t forget those funerals. I knew Medgar Evers, I knew Willie Moore, I knew Mickey Schwerner, I knew Jonathan Daniels, I met Mrs. Liuzzo just before she was killed. You don’t forget those funerals”.

The radicalization of the SNCC furthermore manifested itself in a rising hostility towards white people. Some black members even demanded the expulsion of all the white members from the SNCC.

Stokely Carmichael’s attitude towards white people was more diplomatic. He asked the white members and sympathisers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to concentrate on their own white communities instead of working in the black southern ones. This is how he explained himself:

“You must seek to tear down racism. You must seek to organize poor whites. You must stop crying ‘Black supremacy’ [...] or ‘racism in reverse’ and face certain facts: that this country is racist from top to bottom and one group is exploiting the other. You must face the fact that racism in this country is a white, not a black problem. And because of this, you must move into white communities to deal with the problem“.

To be continued …




Stokely Carmichael – Part 9: Carmichael proclaims "Black Power" during Mississippi March against Fear

 Posted by giemmevi

Continuation of “Stokely Carmichael – Part 8: The Radicalization of the SNCC under Carmichael’s leadership”

On June 16, 1966, during the Mississippi March against Fear Stokely Carmichael took the occasion to proclaim the  Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s change of direction. After each day’s march the leaders of the  participating civil rights organizations usually addressed the Black Mississippi residents.

Whereas the nonviolent integrationist Martin Luther King Jr. continued to appeal to white people’s conscience asking for “Freedom Now“, Stokely Carmichael addressed only the Black frustrated population (which after years of struggle had experienced only scarce progress of their living conditions and their rights) stressing that “… the only thing that’s gonna get us [blacks] freedom is power”.

When the march reached the city of Greenwood, where Carmichael had worked as a project director during the Mississippi Freedom Summer he felt that the moment was ripe to call out for “Black Power“.

Charlie Cobb, a fellow SNCC activist, has recalled the episode – Carmichael’s words and the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction – as follows:

Stokely Carmichael proclaims Black Power during Mississippi March against Fear

Stokely Carmichael proclaims Black Power during Mississippi March against Fear

… “we been saying freedom for six years and we ain’t got nothin’. What we gonna start saying now is Black Power!” [Carmichael] roared to amens, clapping, and stomping feet. He stood, eyes blazing, fist clenched with one finger pointing, like a wrathful prophet stepped straight from the pages of the Old Testament as Willie Ricks, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer, leapt to the platform. “BLACK POWER!” Ricks began chanting, “BLACK POWER! What do you want?” “BLACK POWER!” the crowd responded with force that startled a press corps expecting to hear the tones of ‘we shall overcome’. And Stokely Carmichael exploded into the national consciousness.

To be continued…

Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power Concept – Socialism

 Posted by giemmevi

Carmichael was a fierce castigator of the American way of life. According to the Black Activist the American society was rotten at the core due to its greediness and materialism, not least its capitalist economic system. Stokely Carmichael therefore urged for the discontinuation of that inhumane social system with the intent to create a new one with the human being at the center of attention. Free people, not free enterprise, was supposed to be the focus of this new American social order.

Taking inspiration from African statesmen Kwame Nkrumah (spiritual leader of panafricanism, who in 1957 became the first president of the indipendent African state of Ghana) and Sekou TourÉ (president of Guinea from 1958 – 1984), the type of Socialism Stokely Carmichael had in mind came close to African communalism. Beyond capitalism Carmichael fiercely rejeeted orthodox communism, ever since his high school years he strongly distrusted the communists arguing that they would abuse Black people and the race question for their communist goals.





Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power Concept – Panafricanism

 Posted by giemmevi

Stokely Carmichael not only stressed a return “to the roots”, but urged for a more vivid and active collaboration with the states from the African continent that had just obtained their independece. Carmichael expected this collaboration to be a kind of spark for the African-American struggle for freedom. As Stuart Towns reported, Stokely Carmichael

[…] began to connect the struggle in the rural South […] with the worldwide struggle of non-white people against imperialism and colonialism

Taking inspiration from Malcolm X he outlined an analogy between Black People in the United States and those from African states.  More precisely, Carmichael was convinced that African-Americans faced a kind of internal colonialism similar to colonialism in the Third World. He therefore believed that the Third World’s liberation from its European oppressors would speed up an African-American emancipation:

Black people must do things for themselves. […] The reality of black men ruling their own natives gives blacks elsewhere a sense of possibility, of power, which they do not now have

Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Power” Concept – Black Cultural Nationalism

 Posted by giemmevi

Like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael was against Integrationismbelieving that it implied a negation of parts of the African American character. By contrast Carmichael continuously urged African Americans to remember their common roots and culture. He wanted them to establish a new self-conception, new values and new aims to fight for. All this in order to liberate themselves from the values and mentality imposed on them by the American culture he retained all-white “[...] it was time for black liberation and not token integration!”

