Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Say it Loud

This week in 1967, Stokely Carmichael--the renowned civil rights organizer--spoke about "black power" to an audience of 4,000 at Garfield High School in Seattle. At the time--still a year before the assassination of Martin Luther King--the student body at my mother's old alma mater was predominantly black. Years later, Black Student Union leaders at the University of Washington and present day King County political leaders described the experience as having changed the way they looked at themselves and America. One, Larry Gossett, put it thus: "The next morning, people who had gone to hear him thinking themselves Negroes were calling themselves black."

Like most white power institutions of the day, the Seattle School Board had denied Carmichael the use of the Garfield High School auditorium. In the name of free speech, a judge overruled their decision. Carmichael--who'd spent the previous six years with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Freedom Riders challenging Southern segregation--was accustomed to such obstacles and worse.

In Mississippi and Alabama--where he and his compatriots assisted local blacks in voter registration drives and freedom schools--they often had to recruit former veterans for self-defense against armed violence perpetrated by both the Klan and local law enforcement. In an attempt to undermine Carmichael, much hay was made in the white-owned press of this supposed split over nonviolence between SNCC and King's Southern Christian Leadership Council, but truth be told, even King at times kept a handgun handy, and the two leaders in reality continued a close, respectful association throughout the struggle.

Even when a month after the Garfield High speech he became affiliated with the more militant Black Panther Party, Carmichael--who knew black history--retained a credibility with blacks starved for information to make them proud of who they were. For anyone curious about the details of daily life of the times and people involved in black liberation in America, Carmichael's book Ready for Revolution is refreshingly revealing.

[Thanks again to HistoryLink.org for archival support.]


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