Stokely: A Life

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Overview

Stokely Carmichael, the charismatic and controversial black activist, stepped onto the pages of history when he called for “Black Power” during a speech one Mississippi night in 1966. A firebrand who straddled both the American civil rights and Black Power movements, Carmichael would stand for the rest of his life at the center of the storm he had unleashed that night. In Stokely, preeminent civil rights scholar Peniel E. Joseph presents a groundbreaking biography of Carmichael, using his life as a prism through ...

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Overview

Stokely Carmichael, the charismatic and controversial black activist, stepped onto the pages of history when he called for “Black Power” during a speech one Mississippi night in 1966. A firebrand who straddled both the American civil rights and Black Power movements, Carmichael would stand for the rest of his life at the center of the storm he had unleashed that night. In Stokely, preeminent civil rights scholar Peniel E. Joseph presents a groundbreaking biography of Carmichael, using his life as a prism through which to view the transformative African American freedom struggles of the twentieth century.

During the heroic early years of the civil rights movement, Carmichael and other civil rights activists advocated nonviolent measures, leading sit-ins, demonstrations, and voter registration efforts in the South that culminated with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Still, Carmichael chafed at the slow progress of the civil rights movement and responded with Black Power, a movement that urged blacks to turn the rhetoric of freedom into a reality through whatever means necessary. Marked by the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., a wave of urban race riots, and the rise of the anti-war movement, the late 1960s heralded a dramatic shift in the tone of civil rights. Carmichael became the revolutionary icon for this new racial and political landscape, helping to organize the original Black Panther Party in Alabama and joining the iconic Black Panther Party for Self Defense that would galvanize frustrated African Americans and ignite a backlash among white Americans and the mainstream media. Yet at the age of twenty-seven, Carmichael made the abrupt decision to leave the United States, embracing a pan-African ideology and adopting the name of Kwame Ture, a move that baffled his supporters and made him something of an enigma until his death in 1998.

A nuanced and authoritative portrait, Stokely captures the life of the man whose uncompromising vision defined political radicalism and provoked a national reckoning on race and democracy.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - William Jelani Cobb
…an insightful, highly engaging and fluently written biography…[Carmichael's] life, as this biography so adroitly establishes, is central to understanding the primary lesson of the 1960s for black America. It was the point at which the country came to a moral fork in the road and opted to go straight.
Publishers Weekly
12/23/2013
This stunningly thorough appraisal of this radical activist, 50 years after the "heroic period" of the civil rights movement, is both timely and relevant. Excavating a multifaceted and constantly evolving political personality "poised between Malcolm's sword and Martin's shield," Tufts Univ. professor of history Joseph presents an analysis of Carmichael's lifelong international political career. Citing a wealth of primary material, especially speeches and essays, and with an eye for detail that uses specifics such as fashion choices to paint a nuanced image of his public persona, Joseph explores how Carmichael thought and how he was perceived in each moment of his philosophical evolution. He is particularly interested in restoring the memory of Carmichael as a master speaker, a "professorial rhetorician" and "public intellectual," in addition to the "symbol of defiance" that popularized Black Power. Amid Carmichael's career of public action, his personal life seems nearly nonexistent, referenced only rarely, in connection to his marriage to singer Miriam Makeba. Still, his personality remains in focus throughout, even among the panoramic wealth of contextual historical information, a quality that recalls his own "rock star" ability to command attention throughout his life. It's not casual armchair reading, but should surely be considered required material for a fuller understanding of a critical, and ongoing, American struggle. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
New York Times Book Review
“An insightful, highly engaging and fluently written biography”

Washington Post
“Joseph’s account of Carmichael’s life is well-written and well-researched, providing persuasive explanations for his appeal…Joseph’s biography fills a huge void and is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature on the civil rights movement.”

Boston Globe
“This is at its heart a book of ideas — ideas about power, freedom, and identity — and of a life, the author writes, that ‘took shape against the backdrop of a domestic war for America’s very soul.’”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Mr. Joseph’s detail rich biography delves into the life of a political activist turned icon while not forgetting to show us his human side.”

Post & Courier
“A thorough and engaging account of one of the most important figures of the civil rights movement. Stokely achieves its primary goal of restoring Carmichael to his rightful place in the pantheon of influential Americans…Offers delicious details, thoughtful analysis and a good amount of drama concerning this enigmatic figure…Joseph’s landmark book is the best portrait yet of this important, complicated man and the America he so wanted to love but could not.”

Daily Beast
“An unflinching look at an unflinching man.”

