Ready for Revolution: Autobiography of Stokely Carmichael

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



The Struggle for Black History

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

 Correcting the Master Narrative of America

“If you lie about anybody’s history you must lie about it all…

Which means If I am not what I have been told I am

You are not what you have been told you are either”

James Baldwin

Although most Americans appear oblivious or indifferent to it, February is Black History Month.  In black communities all across the nation it is a time for celebrating the struggles and achievements of our great ancestors.  It began as “Negro History Week,” when it was established by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 – during the cultural revivalist movement known as “The Harlem Renaissance” – and later extended to Black History Month during the turbulent anti-racist struggles of the 1960’s.   Dr. Woodson, who held a PhD in history from Harvard, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 – a period when the public crucifixion of Afro-Americans called “lynching” had averaged three a day since 1882 – in an effort to rescue black people from extinction in America.

Like the great Civil Rights/labor leader A. Phillip Randolph, a founder of the Brotherhood of sleeping Car Porters, Dr. Woodson believed this effort at racial uplift should be financed by Afro-Americans themselves.  Hence, rather than seek grants from white controlled government or private agencies and organizations, Woodson sold memberships to the Association. As a return on their investment members received the Negro History Bulletin, a publication of the ASNLH that presented fascinating facts about the accomplishments of their race.  Black people of all nationalities and classes bought memberships; it was a model of successful academic entrepreneurship rarely. if ever, equaled by a project in the humanities.  Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates’s Encarta Africana project may be the exception, but his project was financed by a corporate partnership not black community financing.

A voluntary group of professional scholars – black and white – the ASNLH is dedicated to excavating and publishing the history black people, employing state of the art research methods.  In 1916, only a year after founding the Association, Dr. Woodson established the Journal of Negro History, to publish the findings of the new historians he was training for peer review and public consumption.  To understand the enormous importance of Dr. Woodson’s efforts, it is enough to point out that all of the great Afro-American historians who emerged in the first half of the 20th century studied with him.  Among these are the distinguished historians Rayford Logan and John Hope Franklin, both like Woodson, holders of the Harvard PhD in history.  Dr. John Hope Franklin has evaluated Woodson’s contribution in “The Place of Carter G. Woodson in American Historiography.”

Dr. WEB DuBois, the first Afro-American to earn a PhD from Harvard in 1895, and in 1896 Harvard published his thesis “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade.” The first scientific historical study of Afro-Americans, spoke of Woodson in heroic terms.

“Woodson literally made this country, which has only the slightest respect for people of color, recognize and celebrate each year, a week in which it studied the effect which the American Negro has upon the life, thought and action in the United States.  I know of no one who in a lifetime has, unaided, built up such a national celebration.”

A more expansive view of Dr. Woodson, and what Dr. Dubois thought of him can be found in “Reconsidering the Souls of Black Folk,” a book of two interpretive essays on Dr. DuBois by Stanley Crouch and the present writer.

Yet it is quite enough to say that Dr. Woodson dedicated his life and career to setting the historical record straight regarding the contribution of black folks to American civilization because he was convinced that their survival in the US depended upon it. Looking around the world Woodson witnessed the destruction of Native Americans; the growing extinction of the Australian Aborigines; the Maori people of New Zealand; and the atrocities of the Belgium King Leopold II in the Congo.

Leopold’s crimes so outraged the great white American writer. Mark Twain, that he moved to denounce the Belgium King and catalogued his horrendous crimes in “The Soliloquy of King Leopold.”  These events convinced Woodson of the gravitas and urgency of his historical project, because he was convinced that western nations that considered themselves “civilized” were quite willing tolerate genocide against peoples they considered sub-human and thus expendable in the advance of western civilization.  The native “American Indian” offered a home grow example of the fate that could befall Afro-Americans.

Although the world has turned upside down in the century that has passed since Dr. Woodson founded the ASNLH, I believe those who argue that Black History Month celebrations is an anachronism, a relic from a bye gone era that has outlived its usefulness in a nation that has elected an African American president twice, are tragically mistaken.  As I write there are attempts to scrub the historical record of shameful facts about America’s bloody history of racial oppression and genocide led by politicians in several states: Arizona, Virginia, Texas, et. al.

This is no picayune matter; it is an organized effort to suppress information that contradicts a master narrative that portrays American civilization as the “essential nation” the “shining city on the hill,” founded on the principle that “all men are created equal,” and has always promoted “liberty and Justice for all.”  Since it is these claims upon which the “American Exceptionalists” base their vision of the world, any counter-narrative which contradicts that vision must be denied – no matter what the facts say.

This is why the struggle to teach black history – without which there can be no valid “American” history – must continue. And Black History Month is the most powerful vehicle for raising the consciousness of the nation on the need to take a candid look at itself..  For as the Harvard philosopher George Santayana warned: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Black History Month, 2018