1966 — SDS hosts a"Black Power" rally in UC Berkeley's Greek Theater, featuring Stokely Carmichael and other civil rights activists
The Greek Theatre Rally and Stokely Carmichael
On October 29, 1966 a rally entitled "Black Power And Its Challenges" was held in UC Berkeley's Greek Theatre, sponsored by the campus chapter of the Students For a Democratic Society (SDS). It is estimated than 14,000 people, mostly students, faculty and staff attended. The big draw was that advocates of a "Black Power" movement would speak about this new and significant shift in direction for portions of the wider civil rights movement. Stokely Carmichael was the featured speaker, and he delivered an hour-long speech that emphasized the need for blacks-only, militant, armed resistance to police brutality and other forms of institutional racism.
Stokely Carmichael's relationship with the "non-violent protest" movement
Carmichael was a brilliant and forceful young civil rights leader who had popularized the concept of "black power." He was initially a follower of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his philosophy of nonviolent protest. Carmichael became a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but said he was radicalized when he saw peaceful protesters brutalized in the South.
In the mid 1960s, Carmichael challenged the civil rights leadership by rejecting integration and calling on blacks to oust whites from the freedom movement. Following his arrest during a protest march in Mississippi, Carmichael angrily demanded a change in the rhetoric and strategy of the civil rights movement. "We've been saying 'Freedom' for six years," Carmichael said. "What we are going to start saying now is 'Black Power."
Historian Adam Fairclough writes that King was "aghast" at Carmichael's use of a slogan that sounded so aggressive. "Black Power" was condemned by some civil rights activists as a motto for a new form of racism. and a call for race war. King urged Carmichael to drop the phrase but he refused. NAACP leader Roy Wilkins condemned the slogan as "the father of hate and the mother of violence," predicting that black power would mean "black death."
Fellow civil rights organizer John Lewis, later a Democratic congressman from Georgia, remembers Carmichael as tall, lanky, and up-front. "He didn't wait to be asked his opinion on anything--he told you and expected you to listen," Lewis wrote. The two became estranged when Carmichael toppled Lewis from the SNCC chairmanship.
In 1966 and 1967, Carmichael toured college campuses giving increasingly belligerent speeches. He coauthored a radical manifesto titled Black Power, in which he argued that civil rights groups had lost their appeal to increasingly militant young blacks. The movement's voice, he wrote, had been hopelessly softened for "an audience of middle class whites."
Carmichael didn't hold back from expressing these views when he addressed the Greek Theater crowd in Berkeley. He spoke with a dry sense of humor, a jagged edge of anger, and a confidence described as "strutting while standing still. " "He became the personification of raw militancy," Lewis said.
Carmichael and the Black Panthers
Stokely Carmichael was not the only militant black organizer in the late sixties, At the same time that the Greek Theatre rally was being organized, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, two civil rights militants who had met as students at Laney College in Oakland, announced the formation of the Black Panthers organization, on October 15, 1966. The initial Panther activity was to form "open carry" armed citizens' patrols ("copwatching") to monitor the behavior of members of the Oakland Police Department and, hopefully, to challenge police brutality in the city. Stokely became honorary Prime Minister of the Black Panthers but soon left that group over disagreements on seeking support from whites. For more on the Panthers, see the 1969 theme "United Front Against Fascism Conference."
Carmichael in Africa
In 1967, SNCC severed ties with Carmichael. Carmichael moved to the West African nation of Guinea in 1969. He changed his name to Kwame Ture. Kwame Ture lived in self-imposed exile for thirty years but returned to the U.S. for speeches and political activity. In 1996, he sought treatment in New York for prostate cancer, still answering the phone, "Ready for the Revolution!" He died two years later at his home in Africa.
Note: much of the above material is taken from an online publication of American Public Media, self-described as "the largest producer of programming for public radio in the world."
Some of the speakers at the rally communicated with their body language even before they took to the podium. There were no female speakers.
Carmichael was the featured speaker, and he got of attention from the press and others who crowded around the podium.
Stokely Carmichael speaks.
Stokely Carmichael's ideas about "Black Power"
Carmichael was an animated and forceful speaker. His analysis that capitalism was the root cause of the suppression of black people in this country was probably well received by the large numbers in the audience that leaned toward concepts of socialism and economic justice.
His message that blacks and whites could not effectively work together in the same organizations to improve conditions for the black population was confusing and disturbing to many, but it resonated with black activists who resented the "white guilt" support of white liberals . The "Black Power" movement placed emphasis on black pride, black accomplishment and the organizing of blacks into strong organizations that did not take their direction from white people.
He was quoted as saying "Before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks."
Civil RIghts activist James Bevel speaks at the "Black Power" rally.
James Bevel, mainstream leader in the non-violent civil disobedience wing of the civil rights movement
In 1960, Bevel and other black students, including John Lewis, Dianne Nash, Marion Barry, and Bernard Lafayette, organized sit-ins against segregated lunch counters. As chairman of the Nashville Student Movement, Bevel and his colleagues won a hard-fought, nonviolent victory over Jim Crow segregation in Nashville's public facilities.
Bevel participated in the "Freedom Rides" to desegregate interstate travel and public accommodations throughout the South. In 1962, Bevel created the SCLC Mississippi Project for vting rights.
In 1963, Bevel was joined the desegregation struggle being waged by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham, Alabama. When King was jailed, Bevel organized black children into a movement called the "Children's Crusade and marched against Commissioner Bull Connor's fire hoses and police dogs. The "Children's Crusade," turned the media tide in the favor of the desegregationists.
Bevel helped in the brainstorming for the March on Washington in 1963, and the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. Bevel also worked behind the scenes on the Chicago open housing movement in 1966; the anti-Vietnam War movement in 1967; the Memphis sanitation workers strike; and the Poor People's Campaign in 1968.
Ron Karenga, representing the "US" black nationalist organization.
Ron Karenga, black nationalist, convicted violent felon, reputed govt-sponsored provocateur, academic and Kwaanza creator
Ron Karenga was one of the founders of "US," a black nationalist organization. He changed his name to Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga. He and his black nationalist "US" organization were involved in violent clashes with the Black Panthers, clashes in which Panther members were killed.
In 1971, he was convicted of felonious assault and false imprisonment. The "US" organization was reputed to be connected to the FBI's COINTELPRO project. COINTELPRO was a covert, illegal operation targeting all sorts of progressive organizations with false information, red-baiting smears of individuals and groups, kidnapping, physical abuse and reputed killings by COINTELPRO-supported paramilitary groups. Beginning in 1969, leaders of the Black Panther Party were targeted by COINTELPRO and "neutralized" by being assassinated, imprisoned, publicly humiliated or falsely charged with crimes.
Karenga was imprisoned for four years in the California Men's Colony for his crimes and was paroled in 1975. He continued the education he had started in prison, received his PhD and began a career in academia. He is credited with the invention of the black holiday called "Kwaanza." Negative reaction to his past crimes have contributed to the near disappearance of Kwaanza from black culture.
Brother Lennie, field supervisor of the Community Alert Patrol (CAP) in Los Angeles. With the assistance of Ron Karenga's "US" organization, CAP was formed after the 1965 Watts riots to monitor, photograph and report on police brutality in the black community.
Part of the crowd of 14,000 that came to hear well-known "Black Power" advocate Stokely Carmichael and others at the Greek Theatre.