An Essential Text
The Evolution of Kwame Toure
For most people, the name Stokely Carmichael evokes memories of the US Civil Rights movement, which was the dominant event in America during the 1960’s, and Stokely was a major figure in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. SNCC was the most important youth organization in the Movement for Civil Rights in America. Stokely was a founder of the organization, which organized the most oppressed sector of Black America in the deep South to exercise their right to vote, hold public office, and fully exercise their rights as American citizens.
Which in practice meant to resist all the restrictions of “Segregation,” a legal system of caste oppression based on skin color that prevailed throughout the American South at the time. It was a system enforced by naked violence, legal and extra-legal, which is to say violence was inflicted upon Afro-Americans by white police and the armed white citizenry. Stokely was right on the forefront of this perilous struggle, fearlessly placing himself in harm’s way repeatedly to help empower our oppressed people in the deepest south. Many of whom were living in rural areas, which was still dominated by a plantation economy and black folk who were tied to this land through the share cropping or crop lien systems, which some observers have rightly called “Neo-Slavery.”
It was in the fight against this system of naked white power that Stokely coined the term “Black Power,” which threw millions of white Americans into a state of hysteria reminiscent of the madness we are witnessing around the movement to ban “Critical Race Theory.” Which is much ado about nothing, since there is zero chance that this sophisticated legal theory, first introduced at the Harvard Law School by Professor Derek Bell and developed by the brilliant legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, will ever be taught in the public schools. But that is a subject that I will address in another essay.
Not only did Stokely coin the phrase “Black Power,” but he was a founder of the original “Black Panther Party,” which began as a regular political party in Lowndes County Alabama – made famous by the Selma campaign of “Dr. King” and as the hometown of Coretta. However, this marked the beginning of Stokely’s evolution from a civil rights activists fighting racism in America, to a Pan-African revolutionary seeking the liberation of black people everywhere from white oppression. A socio-political system that he began to recognize was universal: Segregation in America, Apartheid in South Africa, and European Colonialism in African and his native Caribbean was the same class of phenomena.
Stokely would later immigrate to Africa, in the tradition of his magnificent Trinidadian forefathers – H. Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, and CLR James – the founders, along with Dr. WEB DuBois, of the Pan-African movement. Out of which grew the leaders that successfully led the first movements for African independence. There he joined the struggle for the complete liberation and development of Africa. And as part of his Africanization process, he married an African woman, the beautiful South African singer/activist Merriam Makeba. They became the perfect symbol of Pan-Africanism. Stokely chose Guinea because it was the best example of Pan-Africanism at work. Guinea’s leader, Sekou Touré, was one of the most remarkable political figures of the 20th century.
When Kwame Nkrumah – a philosopher/politician who led the first black African nation to independence and became its President – was overthrown in a CIA instigated military coup while visiting China, Seku Touré made him a co-president of Guinea! An uncompromising nationalist, when Charles de Gaulle, head of the French Colonialist government, offered the African colonies a choice of Complete independence or membership in an overseas French community, Sekou was the only political leader of a French African colony to choose Independence! Stokely was accepted and mentored by them, and in a show of deep gratitude he changed his name from Stokely to “ Kwame-Touré”
The remarkable story of Stokely’s rise from a straight arrow West Indian youth laser focused on becoming a medical doctor to the extent that he wore a white doctor’s frock around campus as a freshman, to a revolutionary Black Nationalist freedom fighter, is marvelously told in his Autobiography “Ready for Revolution.” It is a rare view of the global black struggle told from the perspective of an eyewitness. I wrote the “AFTERWORD, “a historical essay titled “In the Tradition.” The essay places Stokely/Kwame and this book within the tradition of Pan-Africanism from its birth at the dawn of the 20th century. And the “African Redemptionist” movement that extends from the early 19th century.
The story is told by two of the most consequential actors in that struggle: Stokely Carmichael and Ekwueme Mike Thelwell, two brothers from the West Indies – Trinidad and Jamaica- who immigrated to the US and made a MIGHTY contribution to our struggle. A story that only a GREAT writer like Mike could tell: A novelist, essayist, brilliant critic, Professor of comparative literature, and Founding Chairman of the WEB DuBois Department of Black Studies at U-Mass Amherst. Furthermore, like Stokely, Mike was one of the most effective organizers of SNCC in the Deep south. which he chronicled in award winning fiction a reportage. His essay “Fish Are Jumpin and Cotten is High: Notes from the Mississippi Delta,” was roundly praised by the famous white southern writer Robert Penn Warren, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Mike participated in the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which preceded that Black Panther Party, and catapulted grass roots black Mississippians like Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, a former cotton picker, to international fame. Even Muhammad Ali considered it an honor to meet her. It was Mike that recruited me to Amherst, where I became a founding member of the first degree granting Black Studies Department in the World 53 years ago.
Kwame Toure and Ekuwame Michael Thelwell
My essay, which are the final words in “Ready for Revolution,” recounts how that I spent Stokely’s last night in America at his bedside, along with a small group of old comrades, as he lay in bed propped up on pillows, his warrior spirit undaunted, as he lay dying of prostate cancer. We smoked wisdom weed and jovially swapped war stories from the struggles of the 1960’s that had transformed America. And even on his death bed, when he could hardly sit upright- attended to by a team of five brilliant black women physicians from Africa and the Americas headed by Dr. Barbra Justice – he boldly answered his phone:” READY FOR REVOLUTION!” I paint the picture of this indefatigable Pan-African soldier as best I can with words, as inadequate as they are to this moment, but that is how the indomitable warrior preferred it.
The next morning our Dear Brother/Comrade caught a flight and returned to Guinea, where he danced and joined the Ancestors in the Motherland. He was one of the tallest trees in our forest! THIS is the model of manhood our young Brothers desperately need today! And the fact that this heroic model has been replaced by a bunch of badly dressed, gold chain wearing, gold tooth flashing, hedonistic fools spouting vulgar materialist, nihilistic, bullshit to the masses of our youth, is the grand tragedy we now face. AND TEACHING THE HISTORY OF OUR HEROES AND SHEROES IS THE INDISPENSABLE TOOL IN THIS STRUGGLE!!!!
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 1, 2023