Best Known For
Stokely Carmichael was a Trinidadian-American political activist, best known as the leader of the civil rights group SNCC in the 1960s.
Political Activism in Harlem (2:14)
Watch a speech given by civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael in Greenwood, Mississippi on March 12, 1964 for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, discusses famous figures who contributed to the history of political activism in Harlem.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Stokely Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on June 29, 1941. Carmichael rose to prominence as a member and later the chairman of SNCC, working with Martin Luther King Jr. and other Southern leaders to stage protests. Carmichael later lost faith in the tactic of non-violence, promoting "Black Power" and allying himself with the militant Black Panther Party.
Civil rights leader. Born June 29, 1941 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Carmichael's parents immigrated to New York when he was a toddler, leaving him in the care of his grandmother until the age of 11, when he followed his parents to the United States. Carmichael's mother, Mabel, was a stewardess for a steamship line, and his father, Adolphus, worked as a carpenter by day and a taxi driver by night. An industrious and optimistic immigrant, Adolphus Carmichael chased a version of the American dream that his son would later criticize as an instrument of racist economic oppression. As Stokely Carmichael later said, "My old man believed in this work-and-overcome stuff. He was religious, never lied, never cheated or stole. He did carpentry all day and drove taxis all night& The next thing that came to that poor black man was death—from working too hard. And he was only in his 40s."
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.
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.
Visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a leading research institute for the history and culture of people of African descent.
Learn more about the lives of African-Americans who have made extraordinary achievements in their fields, with our collection of Black History Groups.
Explore our curated collections of African-American figures, including:
Flip through these photos of some of Black History's most important, controversial and inspiring figures. Check out our African-American Firsts - Athletes, Black Comedians, Million-Dollar Ideas, African-American Biopics, African-American Expats, or explore all of our Black History photos.
Celebrate the historical icons of America's black community through this interactive journey.
- Apollo Theater Interactive Tour
- Apollo Theater Timeline
- Path to Equality
- Who Am I Game
- Harlem Renaissance