Stokely: A Life

Stokely: A Life

by Peniel E. Joseph
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Stokely: A Life by Peniel E. Joseph


Stokely Carmichael, a charismatic and controversial black activist, stepped into the pages of history when he called for “Black Power” one humid Mississippi night in 1966, at a speech during the March Against Fear. Carmichael’s life changed that day, and so did America’s civil rights movement. “Black Power” became the slogan of an era, and provoked a national reckoning on questions of civil rights, race, and democracy. A firebrand who straddled both the American civil rights and Black Power movements, who had been nurtured by civil rights leaders and radicalized by the brutality of white America, Carmichael would stand for the rest of his life at the center of the storm he had unleashed that night. In Stokely, preeminent Black Power scholar Peniel E. Joseph presents a groundbreaking biography of Carmichael, using his life as a prism through which to view the African American freedom struggles that transformed the twentieth century.

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Carmichael immigrated to the United States in 1952 and settled in Harlem. He came of age in a nation ruled by Jim Crow, and his understanding of racial identity was indelibly marked by America’s system of segregation. As a Howard University student, Carmichael helped dismantle Jim Crow by organizing sit-ins, demonstrations, and voter registration efforts in the South during the civil rights movement’s heroic years, the decade between the 1954 Brown Supreme Court desegregation decision and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The turbulent years that followed—which saw the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and witnessed urban race riots and the rise of the anti-war movement—radicalized a generation of young Americans, and Carmichael became the revolutionary icon for this new racial and political landscape.

Carmichael was a popular and polarizing leader for black America, equally capable of inspiring crowds and profoundly disappointing his most ardent admirers. Carmichael’s very name became shorthand for what his supporters viewed as an uncompromising commitment to revolutionary politics and what his critics decried as rhetorical excess that, in time, triggered an epidemic of urban violence. Yet Carmichael risked his own life countless times, whether helping to organize the original Black Panther Party in rural Alabama or heading 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. And despite his rejection of nonviolence, Carmichael had a close relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr, who had served as Carmichael’s mentor during his entrée into the civil rights movement. Hailed as Malcolm X’s heir at the age of twenty-five, at thirty 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 and alienated many of his allies in the U.S. By the time of his premature death from prostate cancer in 1998, Carmichael had become something of an enigma, a symbol of both the idealism of the 1960s and of the dangerous turn toward extremism that the nation had taken midway through the decade.

In Stokely, Joseph captures this complicated, arresting personality, showing how Carmichael’s passion for equality and justice forever reshaped race relations in the US. Using new and revealing information, including the FBI’s 20,000-page file on Carmichael, Joseph reintroduces the seminal figure whose dramatic life provides the key to understanding the nation’s transition from civil rights to Black Power.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465013630
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Pages: 424
Sales rank: 1,241,860
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author


Peniel E. Joseph is a professor of history and the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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Stokely: A Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
A_Sloan More than 1 year ago
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!