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Carmichael and the Panthers

In 1966 Stokley Carmichael announced in Mississippi that the civil rights movement had produced "nothing." Tactics by the movement led by Martin Luther King had produced accomplishments that could be pointed to, including the Civil Rights Acts. But Carmichael want more. He attracted the attention of the media with his pronounced difference with the movement that King led. "What we gonna start saying now," he announced, "is Black Power!"

Carmichael had been on the Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961 and imprisoned for it. Among the prisoners he stood out as a result of his wit. Carmichael was becoming accustomed to leadership. He was bright. He had acquired a BA degree in philosophy in 1964 and then turned down a graduate scholarship for Harvard. Outrage had made him intense, and sense of measure and history were other challenges. Carmichael became Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and in 1964 SNCC expelled whites from its organization. Carmichael declared himself a believer in Marxism and revolution. He called himself a Marxist-Leninist. Carmichael went to the Black Panthers, while its leader Huey Newton was in jail, and the Panthers made Carmichael it "Honorary Prime Minister."

Like the Bolshevik's politburo just after the Russian Revolution, Panther leaders were annoying each another. These were young men aggressive in asserting themselves and in taking positions. Carmichael was upset because he wanted classes for educating fellow Panthers – classes on Marxism-Leninism and scientific socialism. "We cannot be running just on instinct," he said. We must "have reasoning." And Carmichael was upset over the Panthers having joined forces with the Peace and Freedom Party – a political party with about 2,000 registered voters in Berkeley and largely white. Carmichael remained opposed to working with whites, while the Panther slogan continued to be white inclusive: "all power to the people" rather than Carmichael's slogan, "Black Power." Bobby Seale and another Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver, described Carmichael as "bourgeois." Carmichael was to describe Cleaver and Seale as stupid and he was to describe himself as less than thrilled by the Panther breakfast program for children. He accused the Panthers of acting more like a "Salvation Army" than revolutionaries. note64

The FBI was watching and feared a merger of SNCC and the Panthers. Carmichael was traveling across the US speaking to students about black power. He lamented the death of Che Guevara, saying that it "places a responsibility all revolutionaries of the World to redouble their decision to the final defeat of Imperialism." note82  The FBI had a counter intelligence program known as "cointelpro" for the purpose of spying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. Applied against the Panters, the FBI surreptitiously planted misinformation about Carmichael. Huey Newton apparently took the bait and suggested that Carmichael was a CIA agent. This is said to have led to Carmichael's break with the Panthers.

In 1968 Carmichael he married the well-known singer from South Africa, Miriam Makeba. They left the US for Guinea in 1969. Carmichael became an aide to the Guinean president Ahmed Sékou Touré, and a student of the exiled former head-of-state of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah (who accused Carmichael of being too talkative). In Africa, Carmichael devoted himself to Pan-Africanism, defined by Nkrumah as "The Liberation and Unification of Africa Under Scientific Socialism."


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