Counter-Punch
“Peniel E. Joseph’s newly published biography of Black liberation activist Stokely Carmichael not only takes its rightful place next to Taylor Branch’s epic trilogy The King Years, but also to one of the most powerful autobiographies by any American: Stokely Carmichael’s own Ready For Revolution…. Stokely: A Life is a quality read. By highlighting the life of one of the US civil rights/black liberation most important organizers and thinkers, Peniel E. Joseph has done a great service to history and to the people Stokely fought for. Furthermore, Peniel’s text has lifted Carmichael out of an obscurity he not only didn’t deserve, but which also prevented a more complete understanding of a man who, with Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., deserves to be recognized as one of the great leaders of one of the greatest grassroots movements for liberation in history: the Black freedom struggle in the United States.”

Afro-American
“Meticulously-researched and painstakingly-detailed, Stokely: A Life is a fast-flowing, informative read which intimately follows its subject from the cradle to the grave in absorbing fashion. In the process, this powerful portrait effectively re-positions him as an uncompromising prophet who played a pivotal role in the struggle for black equality.”

Amsterdam News
“A thought-provoking biography… a brilliant bio with plenty of brio”

Publishers Weekly
“This stunningly thorough appraisal of this radical activist, 50 years after the ‘heroic period’ of the civil rights movement, is both timely and relevant….should surely be considered required material for a fuller understanding of a critical, and ongoing, American struggle.”

Kirkus
“Joseph showcases the brilliance of the man, his exceptional ideals and his pursuit of an equality that was years ahead of his time.”

Booklist
“A…nuanced portrait of this activist, who started as a community organizer fighting for and with the underclass and who jolted the racist core of the American consciousness.”

John Stauffer, author of Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln
“Peniel Joseph, the preeminent scholar of Black Power studies, has written the definitive biography of Stokely Carmichael, one of the most important figures of the post-World War II era. Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, Joseph’s nuanced biography reveals the crucial interconnections between militants and moderates, nationalists and integrationists, with Stokely emerging as an essential leader of the civil rights movement.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Peniel Joseph's vivid portrait of the charismatic man who coined the term 'Black Power' is not only a masterful biography of one of the leading black radical heirs to Malcolm X, it is also a compelling 'biography' of the final phase of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth and demise of the Black Power Era. Joseph brings to his subject his characteristically careful research and a wonderful capacity to weave a gripping tale. His biography will restore Stokely Carmichael to his rightful place as a major leader of two movements in the history of the African American's struggle for equal rights."

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
"With Stokely: A LifeA, Peniel Joseph has produced a thoroughly impressive volume on the life and legacy of Stokely Carmichael, an often under-appreciated and poorly understood giant of the civil rights movement and African American history. Joseph's book is richly researched, masterfully executed, beautifully written, and will surely work as a vital testament to confirm the place of Kwame Ture, aka Stokely Carmichael, as one of the most powerful voices we have ever produced.”

Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North
“Stokely Carmichael made his name with a two word proclamation: ‘Black Power.’ In this compelling narrative, Peniel Joseph, the leading historian of the black power movement, reconstructs Stokely Carmichael’s influential life from his childhood in Trinidad to his involvement in the Freedom Rides and SNCC to his role in the rise of the Black Panthers to his last days as a radical internationalist in Guinea, grappling with the politics of race and resistance, the promise and limits of black radicalism, and the temptations of celebrity. This book belongs on a short shelf of must-read biographies of the era.”

Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
“When Kwame Ture died in 1998, the New York Times obituary identified him as the ‘Rights Leader Who Coined “Black Power,”’ effectively reducing the most revolutionary voice in the Civil Rights movement to slogan. Peniel Joseph changes all that with this richly documented political and intellectual biography. Without polemics or apologetics, Joseph brings Ture’s radical ideas into clear focus—from his Pan-African socialist vision and his critique of empire to his unwavering commitment to mass-based revolution.”

Diane McWhorter, author of Carry Me Home
“Peniel Joseph is a first-rate historian, and Stokely is an original rendering of civil rights history as much as a biography of one of the Movement’s most thrilling avatars. Through astounding research, vigorous prose, and just the right balance of sympathetic detachment, Joseph makes an lucid and absorbing case for why Stokely matters.”

Michael Eric Dyson, author of April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death and How it Changed America
Stokely: A Life is a magisterial biography of one of the most important figures in the history of the black freedom struggle in America. Peniel Joseph paints a vibrant and sweeping portrait of the times that shaped Stokely Carmichael, and in turn, portrays how Carmichael impacted his age with imaginative social activism and provocative ideas. By tracing Carmichael's ascent through the ranks of black resistance to the front ranks of the struggle for "Black Power" — the slogan he immortalized — Joseph wields his poetic pen to tell a riveting story of a generation hungry for affirmation and influence beyond the outlines of nonviolent protest. If Martin was the King of civil disobedience, then Carmichael was the Prince of black revolution, and Stokely is the brilliant chronicle of his complicated and remarkable reign during tempestuous times.”

