For many Americans in their mid-50s, especially those of African descent, Stokely Carmichael is remembered as a crucial part of the 1960s. He is seared in most people's minds as the "black power"-shouting civil rights firebrand during the Mississippi summer voter registration campaign of 1966. He scared whites and moderate blacks alike but earned the grudging respect EVEN of those who disagreed with him.
While making a documentary about his life and times, I met with him last summer before he left for Guinea, his adopted African homeland. Although gravely ill, his smile still lit up the room and his charm, known to captivate his harshest critics, was very much in evidence. But it was his consistency and articulate logic as he argued racial and later class politics that won the admiration of his "fellow Africans in America," as he referred to us.
Many of the things Carmichael advocated and for which he was roundly criticized--ethnic pride, an identification with African culture, a deep suspicion of government, a world view in which the third world plays an important economic role, street demonstrations as an organizing tool--are now commonplace in all parts of the nation. Ultimately, he was right. It was black power and not white benevolence that began to change the structural relationship between the races.