Biography

Stokely Carmichael

Stokely Carmichael

Freedom Rider Bronx, NY

At the time of the Freedom Rides, Stokely Carmichael was a 19-year-old student at Howard University, the son of West Indian immigrants to New York City. Carmichael made the journey to Jackson, MS from New Orleans, LA on June 4, 1961 by train, along with eight other riders, including Joan Trumpauer.

The group was ushered by Jackson police to a waiting paddy wagon; all Riders refused bail. Carmichael was transferred to Parchman State Prison Farm, which proved to be a crucible and testing ground for future Movement leaders. Other Freedom Riders recalled his quick wit and hard-nosed political realism from their shared time at Parchman.

The acerbic Carmichael would go on to become one of the leading voices of the Black Power Movement. In 1966 Carmichael became Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) chairman and, in 1967, honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party. He moved to West Africa in 1969, and changed his name to Kwame Ture in honor of African leaders Kwame Nkruma and Sekou Toure, later traveling the world as a proponent of the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party. He died in Conakry, Guinea in 1998 of prostate cancer at the age of 57.

In his posthumously published autobiography, Carmichael spoke about the significance of the Freedom Rides: "CORE would be sending an integrated team-black and white together-from the nation's capital to New Orleans on public transportation. That's all. Except, of course, that they would sit randomly on the buses in integrated pairs and in the stations they would use waiting room facilities casually, ignoring the white/colored signs. What could be more harmless... in any even marginally healthy society?"

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