Wherever Stokely Carmichael went, he preached the necessity to develop a black self-esteem. The popularity of slogans such as “Black is beautiful” or “Be proud to be black”underlined that his claims for Black Pride satifisfied a psychological need of Black America.

Norman Kelley (in “Memoirs of a Revolutionist”, The Nation, December 8, 2003) put it this way:

“[…] Carmichael began preaching a ‘soft’ form of power: black cultural nationalism. In fairness, this was important, given that African-Americans had been systematically brainwashed into hating themselves

Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Power” Concept – All Black Political Parties

 Posted by giemmevi
Stokely Carmichael Charles Hamilton Black Power

Stokely Carmichael & Charles Hamilton - Black Power. The Politics of Liberation in America

After the “Mississipi March against Fear” during which Stokely Carmichael proclaimed the “Black Power” slogan for the first time, the Black activist transformed the mere slogan into a sophisticated political program. Together with Charles V. Hamilton, Stokely Carmichael recorded these political views later in Black Power. The Politics of Liberation in America (Random House, New York, 1967).

In order to achieve Black Power Carmichael was convinced that it was absolutely necessary to found further all Black politcal parties, that would – following the example of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) – represent and fight for the Black Community’s interests. In Carmichael’s words:

“Black Power recognizes […] the power-oriented nature of American politics. Black Power therefore calls for black people to consolidate behind their own, so that they can bargain from a position of strength.” [Stokely Carmichael, op. cit.]

Stokely Carmichael did not flatly refuse coalitions as he knew that at a certain point the All Black Parties would need to coalite in order to achieve majorities. Nevertheless Carmichael stressed that Black people first of all would need to develeop a strong solidarity among themselves. This solidarity he believed would emerge if Black people would organize themselves politically without outside support. By doing so they would become aware of their qualities, their political strength and they would also get to know the United States’  political arena from the inside. In short, Stokely Carmichael intended to create strong political foundation with enough power to create equal coalitions:

“We want to establish the grounds on which we feel political coalitions can be viable. The coalitionists proceed on what we can identify as three myths of major fallacies. First, that in the context of present day America, the interests of black people are identical with the interest of certain liberal, labor and other reform groups. Those groups accept the legitimacy of the basic values and institutions of the society, and fundamentally are not interested in a major reorientation of the society. Many adherents to the current coalition doctrine recognize this but nevertheless would have black people coalesce with such groups. The assumption – which is a myth – is this: What is good for America is automatically good for black people. The second myth is the fallacious assumption that a viable coalition can be effected between the politically and economically insecure. The third myth assumes that political coalitions are or can be sustained on a moral friendly, sentimental basis: by appeals to conscience.” [Stokely Carmichael, op. cit.]









"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins









Original Post

  Both he and Elridge Cleaver died of the SAME condition....although Carmichael said his cancer was given to him by the secret service.  I remember Stokely in particular cuz he married Miriam Makeba...who was married to Hugh Masakela.  Both African artists were very popular at the time.   


It appeared to me after the Black Panther Party had calmed down and the 70s was behind us.. these guys began suffering from some form of mental illness.  And especially Cleaver...who had admitted to raping black women [when he lived in the ghetto] cuz he pretended that they were white women.  He was NUTS.  And to think he had followers.  Maybe he hid his illness behind the black movement.  I think the difference between the two men is Stokely came to America as an immigrant....Cleaver was raised in the ghetto.  Yet I didn't understand why he hated women sooooooooo much. 


Another thing is both men died within 6 months of each other.  I really didn't get these men much... but it seemed those in the Black Panther Party were always angry and use that anger toward the women..especially Cleaver with his penis pants he came up with later on in his life.  I'm telling ya as many of the panthers got older,  a lot of 'em went CRAZY.  But!

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