Black History Speaks: Stokely Carmichael

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Episode Description
Filmed interview with SNCC Field Organizer Stokely Carmichael conducted in 1986 for Eyes on the Prize. Discussion centers on the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and includes Freedom Summer, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Lowndes County Freedom Organization and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Episode Description
This interview discusses the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
Episode Description
This interview discusses the Mississippi Freedom Summer. Created Date 1986-05-05
Stokely Carmichael was a U.S. civil-rights activist who in the 1960s originated the Black nationalism rallying slogan, “Black power.” Born in Trinidad, he immigrated to New York City in 1952. While attending Howard University, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was jailed for his work with Freedom Riders. He moved away from MLK Jr’s nonviolence approach to self-defense.

Did you know? Stokely Carmichael was only nineteen when he participated in the 1961 Freedom Rides; he became the youngest person imprisoned for his participation after he was arrested while attempting to integrate a “whites only” cafeteria in Jackson, MI.

In 1954, at the age of 13, Stokely Carmichael became a naturalized American citizen and his family moved to a predominantly Italian and Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx called Morris Park. Soon Carmichael became the only Black member of a street gang called the Morris Park Dukes. In 1956, he passed the admissions test to get into the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, where he was introduced to an entirely different social set—the children of New York City’s rich white liberal elite. Carmichael was popular among his new classmates; he attended parties frequently and dated white girls. However, even at that age, he was highly conscious of the racial differences that divided him from his classmates. Carmichael later recalled his high school friendships in harsh terms: “Now that I realize how phony they all were, how I hate myself for it. Being liberal was an intellectual game with these cats. They were still white, and I was Black.”Although he had been aware of the American civil rights movement for years, it was not until one night toward the end of high school, when he saw footage of a sit-in on television, that Carmichael felt compelled to join the struggle. “When I first heard about the Negroes sitting in at lunch counters down South,” he later recalled, “I thought they were just a bunch of publicity hounds. But one night when I saw those young kids on TV, getting back up on the lunch counter stools after being knocked off them, sugar in their eyes, ketchup in their hair—well, something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.” He joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), picketed a Woolworth’s store in New York and traveled to sit-ins in Virginia and South Carolina.

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A stellar student, Carmichael received scholarship offers to a variety of prestigious predominantly white universities after graduating high school in 1960. He chose instead to attend the historically Black Howard University in Washington, D.C. There he majored in philosophy, studying the works of Camus, Sartre and Santayana and considering ways to apply their theoretical frameworks to the issues facing the civil rights movement. At the same time, Carmichael continued to increase his participation in the movement itself. While still a freshman in 1961, he went on his first Freedom Ride—an integrated bus tour through the South to challenge the segregation of interstate travel. During that trip, he was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for entering the “whites only” bus stop waiting room and jailed for 49 days. Undeterred, Carmichael remained actively involved in the civil rights movement throughout his college years, participating in another Freedom Ride in Maryland, a demonstration in Georgia and a hospital workers’ strike in New York. He graduated from Howard University with honors in 1964.
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