STOKELY CARMICHAEL, THE civil rights leader and pan-African revolutionary, was always ready for the revolution and always answered his telephone that way: "Ready for the Revolution!"
Remembered by most people for using the rallying cry of "Black Power" in 1960s, Carmichael, who was born in Trinidad, raised in New York,
and died in Guinea in 1998, aged 57, dared say what many black people were too afraid to say back then.
"We want Black Power!" declared Carmichael, famously, while helping African-Americans register to vote in Alabama in the deep, dark and dangerous segregated South in 1966. He travelled to the South, where he was beaten, shot at, and jailed 30 times, with activists from the civil rights group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which he was the leader.
"We want Black Power and we want it now!" Carmichael told hundreds of African-Americans who defied the authorities and came to hear him speak in Lowndes County, Alabama. "We begged the President. That's all we've been doing: begging, begging. It's time we stand up and take over. What do you want?" "Black Power!" the crowd answered. "What do you want?" "Black Power!" "Well," Stokely Carmichael said, "that's what we're going Co get!"
In 1967, Carmichael published a book called Black Power in which he outlined his philosophy and why it was the only way black people in America would win freedom. "It is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognise their heritage, to build a sense of community," Carmichael wrote. "It is a call for black people to begin to define their own goals, to lead their own organisations ... to resist the racist institutions and values of this society."
But getting Black Power was easier said than done, especially at the time when Southern whites were determined to keep their apartheid-like system of racial segregation in place.
"Segregation today. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever", the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, promised whites. And though Carmichael's efforts to bring justice and equality to the American South were ultimately successful, he nonetheless became, in time, disenchanted with the Civil Rights Movement.
Civil Rights leaders, too, were not happy with him. When Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was asked what he thought of Carmichael's Black Power speech, he said the term Black Power was "an unfortunate choice of words".
Carmichael, who was swept up into the Civil Rights Movement while a student in 1961 at Howard University, a black college in Washington DC, was not pleased with Dr King's criticisms. Carmichael had begun his political career as an integrationist and advocate of the Nonviolence philosophy espoused by Dr King. But after seeing African-Americans in the South shot and killed by the Ku Klux Klan, and clubbed, poked and shocked with electric cow prods by the police, he turned his back on Dr King's philosophy and joined the militant, gun-carrying Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, instead.
There, he was known as the "Prime Minister of Afro America" and revered. But in time he fell out with the Panthers, too. The SNCC, Carmichael said, was too wishy-washy and had too many white people in its ranks, and the Black Panthers were fake radicals who depended too much on the support of white liberals and their money. But what Carmichael really wanted was to be in Africa, where he felt the real revolution was being waged. So, in 1969, with his then-wife South African singer-activist Miriam Makeba, Carmichael left for Guinea, having been invited there to become a political aide to President Sekou Toure and to Ghana's then deposed and exiled president, Kwame Nkrumah, who was resident there too.
"When I went to Guinea it was the most revolutionary country at that time," Carmichael said in a TV interview. …