Separation and Power
In Freedom—When?, James Farmer asserts that "the only way Negro separation would not mean segregation is if the Negro has the sense that he chooses to live separately, and this happens only when total freedom of choice is a reality in America" (see #7: Desegregation-Integration). Both Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael would respond by saying that total freedom of choice will be achieved only through separation, because only through voluntary separation will blacks achieve the power necessary to claim freedom. We will explore the views of Malcolm X in Theme III: Protest. Here we will consider an essay by Carmichael.
Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998), who changed his name to Kwame Ture in the 1970s, was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. When he was eleven, he and his family moved to Harlem. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1954. In high school he became interested in politics, studying the work of Karl Marx and demonstrating against the Communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. A Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) scholarship enabled him to attend Howard University, from which he was graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1964. While in college, he participated in various civil rights demonstrations and joined the 1961 Freedom Ride to Jackson, Mississippi, where he began his association with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). After college he joined the staff of SNCC and in 1966 became its chairman. Confronting intransigent racism, he demanded greater militancy from the civil rights movement, arguing that nonviolence was merely a tactic, not a goal, and should be abandoned if it proved ineffective. Martin Luther King, Jr., disagreed with this position, and a rift opened between SNCC and King's SCLC. During a Mississippi rally in 1966, Carmichael used the term "black power" as he urged his audience to seek independence and take pride in their race. King was wary of the term because of its violent connotations. After leaving SNCC in 1967, Carmichael joined the Black Panther Party, becoming ever more insistent that black liberation lay in racial unity. In 1969 he moved to Ghana in West Africa, where he refined a vision of an Africa united under socialism.
In "Toward Black Liberation," Carmichael, like Farmer, criticizes integration and for some of the same reasons. It is, in Carmichael's words, "based on the assumption that there was nothing of value in the Negro community." While Farmer defended middle class blacks who chose to integrate, he did recognize that, as Carmichael put it, integration was available only to "acceptable" and "qualified" African Americans. It left behind the sharecropper, the dishwasher, and the welfare recipient. Unlike Farmer, however, Carmichael analyzed the relationship between integration and power and criticized integration because it did nothing to address the powerlessness and dependence of the black community. Its establishment as a goal and the pace of its progress were entirely determined by the white allies of the civil rights movement, and, as Carmichael wrote, "the political and social rights of Negroes have always been and always will be negotiable and expendable the moment they conflict with the interests of our 'allies.'" In place of integration Carmichael advocated the goal of black power, which can be defined as the coalescence of political and economic power within the black community in a way that liberates and insulates it from dependence on white support. (5 pages.)
- Compare Carmichael's views on the relationship between racial separation and power and his views on black-white relations with those of Marcus Garvey.
- In Carmichael's view, what constitutes the genuine black community? Compare his view with that expressed by Langston Hughes in "The Racial Artist and the Negro Mountain" (see Theme IV: COMMUNITY).
- Does Carmichael make any distinction between integration and desegregation?
- In Carmichael's view, how would integration affect black identity? the black community?
- Compare Farmer's attitude toward white liberals with that of Carmichael.
- What is Carmichael's critique of the civil rights movement and its goals?
- To what extent does Carmichael want to separate the black community from the American mainstream?
- For Carmichael, what is the purpose of racial separation?
- How does he change the meaning of racial separation?
|What constitutes segregation?
|How did African Americans experience it?
|What is the difference between segregation and separation?
|What are the consequences of segregation? Separation?
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Image: Stokely Carmichael, 20 February 1973. Photograph by Keystone/Stringer; Getty Images, Hulton Archive, #3307763. © 2007 Getty Images. Reproduced by permission.