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Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael
(29 June 1941 - 15 November 1998)
Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael (Kwame Ture)
Civil Rights Activist

Stokely Carmichael (also Kwame Ture; 29 June 1941 – 15 November 1998) was a Trinidadian-American black activist active in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. Growing up in the United States from the age of eleven, he graduated from Howard University and rose to prominence in the civil rights and Black Power movements, 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.

Early life and education

Stokely Carmichael was born in the Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 29th June, 1941. Carmichaelmoved to Harlem, in New York, New York in 1952 at age eleven to rejoin his parents, who had immigrated when he was age two and left him with his grandmother and two aunts. He had three sisters. As a boy, he had attended Tranquility School in Trinidad until his parents were able to send for him.

His mother, Mabel R. Carmichael, was a stewardess for a steamship line, and his father, Adolphus, was a carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver. The reunited Carmichael family eventually left Harlem to live in Van Nest in the East Bronx, at that time an aging neighborhood of primarily Jewish and Italian immigrants and descendants. According to a 1967 interview he gave to Life Magazine, Carmichael was the only black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang involved in alcohol and petty theft.

He attended the elite, selective Bronx High School of Science in New York, with entrance based on academic performance. After graduation in 1960, Carmichael enrolled at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C.. His professors included Sterling Brown, Nathan Hare and Toni Morrison, a writer who later won the Nobel Prize. Carmichael and Tom Kahn, a Jewish-American student and civil-rights activist, helped to fund a five-day run of the Three Penny Opera, by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill: "Tom Kahn - very shrewdly - had captured the position of Treasurer of the Liberal Arts Student Council and the infinitely charismatic and popular Carmichael as floor whip was good at lining up the votes. Before they knew what hit them the Student Council had become a patron of the arts, having voted to buy out the remaining performances. It was a classic win/win. Members of the Council got patronage packets of tickets for distribution to friends and constituents". His apartment on Euclid Street was a gathering place for his activist classmates. He graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1964. Carmichael was offered a full graduate scholarship to Harvard University, but turned it

Political activism

In 1961 Carmichael became a member of the Freedom Riders. After training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as they travelled through the Deep South. Local police were unwilling to protect these passengers and in several places they were beaten up by white mobs. In Jackson, Mississippi, Carmichael was arrested and jailed for 49 days in Parchman Penitentiary. Carmichael also worked on the Freedom Summer project and in 1966 became chairman of SNCC.

On 5 June, 1966, James Meredith started a solitary March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, to protest against racism. Soon after starting his march he was shot by sniper. When they heard the news, other civil rights campaigners, including Carmichael, Martin Luther King and Floyd McKissick, decided to continue the march in Meredith's name.

Stokely Carmichael, Black Power Address at UC Berkeley, delivered October 1966, Berkeley, California.

Download speech (pdf) | Download speech (mp3)

When the marchers got to Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael and some of the other marchers were arrested by the police. It was the 27 time that Carmichael had been arrested and on his release on 16 June, he made his famous Black Power speech. Carmichael called for "black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, and to build a sense of community". He also advocated that African Americans should form and lead their own organizations and urged a complete rejection of the values of American society.

The following year Carmichael joined with Charles V. Hamilton to write the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (1967). Some leaders of civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), rejected Carmichael's ideas and accused him of black racism.

Carmichael also adopted the slogan of "Black is Beautiful" and advocated a mood of black pride and a rejection of white values of style and appearance. This included adopting Afro hairstyles and African forms of dress. Carmichael began to criticize Martin Luther King and his ideology of nonviolence. He eventually joined the Black Panther Party where he became "honorary prime minister".

When Carmichael denounced United States involvement in the Vietnam War, his passport was confiscated and held for ten months. When his passport was returned, he moved with his wife, Miriam Makeba, to Guinea, where he wrote the book, Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism (1971).

Carmichael, who adopted the name, Kwame Ture, also helped to establish the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and worked as an aide to Guinea's prime minister, Sekou Toure. After the death of Toure in 1984 Carmichael was arrested by the new military regime and charged with trying to overthrow the government. However, he only spent three days in prison before being released.

Marriage and family

Carmichael had married Miriam Makeba, a noted singer from South Africa, while in the US. They divorced in Guinea after separating in 1973.

Later he married a second time, to Marlyatou Barry, a Guinean doctor. They divorced some time after having a son, Bokar, together in 1982. By 1998, Marlyatou Barry and Bokar were living in Arlington County, Virginia near Washington, DC. Relying on a statement from the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party, Carmichael's 1998 obituary in The New York Times referred to his survivors as two sons, three sisters, and his mother, but without further details.

Death and legacy

Stokely Carmichael died of prostate cancer on 15th November, 1998 at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea. He had said that his cancer "was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them." He claimed that the FBI had infected him with cancer in an assassination attempt.

In a final interview given in April 1998 to the Washington Post, Carmichael had criticized the economic and electoral progress made by African Americans in the US during the previous 30 years. He acknowledged that blacks had won election to the mayor's office in major cities, but said that, as the mayors' power had generally diminished over earlier decades, such progress was essentially meaningless.

Stokely Carmichael, along with Charles Hamilton,is credited with coining the phrase "institutional racism." This is defined as racism that occurs through 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".

The 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, the American scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Stokely Carmichael as one of his 100 Greatest African Americans.

In 2007, the publication of previously secret Central Intelligence Agency documents revealed that the agency had tracked Carmichael from 1968 as part of their surveillance of black activists abroad. The surveillance continued for years.


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Stokely Carmichael
Occupation Civil Rights Activist
Date of Birth 29 June 1941
Place of Birth Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Date of Death 15 November 1998 (aged 57)
Place of Death Conakry, Guinea
Notable Accomplishments
Leader of Black Power Movement
Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago
Black History Month 2014

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