By the mid-sixties, the civil rights movement showed signs of change as a younger, more radical base emerged. This week in 1966, Stokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, assumed the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and shifted the group from its earlier ideology of nonviolence and racial inclusion.
Carmichael, then 24, was elected to the post on May 14, 1966 although some records show the date as May 16. John Lewis served as the SNCC chairman prior to his ouster by vote, and Carmichael immediately began changing things to placate younger activists. Carmichael, a member of the SNCC since 1964 was finding that becoming its leader was a challenging responsibility. Two weeks into his tenure, he was severely tested by tragedy.
James Meredith, the first Black student admitted into the University of Mississippi, organized the June 6 “March Against Fear” to protest racial injustice. The 19-day march began in Memphis, Tennessee, ending in Jackson, Mississippi. On the second day of the march, Meredith was shot by a white sniper.
Carmichael joined Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others to complete the march in Meredith’s stead. After being arrested in Greenwood, Mississippi and released, Carmichael delivered a speech that evening where he first used the term “Black Power” a pro-Black ideology intended to dismantle racist institutions, later covered in his book of the same title. Carmichael stepped down from his chairman post in May 1967, making way for H. Rap Brown to take over in the role.
Although Carmichael was not on the same page with SNCC’s original mission, he remained with the group until 1968 when he was expelled. He would not publicly discuss the decision, although the group suggested that he was engaged in a power struggle and failed to keep them informed of his personal life and activities.
That same year, he joined the Black Panther Party. The union with the Panthers was short-lived as Carmichael became a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO surveillance program and was accused of being a CIA plant by Huey P. Newton. Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture and married South African singer Miriam Makeba.
The union ended in divorce, but Carmichael remained in the African country of Guinea until his death in 1998 of prostate cancer. He was 57.
PHOTO: Getty Images
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