Academic journal article American Studies

STOKELY: A Life

Academic journal article American Studies

STOKELY: A Life

Article excerpt

STOKELY: A Life. By Peniel E. Joseph. New York: Basic Civitas. 2014.

Like Manning Marable before him, Peniel Joseph seeks to document the life of a major figure in the black freedom struggle through that leader's "life of reinvention." Stokely Carmichael changed and adapted over time, from a grassroots social-democratic organizer in the American South using nonviolence to usher in the beloved community to a national icon of Black Power sharply attacking the U.S. war in Vietnam to an antiimperialist pan-Africanist living in Guinea emphasizing land as the basis of power and the validity of scientific socialism. Joseph's biography provides an excellent map of this journey.

As a scholar, Joseph has focused his work on Black Power and its legacy. A biography of Stokely Carmichael, though, affords Joseph the opportunity to examine the longer history of the civil rights-Black Power movement. Joseph states from the outset that "Stokely's DNA is as much part of the civil rights struggle as it is of Black Power" (xiv). Joseph argues that Carmichael was influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. as much as Malcolm X and shows how antiwar activism brought Carmichael and King together.

Like Malcolm X, Carmichael had a number of identities, and Joseph seeks to present a multifaceted and complex portrait of his subject. Still, Joseph believes that Carmichael's core identity was that of an organizer and his most enduring belief was in black political self-determination. Through much of his life, Carmichael emphasized the role of ordinary black people in making democratic change. In writing the biography of a major figure, Joseph seeks at the same time to emphasize the importance and influence of local people, just as Carmichael did. …

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