Gerald Horne, John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies, University of Houston
"Peniel Joseph long has been acknowledged as our premier interpreter of Black Power. And now with the publication of this magisterial book— this exceedingly thoughtful and beautifully written study—Peniel Joseph has been catapulted into the front ranks of historians of Black America."

Tom Hayden, Director, Peace and Justice Resource Center
"Peniel Joseph has delivered a masterwork for generations to come. Without making the rough edges smooth, Joseph captures the essence of why Stokely Carmichael was the voice who aroused a voiceless generation, the wretched of the earth. We who knew the real Stokely in the many phases of his life always loved him, learned from him, laughed at his wisecracks, and were awed by his risk-taking and courage. He opened our dying culture to new possibilities of freedom."

David Levering Lewis, author of King: A Biography, emeritus professor of history at NYU
“Peniel Joseph's biography is a triumph of research and a gift of good writing. It captures the bolt of lightning that was Stokely Carmichael as it shattered the nonviolent consensus of the civil rights movement and left in its electrified wake the disconcerting mystique of Black Power and the romantic appeal of Pan Africanism.”

Cornel West
“Peniel Joseph’s marvelous book lays bare a fundamental truth—that Stokely Carmichael’s profound love affair with Black people made him one of the great revolutionary figures of the twentieth century. In the age of Obama, Joseph brilliantly reminds us what a deep commitment to fundamental change really means in the prophetic witness and sacrificial life of Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).”

Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, and author of Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama
“Peniel Joseph has succeeded in bringing Stokely Carmichael back to life. Stokely transports the reader on an insightful and entertaining journey through postwar New York City, the Civil Rights Movement, and the late Cold War years in the United States and Africa. This is the history of a remarkable individual who embodied many of the tumultuous changes occurring around him. The powerful accomplishments and lingering disappointments of racial reform are elucidated in this beautifully written and deeply researched biography. Anyone interested in recent history should read this path-breaking book.”

Ira Katznelson, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
“By tracing the life and work of a brilliant and charismatic soldier for racial change, this beautifully realized biography opens windows into the complex and often vexed ideas, strategies, and contributions of Black Power. As a result, we now possess a richer understanding of how leadership and movement insurgency helped remake modern America under conditions of deep racism and wartime violence, and of how American insurgencies came to possess a global imagination.”

Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-14
Joseph (History/Tufts Univ.; Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, 2010, etc.) introduces a Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998) few white people ever knew in the 1960s, a man who dared to speak truth to power. "Before leaving America," writes the author, "Stokely reigned as Black Power's glamorous enfant terrible: telegenic, brash, equal parts angry and gregarious…a ‘hipster hero' whose easy grace allowed him to consort effortlessly with both the dignified and the damned." A brilliant student and forceful, persuasive speaker, Carmichael spent his college summers working to "change the world." He began working for civil rights as a student at historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1961 and never stopped. Close to Martin Luther King Jr. and many other significant civil rights leaders, he devoted himself to more than civil rights. He developed into a true idealist, seeking more than just voting rights; he wanted equality and not just for blacks. Carmichael knew that blacks were not the only suppressed group in America, and he welcomed whites and minorities of all kinds to work for self-determination. The author mentions that women were not a large part of the movement but goes on to name many, like Septima Clark--often considered the grandmother of the civil rights movement--whose influence was known only to insiders. Reform was never enough for Carmichael; he was fighting the systemic phenomenon of institutional racism. As he grew, he sought a radical democracy, rejecting communism and socialism since they only addressed class differences, not racism. This is a man who stood out in the civil rights movement, the man who defined Black Power and whose quest for Pan-African democracy led him to express radical ideas that successfully frightened the powers that be. Joseph showcases the brilliance of the man, his exceptional ideals and his pursuit of an equality that was years ahead of his time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013630
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Pages: 424
  • Sales rank: 87,780
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

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  • Posted March 16, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    No One is Free When Others are Oppressed Stokely Carmichael was

    No One is Free When Others are Oppressed
    Stokely Carmichael was an exceptional leader and thinker. He wrote Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, which is next on my reading list. In this great biography by Professor Joseph of Tufts, the story of his passion for civil rights is told from the time that he was a student at Howard University in 1961 and into the 90s. He developed into a true idealist who sought more than voting rights for blacks but equality for all people. It really takes my breath away when I think what a different world this was just 60 years ago. Great book!

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