Black History: Why Didn’t I Learn About Stokely Carmichael In School?

Do you know how embarrassing it is to be in doctoral school and hear the name Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture) for the first time by your white professor as she educates you about the history of SNCC and how they used the media to promote their cause?

It’s very embarrassing.

I’m a product of Mississippi public schools and I feel like I was educated pretty well for the most part. However as and when it comes to Black History, specifically Mississippi’s Black History, I feel cheated. I feel like every February, we were told the history “they” wanted us to know. My teachers didn’t dig deep and try to educate us. We didn’t have in-depth discussions about the true history of Black America, alternative views, opposing ideologies, none of that. I cannot recall (and I have an impeccable memory) one teacher in all of my time in elementary, middle and high school ever mentioning Carmichael.

Year after year, it was Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, repeat.

I am not blaming public schools for my ignorance, nor am I blaming my teachers. Actually, I’m not blaming anyone. I’m simply trying to understand why so much history was left out and where I would be, where my peers and the Black community would be, had we been taught who we are and who we come from.

For my media history research, I performed a content analysis of Ebony magazine from 1966-1971 and I looked specifically at how the magazine covered the black power movement. Originally, I wanted to look at how the magazine covered natural hair and black beauty but my professor suggested I go the black power route. I’m so glad she did.

I was familiar with black power but prior to taking this class, I only associated black power with the Black Panthers. While I love what the Panthers did and I would have totally been a Panther back in the day, their role in black power was a small part of the movement as a whole.

Carmicheal was a young, dynamic and eloquent leader and is the person who made black power (as we know it) popular. He inspired his peers and blacks all over the country to take a new approach toward the fight for equality and freedom – an approach that has been misconstrued since it first gained a following back in the mid to late 60s because it went against the “safe” mainstream approach.

Having learned and done the research (hours on hours on hours) about Carmichael, black power and black liberation, I can only imagine what would happen if we taught history in our schools and told the whole story.

What if we empowered the black community and shared the teachings of Carmichael and the Panthers?

What if we taught black children to have pride in their blackness?

What it we encouraged new ways of thinking and building up our community instead of trying to force people to give us things they never intended for us to have in the first place?

What if we used the month of February to analyze and compare ideologies and leaders?

What do you think would happen?

Stokely was just one person in this movement but I am so intrigued by him because he was my age (or a little younger) at the time he took on the task of inspiring black power. What are black people my age doing now? Selling their souls to the highest bidder for money, insta-fame and vacations?

Let’s do something different and tell the stories that aren’t as popular as shouting that you have a dream. Let’s tell the stories of the brave students of SNCC and leaders like Carmichael and Huey P. Newton who were radical and knew that being safe wouldn’t get you far. I mean, how far have we really come?

Let’s pull back the veil of delusion we have had over our faces for far too long and truly educate our people, especially the children. Our future literally depends on it.

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