Capital Research Center’s Matthew Vadum has a review of Stokely: A Life. The review was published on June 17 at FrontPage magazine.
Lioning the Enemy
By Matthew Vadum
A project is underway to rehabilitate the self-exiled Sixties radical, anti-Semite and “black power” advocate Stokely Carmichael.
The opening salvo in this revisionist project of the Afro-centrist Marxist Left in academia is Stokely: A Life, by Peniel E. Joseph, which was recently published by BasicCivitas Books.
It is more infomercial than biography, calculated to transform its negligible subject into a towering figure of historic importance, and to whitewash the damage he did. Joseph’s central argument is that Carmichael was a “rock star” activist who inspired generations and who singlehandedly changed the course of American history.
Perversely, Joseph calls Carmichael a civil rights leader. If that fairly summarizes Carmichael’s work, he was a civil rights leader only in the bizarre modern sense that racial arsonist like Al Sharpton is a civil rights leader.
It is difficult to imagine an American civil rights leader making common cause with ruthless African dictators but that is what Carmichael did. He changed his name to Kwame Toure to honor two of them. In his self-imposed exile he was a courtier to brutal racist tyrants. He was a friend of Ugandan butcher Idi Amin, and rationalized away the relationship by reminding himself that Amin was anti-American and anti-Zionist. Carmichael even accepted Ugandan citizenship.
He was also a friend of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Libya came closest to accomplishing Carmichael’s vision of a socialist state, according to Joseph.
It is difficult to image an American civil rights leader going abroad to help hostile powers, but this is what Carmichael did.
Carmichael visited Communist Cuba, giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies abroad. While there he called Abraham Lincoln a racist and helped Cuba’s propaganda effort against the United States. After spending three days with Fidel Castro he told reporters that the conversations he had with him were the “most educational, most interesting, and most enlightening of my public life.”
Carmichael praised the world’s most prolific mass murderer, Mao Zedong, as “a great Chinese leader, the greatest Chinese leader there is.” He palled around with Communist Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh and called for the U.S. to be defeated in Vietnam.
Not surprisingly, Carmichael was friends with Communist propagandist Howard Zinn and an acolyte of Nation of Islam demagogue Louis Farrakhan. Carmichael received political and financial support from Farrakhan’s organization.
It is impossible to imagine an American civil rights leader’s of the Martin Luther King Jr. era urging his followers to destroy their own country, but this is what Carmichael did. Revolutionary violence was the way to promote black power, in Carmichael’s view.
“It’s your town, if you want to burn it, burn it!” he said in a speech. “Don’t pray for power, don’t beg for power!” He called for an armed revolution capable of inflicting “maximum damage with a minimum of losses of black people.”
Although author Joseph strains to suggest Carmichael and Martin Luther King enjoyed a friendly relationship based on mutual respect and admiration, he leaves out his subject’s angry denunciations of King. As he urged blacks to seek “national liberation” from the rest of the U.S., Carmichael denounced King as an “Uncle Tom,” and rejected integration as a sellout to “white supremacy.”
Carmichael, who popularized the phrase black power, was a demagogue who believed that the ends justify the means. He was a leader who had no qualms about hurting other people on the long, blood-drenched road to utopia.
“When you talk of black power,” Carmichael said, “you talk of building a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created.”
More moderate civil rights leaders at the time thought Carmichael was dangerous and possibly deranged. They urged that he be ostracized, treated as a “black Trotskyite.” Roy Wilkins of the NAACP said black power was a form of racism that could lead to “black death.” “It is a reverse Mississippi, a reverse Hitler, a reverse Ku Klux Klan.”
Professor Joseph, the founder and current director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, is ideally suited for the task of performing plastic surgery on Carmichael’s legacy. He isn’t a serious historian but a professional apologist for black racism. A devotee of the cult known as “engaged scholarship” — academic argot for leftist propaganda disguised as scholarship — he forfeits the privilege of being taken seriously by serving as hero worshiper instead of honest chronicler.
This vein of so-called scholarship is widespread in the academy. For example, Syracuse University-based Imagining America, a consortium of more than 100 colleges and universities, is devoted to rewriting the American narrative along the lines of Communist Party USA member Howard Zinn’s bestselling book-length fiction, A People’s History of the United States. The professor-propagandist boasts at his online home that he is “the founder of a growing subfield in American History and Africana Studies that he has characterized as ‘Black Power Studies’ which is actively rewriting postwar American and African American History as well as related interdisciplinary fields of Africana Studies, law and society, sociology, political science, Women’s and Ethnic Studies, philosophy, anthropology, literary studies, and American Studies to name a few.” [italics added]
Not surprisingly, the book itself is fluff more appropriate to the pages of Rolling Stone or People magazine. It papers over or downplays Carmichael’s many egregious flaws.
In reality, Carmichael was not heroic. He was a paranoid, racist, who was rejected by the civil rights movement he claimed to serve. He was widely hated across America — and distrusted by actual civil rights leaders — for his virulently anti-American pronouncements and his calls for revolutionary violence to be used to destroy both the United States and all of Western civilization.
His hatred of America was profound. The United States, he said, was “the most disgusting country in the world.” The Trinidadian-born agitator urged that black power be used not only to cripple America, his adopted homeland, but also to bring down the civilized world.
Joseph papers over Carmichael’s worst attributes.
He argues that Carmichael’s opposition to the existence of the State of Israel was misinterpreted as anti-Semitism. The fact that the activist praised Adolf Hitler as a “genius” did not make Carmichael a Jew-hater because he tacked on the proviso that what the German dictator did was “wrong” and “evil.”
