JUNE 16, 1966

Stokely Carmichael unveiled the new slogan “Black Power” at a rally in Greenwood, Mississippi. Credit: Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Stokely Carmichael, one of the original Freedom Riders and a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, called for “Black Power” at a rally in Greenwood, Mississippi. 

He was taking part in the James Meredith “March Against Fear,” when he and others set up tents on the grounds of a public school. When local white officials confronted him, saying they didn’t have permission to do so, Carmichael and two other leaders continued to pitch tents. 

Authorities arrested the trio. Several hours after being released from jail, Carmichael addressed the crowd, saying, “We been saying freedom for six years, and we ain’t got nothin’. What we got to start saying now is Black Power! We want Black Power!” The phrase echoed through the crowd, and the slogan spread rapidly across the nation, a movement that promoted Black identity, pride and self-determination. 

A year earlier, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama had used the slogan, “Black Power for the People.” Author Richard Wright had used the phrase more than a decade before that. Carmichael became the voice of this new movement, featured in a New York Times story headlined, “Black Power Prophet,” and the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover soon targeted him and others in the movement through COINTELPRO.

SNCC soon gave way to the Black Panthers. In 1968, Carmichael married a singer from South Africa, and they left for Guinea the next year. Carmichael, also known as Kwame Ture, lived the rest of his life in Africa, continuing to speak out and fight for change before dying of prostate cancer in 1998. 

“The secret of life is to have no fear,” he said. “It’s the only way to function.”

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