(1966) Stokely Carmichael, “Definitions of Black Power”

Stokely Carmichael speaking at Garfield High School, Seattle, 1967
Courtesy MOHAI (1986.5.21041)

On July 31, 1966, Stokely Carmichael, the newly appointed Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), describes black power to a mostly African American audience at Cobo Auditorium in Detroit.  Part of the address appears below.

Now we’ve got to talk about this thing called the serious coalition. You know what that’s all about? That says that black folks and their white liberal friends can get together and overcome. We have to examine our white liberal friends. And I’m going to call names this time around. We’ve got to examine our white liberal friends who come to Mississippi and march with us, and can afford to march because our mothers, who are their maids, are taking care of their house and their children; we got to examine them [applause]. Yeah; I’m going to speak the truth tonight. I’m going to tell you what a white liberal is. You talking about a white college kid joining hands with a black man in the ghetto, that college kid is fighting for the right to wear a beard and smoke pot, and fighting for our lives [cheers and applause]. We fighting for lives [continued applause].

That missionary comes to the ghetto one summer, and next summer he’s in Europe, and he’s our ally. That missionary has a black mammy, and he stole our black mammy from us. Because while she was home taking care of them, she couldn’t take care of us. That’s not our ally [applause]. Now I met some of those white liberals on the march, and I asked one man, I said, look here brother. I said, you make what, about twenty-five thousand dollars a year? He mumbled. I said, well dig. Look here. Here are four black Mississippians. They make three dollars a day picking cotton. See they have to march; you can afford to march. I say, here’s what we do. Take your twenty-five thousand dollars a year divide it up evenly. Let all five of you make five thousand dollars a year.  He was for everybody working hard by the sweat of their brow [laughter and shouts]. That’s a white liberal, ladies and gentlemen. That’s a white liberal. You can’t form a coalition with people who are economically secure. College students are economically secure; they’ve already got their wealth; we fighting to get ours. And for us to get it is going to mean tearing down their system, and they are not willing to work for their own destruction. Get that into your own minds now [applause]. Get that into your own minds now [continued applause]….

When I talk about Black Power, it is presumptuous for any white man to talk about it, because I’m talking to black people [applause]. And I’ve got news for our liberal friend Bobby Kennedy. I got news for that white man. When he talks about his Irish Catholic power that made him to the position where he is that he now uses black votes in New York City to run for the presidency in 1972, he ought to not say a word about Black Power. Now the Kennedys built a system of purely Irish Catholic power with Irish Nationalism interwoven into it. Did you know that? And that’s how come they run, rule, own Boston lock stock and barrel including all the black people inside it. That’s Irish power. And that man going to get up and tell you-all; well he shouldn’t talk about Black Power. He ran and won in New York City on Black Power; his brother became president because Black Power made him president [shouts and applause]. Black Power made his brother president [continued applause]. And he’s got the white nerve to talk about Black Power [continued applause]….