Stokely Carmichael
Photo: Getty Images
Stokely Carmichael

At the time of the Freedom Rides, Stokely Carmichael was a 19-year-old student at Howard University and the son of West Indian immigrants to New York City. Stokely made the journey to Jackson, Mississippi, from New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 4, 1961, by train, along with eight other riders, including Joan Trumpauer.

The group was ushered by Jackson police to a waiting paddy wagon; all Riders refused bail. Stokely was transferred to Parchman State Prison Farm, which proved to be a crucible and testing ground for future movement leaders. Other Freedom Riders recalled his quick wit and hard-nosed political realism from their shared time at Parchman.

The acerbic Stokely would go on to become one of the leading voices of the black power movement. In 1966, Stokely became Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chairman and, in 1967, honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party. He moved to West Africa in 1969, and changed his name to Kwame Ture in honor of African leaders Kwame Nkruma and Sekou Toure, later traveling the world as a proponent of the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party. He died in Conakry, Guinea, in 1998 of prostate cancer at the age of 57.

In his posthumously published autobiography, Stokely spoke about the significance of the Freedom Rides: "CORE would be sending an integrated team—black and white together—from the nation's capital to New Orleans on public transportation. That's all. Except, of course, that they would sit randomly on the buses in integrated pairs and in the stations they would use waiting room facilities casually, ignoring the white/colored signs. What could be more any even marginally healthy society?"

FROM: Oprah Honors American Heroes: The Freedom Riders Reunite 50 Years Later
Published on May 04, 2011


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