He called Israel a proxy for U.S. imperialism and sided with the Palestinians over the Jewish state. He equated Zionism with racism before the United Nations followed suit in 1975.
But Joseph leaves out Carmichael’s chilling statement in 1967 that “The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.” and launched the revival of overt anti-Semitism in the black left and eventually in the left generally.
Carmichael flirted with nonviolence for a time. He was elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (pronounced snick) defeating now Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), an integrationist, for the position. As Joseph notes in a moment of rare candor, the decline of SNCC can be traced directly to Carmichael taking the group over in 1966, and turning his back on King’s legacy.
In a major unforced error, Joseph accuses the FBI of Red-baiting Carmichael. The agency “routinely investigated wild rumors and false sightings that connected the SNCC chairman to the Communist Party and related organizations,” Joseph writes.
But elsewhere in the book, the author describes Carmichael’s ties to Communist Party USA officials and notes that he attended Young Communist League meetings. So they weren’t “wild rumors and false sightings” at all.
Carmichael mocked calls for “integration,” saying they amounted to “a subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy.” Upon taking the reins at SNCC, he fired all white staff members and badmouthed whites who had backed the cause previously.
Around that time he publicly spoke of the importance of “offing the pigs” and “killing the honkies.” He urged the dynamiting of businesses and expressed hope that black U.S. soldiers serving in Vietnam would one day come home and “kill in the streets” of America. He encouraged blacks to riot in order to give white America “a little taste of chaos” and vowed that “[t]he Negro [was] going to take what he deserves from the white man.”
During his time as leader, or “prime minister” of the Black Panther Party, he urged the group to sever all its alliances with whites. Joseph ignores the fact that he failed and “this tactical disagreement led to Carmichael’s expulsion from the party and a ritual beating by his former BPP comrades.”He died at the age of 57 of prostate cancer that he accused the U.S. government of giving to him. That cancer “was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them,” he claimed.
But by the time of his passing in 1998, Carmichael was largely forgotten. He marginalized himself by emigrating to Africa and pursuing a political agenda that few cared about.
Even the New York Times, the agenda-setting, politically correct house organ of American progressivism, thought of Carmichael as a relative nobody when he died.
The newspaper published an unflattering obituary that essentially deemed the life’s work of Carmichael, who upon moving to Africa rechristened himself Kwame Ture, a waste of time that in the end had little impact:
“Mr. Ture, who changed his name in 1978 to honor Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Toure, two African dictators who had befriended him, spent 30 years in Guinea, calling himself a revolutionary and advocating a Pan-African ideology that evoked few resonances in the United States, or, for that matter, Africa.”
Yet Joseph portrays Carmichael as a giant of the civil rights movement who changed the course of history. “Carmichael’s bold antiwar rhetoric provided the intellectual and political contours for whites to engage in a global assault against American imperialism,” Joseph swoons.
Like a modern-day Obama zombie, the author characterizes Carmichael as courageous, intelligent, physically attractive, charismatic, and in possession of a robust sense of humor. It is reminiscent of the cartoonishly hagiographic treatment Kim Jong-un might receive in the North Korea press.
Joseph calls Carmichael “a rock star whose political speeches proved no less popular than a musical performance,” and likens him to John the Baptist.
Carmichael was not only “the most important black radical activist of his generation,” but also “the most effective and controversial activist of his generation,” Joseph opines, elevating his subject over Martin Luther King Jr. and the leaders of the various influential countercultural and political movements of the 1960s and 70s.
He played a “central role in reshaping domestic race relations and reimagining American democracy,” Joseph writes breathlessly.
“Through speeches, books, and interviews, Carmichael transformed the discourse on race, war, and democracy … [and] shaped the contours of civil rights and Black Power activism through participation in sit-ins, Freedom Rides, independent political organizing, and antiwar protests.”
Joseph’s comrades in the academy are fawning over the book, only too happy to help push this new narrative on an unsuspecting public.
Pseudo-intellectual race-baiter Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University is part of this push to craft Carmichael into a founding father of a new America. The MSNBC talking head calls the book “a magisterial biography of one of the most important figures in the history of the black freedom struggle in America.”
Following the Left’s playbook, which requires characterizing evil men of the Left not as evil but as complex and difficult to understand, Dyson said if Martin Luther King “was the King of civil disobedience, then Carmichael was the Prince of black revolution, and Stokely is the brilliant chronicle of his complicated and remarkable reign during tempestuous times.” Dyson lays it on thick, hailing Joseph’s competent but dull prose as the product of a “poetic pen.”
Al Sharpton’s Marxist political adviser, Cornel West, who is better known for palling around with Hugo Chavez and acting in two Matrix sequels, than for his so-called scholarship, predictably calls Stokely a “marvelous book.”
The book highlights “Carmichael’s profound love affair with Black people [which] made him one of the great revolutionary figures of the twentieth century,” says West, currently with Union Theological Seminary. West has also defended Farrakhan’s racism and anti-Semitism as reflecting a profound love of black people.
His reference to Carmichael’s “love affair” with blacks also brings to mind sociopathic tee shirt icon Che Guevara’s creepy aphorism about true revolutionaries being “guided by a great feeling of love.” (Carmichael identified with Guevara, who spoke of launching a nuclear attack against New York City, and referred to him as one of his personal heroes.)
The academic embrace of this anti-American, anti-Semitic race-hater is just another sign of how the left has destroyed a great institution and turned it into a propaganda mill.