Stokely Carmichael and Black Power

stokeley carmichael

Stokeley Carmichael at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater, October 29, 1966

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. At the end of June, 1964, Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr., and hundreds of civil rights activists marched across Mississippi to register African-American voters in one of the turning points of the civil rights movement. In remembrance of that “Freedom Summer,” we’re republishing our show with the Carmichael biographer Peniel Joseph, historian Isabel Wilkerson, and activist Jamarhl Crawford.
Stokely Carmichael was a down-home organizer and radical off-beat visionary of racial equality in America 50 years ago, a quicksilver activist, theorist, street hero, preacher and prophet of black revolution in America and the world.  He’s in the civil rights pantheon, for sure, but he’s still struggling in spirit with the leadership, especially the example of Martin Luther King; and he’s still a scarecrow in the memory of white America.   Stokely Carmichael had some of Malcolm X’s fury and fire, and some of the comedian Richard Pryor’s gift with a punchline, too.  “Black power” was his slogan that became a chant, that built his bad-boy celebrity and awakened a political generation but may also have been his undoing in the 1960s.  So what does a half-century’s hindsight make of the man and his Pan-African vision?  And while we’re at it: what would Stokely Carmichael make of black power today – looking at Hollywood, Hip Hop,  the White House, and prisons and poverty?

Reading List

  • Stokely Carmichael, “What We Want,” from The New York Review of Books (1966):

An organization which claims to speak for the needs of a community, as does the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, must speak in the tone of that community, not as somebody else’s buffer zone. This is the significance of black power as a slogan. For once, black people are going to use the words they want to use, not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.

  • Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, the bible of the movement, by Carmichael (under his African name, Kwame Ture) and Charles Hamilton;
  • Peniel Joseph talks about his new biography with the Boston Globe, and presents a helpful introduction to Carmichael’s life and legacy at The Root;
  • Two of Jamarhl Crawford’s contributions to the discussion: a speech to Occupy Boston from 2011, and Blackstonian’s ongoing reporting on shootings in the city;
  • Two great films — the episode on the classic series Eyes on the Prize given to the March Against Fear in 1966, and the more recent Black Power Mixtape.

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