On April 19, 1967, Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998) speaks to an audience of 4,000 at Seattle's Garfield High School. Carmichael is chairman of the civil rights organization SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), and the originator of the slogan "black power." His talk urging blacks to come together and to throw off the shackles imposed by white "honkies" has a momentous effect on the outlook of many Seattleites. Years later Aaron Dixon, then a leader in the University of Washington Black Students Union, recalled listening intently. "And the way I looked at myself and America changed" (Gunn).
From Negro to Black Overnight
Larry Gossett, also a student leader at the time (and in 2002 a King County Councilman) recalled: "Stokely knew black history. Negroes were so starved for information to make them proud of who they were. The next morning, people who had gone to hear him thinking themselves Negroes were calling themselves black. It just spread like wildfire" (Gunn).
Carmichael advocated black pride and stated:
"You have tried so hard to be white that you have gone to Tarzan movies and applauded as Tarzan beat up your black brothers. We have been brainwashed" (Gunn).
The Seattle School Board had denied Carmichael the use of Garfield High School auditorium, but this decision was overruled in the name of free speech by Superior Court Judge Frank James.
An Activist's Life
Stokely Carmichael was born in the West Indies on June 29, 1941. He emigrated to New York City in 1952 at age 11, attended high school in the Bronx, and enrolled at Howard University in 1960. There he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and in 1961 became one of the Freedom Riders who traveled through the South challenging segregation. He then went to Lowndes County, Alabama, to participate in the voter registration drives there.
In 1966, he became chairman of SNCC, and that year in Mississippi rallied people to a black power movement "which espoused self-defense tactics, self-determination, political and economic power, and racial pride" (Carmichael). This represented a controversial split from Dr. Martin Luther King's movement toward racial integration and nonviolence. He resigned as chairman of SNCC in May 1967, and became affiliated with the more militant Black Panther Party.
Stokely Carmichael became a vocal critic of United States involvement in Vietnam. He left the United States in 1969 with his first wife, the South African singer Miriam Makeba. He went to live Guinea, West Africa, changed his name to Kwame Toure and helped to found the All-African People's Revolutionary Party, an international political party dedicated to Pan-Africanism and the plight of Africans worldwide.
Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael) died of prostate cancer on November 15, 1998, in Conakry, Guinea. He was 57 years old.