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Stokely Carmichael was a Trinidadian-American political activist best known for leading 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.
Watch a short video about Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn how this advocate for peace and equality inherited his name from his father.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is widely considered the most influential leader of the American civil rights movement. He fought to overturn Jim Crow segregation laws and eliminate social and economic differences between blacks and whites.
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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.
"Our grandfathers had to run, run, run. My generation's out of breath. We ain't running no more."
"I knew that I could vote and that that wasn't a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived."
"There has been only a Civil Rights Movement, whose tone of voice was adapted to an audience of liberal whites."
"The first need of a free people is to define their own terms."
Famed civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 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. His 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.''
Though 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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