Stokely Carmichael was born in Trinidad and Tobago on June 29, 1941, attending school there before moving to New York City at the age of 11. He attended the elite Bronx High School of Science, where he excelled.
After graduating from Bronx, he enrolled at Howard, where he met and learned from excellent professors and scholars such as Toni Morrison, Nathan Hare, and Sterling Brown. His apartment was a hub for the Howard and DC activist community, and he graduated in 1964 with a B.A. in Philosophy.
While at university, he worked with the Nonviolent Action Group and took part in the famous Freedom Rides. He was arrested several dozen times for this activist work and served time in the notoriously brutal Parchman Farm prison in Mississippi, where he became known as a witty and dedicated leader. He endured terrible tortures and brutality while incarcerated at Parchman, with the warden turning the temperature down to just above freezing and making the prisoners strip off all their clothing at night.
In 1964, Carmichael became a full-time organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), working under Bob Moses in Greenwood, Mississippi, on the Voting Rights campaign. He became disillusioned with the Democratic Party process after the Democratic National Convention later that year; Fannie Lou Hamer, along with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation she headed, were refused voting rights at the convention.
In 1965, he worked to organize the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) in Lowndes County, Alabama. The group was notorious for its use of a black Panther to counter the image of a white rooster used by the Jim Crow Democratic Party, which refused to allow blacks to vote or run for office.
Carmichael became chairman of the SNCC in 1966, moving it in a more militant direction and coining the term “Black Power” during the March Against Fear in Mississippi after being released from jail in Greenwood. This Black Power concept would give voice to millions of disenfranchised urban black youth and inspire the creation of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California.
Under Carmichael’s leadership, the SNCC also developed ties to the nascent anti-war movement, with him making frequent use of the “Hell no, we won’t go” anti-draft chant. Carmichael eventually accepted the role of “honorary prime minister” in the Black Panther Party, traveling around the world on their behalf and spreading the Black Power theory.
However, in 1968, he found himself a victim of a successful FBI COINTELPRO operation, which resulted in his formal expulsion from the SNCC and alienation between him and the Black Panther Party, with Huey P. Newton calling him a CIA agent.
He left the country, moved to Guinea, changed his name to Kwame Touré, and became deeply involved in the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). He remained a highly demanded speaker, freedom fighter, and lecturer until his death in 1998 from prostate cancer.