Stokely Carmichael was a significant Trinidadian-American figure during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the global Pan-African movement in which he actively participated. With time he gained prominence as a black leader as he led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served at the Black Panther Party as Honorary Prime Minister. Eventually, he was rendered the leader of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.
Born on June 29, 1941 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Carmichael also known as Kwame Touré, moved to Harlem, New York to meet his parents. When he was two years old, they left him with his grandmother and immigrated to America. In Trinidad he was sent to Tranquility School. Being from the working class family, his father was a carpenter and taxi driver, and mother, stewardess for a steamship line. Later the family moved to Van Nest neighborhood in the East Bronx. There Carmichael attended an elite Bronx High School of Science. The school was very selective with its students and only admitted those with outstanding academic performance.
Upon graduation, he went on to enroll himself at Howard University, Washington, D.C. It was a historical African American education institute. He studied under the supervision of renowned scholars, including Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, Nathan Hare and Sterling Brown. In 1964, he graduated from Howard with a degree in philosophy. His remarkable academic achievement earned him a full graduation program scholarship offer from Harvard University but he refused.
During his years at Howard, Carmichael joined the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG). With his Jewish friend and civil-right activist Tom Kahn, they funded the gatherings that held at his apartment in which the fellow activists shared their political enthusiasm for human rights. Kahn also introduced him to a well-known African-American leader, Bayard Rustin. Inspired by the talk during these gatherings, Stokely Carmichael found himself more closely involved in the Civil Rights Movement. After months of sit-ins, gatherings and discussions, the young activists took things into hands when he took part in the Freedom Rides of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to desegregate the bus station restaurants. Such participations usually resulted in landing him a spot in jail. The frequency of arrests went as far as 30 times.
He was arrested on minor actions, such as boarding a ‘white’ train from New Orleans to Mississippi, entering a white cafeteria. After being charged for disturbing the peace, Carmichael and his fellow activists were arrested. He was the youngest detainee at the Parchman State Prison Farm. Living up to the expectations, the Southerners treated Carmichael and his fellow black prisoners quite badly. He recounted once that as if the sheriff was scared of them, he would drop the temperature of the cell as low as 38 degree by opening up windows and turning on all the fans and air conditioners around. Despite the worse treatment, he kept the morale up of his people in jail.
He joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and in 1964 became its full-time field organizer. He worked with grassroots African-American activists and organized protests. In one of the protests, he was directly targeted with a chemical gas attack by the National Guard and was hospitalized. Subsequently, he took up the duties of project director for the 2nd Congressional district. Years of services in the civil rights organizations left him with utter disappointment in American political system. However, Stokely Carmichael kept up his hard work and it all paid off when he became a leader of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party to champion the rights of African-Americans.