Saturday, November 22, 2003

In the eyes of many civil rights activists, especially white liberals, it was Carmichael more than anyone who contributed to the dissolution of the grand alliance--civil rights Negroes, labor, church, liberals and the Democratic Party--that sent the movement crashing into Black Power, thereby provoking white backlash. But for others, like Carmichael himself and many blacks of that era, it was time for "black liberation" and not token integration.

For better or for worse, Carmichael's legacy is primarily associated with that Molotov cocktail phrase....

Born in 1941 to working-class, West Indian parents (father a carpenter, mother a seamstress) who hailed from Trinidad and moved to New York, Carmichael was a nonnative American citizen, an outsider in his adoptive home. Yet as a son of the African diaspora he was also a part of a tradition to which Afro-Caribbeans had contributed mightily, the tradition of black radicalism that also numbered men like Marcus Garvey, C.L.R. James, George Padmore, Martinique's Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, Puerto Rico's Arturo Schomburg and women like Malcolm X's mother, who was also a West Indian. Unlike segregated African-Americans, Caribbeans like Carmichael's parents had grown up in majority-black countries where they hadn't been totally indoctrinated into accepting a subservient position. Although most of the British Caribbean world would not be decolonized until the 1960s, Afro-Caribbeans, as British subjects, were used to running at least some aspects of their own show. They had had, in other words, a taste of power.

-- From Norman Kelley's review, in the December 8 Nation, of Ready for Revolution, the just-published autobiography of the late Stokely Carmichael, a.k.a. Kwame Ture.

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