Stokely Carmichael, “Black Power,” Teaching-Learning Materials

Classroom Activities

A. Stokely Carmichael’s Berkeley speech has been ranked among”the top 100 speeches” of the twentieth century in a survey of scholars of rhetoric. Why do you think the speech is included among the “top 100” of the century? Do you believe that Carmichael’s “Black Power” speech is worthy of such recognition? Why or why not?

B. Carmichael is both praised and criticized for abandoning the nonviolent protest strategy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Do you believe the embrace of more militant strategies by Carmichael and others helped advance the cause of civil rights for African Americans? Why or why not?

C. At a very young age, Carmichael was able to garner respect as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Discuss what you think made Carmichael a “charismatic” leader with the movement. Are there any contemporary black leaders who possess leadership qualities similar to those of Carmichael?

D. Carmichael alienated many people in his audience when he (re)introduced the concept of “Black Power.” Was this a calculated risk? Do you believe he could have achieved the same goals by using less provocative language?

E. The last line of Carmichael’s Berkeley Black Power speech states: “Move over, or we’re going to move over you.” Certainly, this is an example of Carmichael’s militant style. Do you believe that such language was both ethical and effective in Carmichael’s day? Would you judge such language the same way today?

F. The “counterculture” of the 1960s has been described and portrayed in many books and movies. What is meant by the “counterculture” of the 1960s? Does the term “counterculture” refer to a specific set of beliefs or values? Who would be considered the leaders of this “counterculture,” and how, if at all, is its influence still seen today?

G. In his Berkeley speech, Carmichael stated, “Black people cut themselves every night in the ghetto–Don’t anybody talk about nonviolence. Lyndon Baines Johnson is busy bombing the hell of out Vietnam–Don’t nobody talk about nonviolence. White people beat up black people every day–Don’t nobody talk about nonviolence. But as soon as black people start to move, the double standard comes into being” (56).  What did Carmichael mean by “the double standard,” and are similar arguments still heard today?  Are there other arguments in Carmichael’s speech that we still hear today in debates over racial justice in America?

Student Research

A. Stokely Carmichael gave other speeches on Black Power throughout the United States. Obtain copies or excerpts of one or two of these other speeches and compare them to the Berkeley speech. How are they similar? How are they different? How would you account for the differences with reference to events or his different audiences?

B. Examine some of the speeches given by Martin Luther King, Jr. What rhetorical strategies did he utilize to engage his audience? Do King’s speeches have anything in common with those that Carmichael delivered?

C. Civil Rights and the Black Power were only two of many issues debated in the 1960s. Choose another issue from this turbulent time period–the war in Vietnam, free speech, feminism, gay rights, Chicano Power, environmentalism, etc.–and examine the rhetoric used by is opponents and supporters.

D. Carmichael was well known for being able to tailor his speeches to a particular audience by using words easily identifiable and relevant to the crowd. Choose a speech by a contemporary politician or movement leader and determine the audience for whom it was written. Then try rewriting the speech for a very different audience–an audience with a very different racial or ethnic make-up, educational level, or demographic profile.  Try to do this without fundamentally altering the speech’s meaning.

E. Survey contemporary scholarly books and journal articles about the Civil Rights Movement that reflect back on that time period. In addition, survey popular periodicals from the mid to late 1960s about Stokely Carmichael. How is Stokely Carmichael remembered by contemporary scholars? Is he remembered similarly or differently than he was during the 1960s? Write a short essay that compares his image in the 1960s to the memory of his image that continues to resonate in the aftermath of his death.

Citizenship Resources  

A. It is no accident that Stokely Carmichael’s autobiography is entitled, Ready for Revolution. After years of defending nonviolence, Carmichael ultimately dismissed nonviolence as an ineffective means for advancing black interests in America. Recognizing how difficult it is to challenge the leadership of an icon like Martin Luther King, think of other individuals more recently who challenged popular movement leaders and offered an alternative version on their common cause. How have more radical advocates of other causes fared? Are there radical advocates of women’s rights or environmentalism today, for instance, who have employed some of the same strategies as Carmichael? Who are they and what has been the response toward them?

B. Students played a major role in Carmichael’s Black Power crusade. Forty years later, that same age group is often criticized as apathetic. How do you think a speech like Carmichael’s Black Power speech would be received on today’s college campuses? Does he address any issues of concern to students still today?

C. Conduct an Internet search for contemporary organizations that are designed to confront issues of racism in the United States. What strategies of activism do such groups employ today? Are their rhetorical strategies similar and/or different from those that Carmichael used in the Black Power movement?

D. During the 1960s, two monumental civil rights acts were passed, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which Carmichael condemns in his speech) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. What legal and political relevance do these acts hold today? In order to assess their relevance, locate contemporary news coverage of both acts to determine what salience they still have today in the twenty-first century U.S.

E. Locate a contemporary speech that addresses issues of African American civil rights. Compare the language used by the contemporary speaker to that of Carmichael’s. Also, consider who is the target audience in the contemporary speech? What are the differences and what perhaps accounts for those differences in style? Is the target audience similar or different to the audience that Carmichael address in his Berkeley speech? Does the target audience likely impact the language used? Why or why not?