Stokely Carmichael -- He Turns Them On
December 29, 1966, Vol. XII, No. 11
Stokely Carmichael: He Turns Them On
By Don McNeill
The Village Theater audience was still vibrating from the black soul-sounds of Marion Brown and Jackie McLean when Stokely Carmichael bounded on stage last Thursday night. He probably liked it that way. His audience was tuned in.
All the lights in the house were off except the floodlights on Carmichael. "Turn them on," he said. "I'm talking to an amorphous mass of blackness." The audience, half white, broke up with laughter and in seconds the intermission lights were on. He could see his audience. And they could see him, as he untangled the microphones left over fro the jazz. "I'm going to try and find which one belongs to the CIA," he laughed, "and take it out of the way." The audience roared again. Stokely was in fine form.
It was a SNCC benefit, a sympathetic crowd, more than ready to listen to the apostle of Black Power. Carmichael declines to define his slogan and tried to explain why. "Five years ago people had to react to the white man's definition. We said 'We want to integrate' and he said 'You mean you want to marry my daughter.' And we had to back up and say, 'Oh, no, we don't want to marry your daughter. We just want to integrate.' " Ask the same question today and Stokely replies, "Your daughter, your sister, your mother. The white woman's not queen of the world, not the Virgin Mary. She can be made like any other woman." Squeals of laughter.
Carmichael intends that "Black Power" be spared the fate of "We Shall Overcome." "Dr. King says 'We Shall Overcome' and LBJ says "We shall ovahcome, mah fellow Americans.' " Stokely does a good imitation of LBJ. "Black people will define Black Power by their actions, and the people of this country will just have to wait and see. The real reason they want us to define Black Power is so that they can contain it."
Stokely Carmichael is great on stage. Charismatic, charming, fresh, and ferocious, he can tune in to the temper of an audience and adapt to it skillfully. He comes on completely at ease, which leads one to wonder whether common comments like "They got Malcolm pretty easy but they'll have to take a harder shot to get me" are paranoia or put-on. And he gets appropriate billing. Posters headlining him covered the East Side. His name was enough on the marquee. A large crowd came to hear him.
Although he refuses to define his Black Power concept, he throws out a lot of hints. He began to speak on Vietnam and suddenly declared, "The most revolutionary man in the world was Jesus Christ." Immediately the tenor of the occasion changed. "He made a choice: either you inflict suffering or you suffer. We have to make the same choice, inflict suffering or suffer. The members of SNCC decided the latter. We will not inflict suffering. We will go to jail. If Mr. Johnson thinks that the war in Vietnam is a good thing, he and his family can go there and fight it. We have a fight here and we shall use any means necessary to win our fight." He compared the situation to Camus's slave. "The first step is to say no. In ghetto language , hell, no, Mr. Johnson, we will not go." The audience cheered.
Carmichael doesn't dig the advocates of cash-now or, as he puts it, "Green Power." "People yelling for Green Power ought to question how the country gets the money. We do not want the money that comes from the blood of a peasant in Vietnam, or the sweat of a black man in South Africa. We don't want a piece of the American pie because it's rotten to the core."
He spoke for 15 minutes, and then gave the audience back to the music of Archie Shepp. "I really dig this music," Stokely said. "It's my kind of Christmas music." He sang a few lines of "Jingle Bells" and walked off.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]