Religion & Politics

Profiles in Black History: Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael)

Written by Sean P. McKelvey

Last week I wrote about Bayard Rustin; an essential figure in the civil rights movement, who seems basically left behind and forgotten by our history books. Unfortunately, there are a whole slew of activists that were instrumental in ushering necessary change into American society – when it needed it most – that are strangely (and suspiciously, may I add) left out of our history books. This week, I want to place a special spotlight on Kwame Ture aka Stokely Carmichael; another shining example of someone incredibly important yet seemingly left out of history, altogether.

Kwame Ture was born Stokely Carmichael in Trinidad in 1941. He moved and resided in the United States of America from the age of 11 until his eventual exile from the states, which came later in his life. He was exiled after years of activism and academic critique of the U.S. American system that still greatly oppressed himself and basically, any and all other members of his race, at the time, anyway. Stokely Carmichael, was a very passionate and intelligent civil rights activist, who took a more controversial stance than other groups. He was certainly more in line with the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, when he said; “By any means necessary…” than others touting the idea of complete nonviolence, and simply turning the other cheek, so to speak. He was also instrumental in popularizing the Black Power movement, domestically, here in the United States. He was a vehement anti-imperialist who was also a prominent figure globally in the Pan-African movement.

He began developing the Black Power movement, and while he led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he continued developing and spreading the ideals of the Black Power movement as “Honorary Prime Minister,” of the Black Panther Party. He also led the All African People’s Revolutionary Party. Ture was involved with and in the Freedom Rides – working tirelessly with the aforementioned organizations – spending countless hours organizing, lecturing, writing, and protesting for civil rights over the course of his life.

All of that activism, unsurprisingly, made him a great target for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI at the time; whom had also targeted Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and countless others in the movement, in this period of time. The COINTELPRO program was one the FBI had developed, at that time, to specifically target what they (typically, wrongfully) considered potentially “problematic” public figures, especially in the civil rights movement. One of the techniques used by COINTELPRO was called “bad-jacketing;” which was spreading disinformation campaigns amongst an organization, about an individual within the organization; specifically to falsely turn that organization against that individual. The FBI spread a disinformation campaign amongst the Black Panther Party that painted Ture as an FBI informant or snitch. This was shortly after he had been named the party’s “Honorary Prime Minister.” Hoover and the FBI targeted especially him, because they believed after Malcolm X’s assassination, he would be the next “black Messiah.” He ended up fleeing to Ghana to escape the FBI’s persecution of him; so he was really, de facto, exiled. He was also placed under CIA surveillance for years after leaving the States as a 2007, a declassified document stated.

After fleeing the US, he became the aide to the Guinean president Ahmed Sekou Toure, and was a student of Ghana’s exiled president Kwame Nkrumah (this is where he took the name Kwame Ture, as a way to honor the two African leaders). He continued writing, lecturing and traveling for years. He remained very active in activism in Africa and throughout the world, until his death in 1998. This is just a quick overview of the man’s life and achievements; there is so much more. I could spend pages writing about it; definitely worth looking up, if this article has interested you at all.