Stokely Carmichael, the civil rights leader and the inventor of the ‘Black Power’ slogan, was born on 29 June, 1941 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was brought up by his grandmother until the age of eleven, when he joined his parents, Adolphous and Mabel Carmichael, in the USA. …
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Carmichael and eight other riders travelled by train from New Orleans to Jackson on 4 June, 1961. He was arrested for the first time in his career at Jackson for entering a ‘Whites Only’ bus waiting room. Carmichael was given a harsh, 49 day sentence at the Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi, which proved to be “a crucible and training ground” for him (PBS.org). Carmichael resolutely continued his activism, and joined a Freedom Ride in Maryland, a demonstration in Maryland and a hospital strike in New York (History.com). He was a member of the University’s Nonviolent Action Group, affiliated with the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) .He also participated in the Albany Movement which mobilized massive protests in Albany, Georgia against racial discrimination and segregation (King Center). In 1964, Carmichael joined the SNCC as a full-time staff member. This was “a critical moment in the history of the civil rights movement” in America (History.com). SNCC engaged in an aggressive campaign, dubbed ‘Mississippi Freedom Summer,’ in which hundreds of black and white volunteers travelled through the South to teach, establish clinics and register disenfranchised black voters. Carmichael’s eloquent communication skills and inherent leadership soon made him SNNC’s field organizer for Lowndes County, Alabama. Here, African Americans were in the majority, but remained excluded from government. Carmichael’s registration drive witnessed the increase of black voters from 70 to 2,600. This exceeded the number of registered white voters by 300 (Kaufman). Carmichael was disillusioned with the lukewarm response of the major political parties to his successful drive. He...
Carmichael’s experience as an activist in the segregated South was instrumental in weaning him away from the non-violence propounded by King. He witnessed at firsthand how “nonviolent black demonstrators were beaten and shocked with cattle prods by the police” (Kaufman). Carmichael later confessed that police brutality made him so “Horrified that he screamed and could not stop” (Kaufman). He was arrested on numerous occasions and soon stopped keeping a tally of his detentions. As Carmichael endured repeated acts of violence from police offices in the face of non-violent protest by blacks, he lost faith in Martin Luther King’s tactic of passive resistance. An increasing segment of activists supported Carmichael’s view that non-violent protest would gain nothing within the existing political structure. Carmichael advocated “nonviolence as a tactic, rather than a guiding principle” (King Center). On his election as Chairman of the SNCC, Carmichael turned the organization in a “sharply radical direction,” and discouraged white membership (History.com). Carmichael’s emphasis shifted from non-violence and integration to black militancy and separatism.
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