In the 1960s, Stokely Carmichael was a leading figure in the ‘American Civil Rights Movement.’ He vowed to fight racism from a young age, and as a result, he rejected down scholarships from a number of prestigious universities to attend the historically black ‘Howard University.’ In college, he took advantage of every opportunity to assist to the civil rights struggle, joining groups such as ‘CORE,’ ‘SNCC,’ and ‘Freedom Riders,’ among others. He was entrusted with critical operations such as voter registration campaigns since he was an effective organizer with excellent oratory skills. During his rallies, he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and was detained several times. Initially, Carmichael supported nonviolent protests, but when the government ignored his requests and police brutality increased, he changed his mind.
Childhood and Adolescence
Stokely Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Tobago, to Adolphus and Mabel R. Carmichael. His mother was a stewardess and his father was a carpenter and taxi driver.
His parents moved to New York when he was two years old, leaving him in the care of his grandmother and two aunts. In Trinidad, he attended the ‘Tranquility School.’ He relocated to New York with his parents when he was eleven years old.
His family relocated to the East Bronx’s Van Nest neighborhood in 1954. He joined the ‘Morris Park Dukes,’ a teenage group that was involved in thievery.
After passing an admissions test, he was accepted into the ‘Bronx High School of Science,’ an elite and selective school, in 1956. Carmichael endured discrimination because of his race among his classmates, who were the children of New York’s wealthy upper-class white inhabitants.
He graduated from high school in 1960 and was offered scholarships to a number of prestigious universities, but chose to attend the historically black ‘Howard University’ the next year. He studied philosophy there, and among his professors were Sterling Brown, Nathan Hare, and Toni Morrison, among others.
Career of Stokely Carmichael
Carmichael quickly became a member of the ‘Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’ (SNCC), a ‘American Civil Rights Movement’ group. In 1961, he became a member of the ‘Freedom Riders,’ a group who used interstate buses to defy discrimination by joining them. He took many freedom trips, and on one of them, he was captured and imprisoned in Mississippi for 49 days.
During his student years, he was interested in the civil rights struggle and graduated from the University in 1964, after which he joined the SNCC.
In 1965, he was chosen as the field organizer for Lowndes County, Alabama, as part of the SNCC’s voter registration effort. The number of registered black voters in Alabama increased from 70 to 2600 under his leadership.
In 1965, he created the ‘Lowndes County Freedom Organization,’ and picked the ‘Black Panther’ as its mascot to symbolically challenge the ‘Democratic Party”s’White Rooster’ mascot, which was dominated by white people. Although the party lost the elections, it received widespread support in the region.
In 1966, he was chosen chairman of the SNCC. Carmichael began his career as a proponent of nonviolent resistance, a doctrine championed by Martin Luther King Jr. However, by 1966, he had become disillusioned with the slow pace of reform and the recurrent brutality of white police officers. From then on, he took further drastic steps, such as refusing to recruit white people to SNCC.
He organized SNCC’s participation in James Meredith’s ‘March Against Fear’ in 1966. When the demonstrators arrived in Mississippi, Carmichael was arrested and held in custody for a few days.
The notion of ‘Black Power’ was immensely popular among young African Americans in the United States, and it also became a cry against European colonization of Africa. His opinions, on the other hand, were divisive, and he was accused of ‘Black Racism’ by other civil rights organizations.
He conducted talks and met with local revolutionary leaders in Guinea, Cuba, North Vietnam, and China in 1967. When he returned to the United States, he left the SNCC and became the ‘Honorary Prime Minister’ of the more fundamental ‘Black Panther Party.’
From 1967 through 1969, he lectured across the United States and published writings on black ideologies and pan-Africanism. During this time, Carmichael was opposed to whites joining the ‘Black Panther Party,’ but the party was not. This caused a schism between Carmichael and the rest of the party.
Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s killing in 1968, he requested that shops in Washington, D.C. close out of respect and led a group of demonstrators through the streets. Despite Carmichael’s insistence for nonviolence, the protestors became violent and rioted in several neighborhoods of Washington, for which he was accused.
He left the party in 1969 due to ideological differences, left the United States, and moved in Conakry, Guinea. For the rest of his life, he preached pan-African unity. He also believed that the only way to overcome racism was through revolution.
Major Projects of Stokely Carmichael
Stokely Carmichael is credited with increasing the number of black voters in Lowndes County from 70 to 2600. Not satisfied with major parties’ responses, he formed the ‘Lowndes County Freedom Organization,’ a political party with the ‘Black Panther’ as its symbol.
After activist James Meredith was injured in his ‘March Against Fear,’ Carmichael joined other renowned activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Floyd McKissick in continuing the march. He gave his most famous speech expounding ‘Black Power’ after his imprisonment and subsequent release.
Achievements & Awards
In 2002, famous American historian Molefi Kete Asante compiled a list of the “100 Greatest African Americans,” which featured Stokely Carmichael.
Personal History and Legacy
In 1968, Carmichael married ‘Miriam Makeba,’ a well-known South African musician and civil rights campaigner. Their relationship ended in divorce.
He married Marlyatou Barry, a Guinean doctor, in 1980 and had a son, Bokar Carmichael. After two years of marriage, the couple divorced.
At the age of fifty-seven, he died of prostate cancer in Guinea. Before his death, he had been receiving treatment for two years.
Stokely Carmichael’s Net Worth
Stokely is one of the wealthiest civil rights leaders and one of the most well-known. Stokely Carmichael’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
For accessing a bus stop waiting room meant only for white people, this Trinidadian-American black activist was sentenced to 49 days in prison.
‘Ready for the revolution!’ would be the message on this well-known civil rights activist’s answering machine.