Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Stokely Carmichael, John Lewis Deserve Better

I am grossly offended that an impeached president would disrespect civil rights legend John Lewis and everything the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) stood for after his death. No, not the incumbent. No. 45 did order White House flags to be briefly flown at half-staff when Lewis died. I’m talking about #42, that other shamed and impeached White House grifter, Bill Clinton.

Bubba, as he was known, had the unmitigated gall to stand up and fix his mouth to damn Lewis with faint praise in the form of an insult aimed at Kwame Ture, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael: “I say there were two or three years there, where the movement went a little too far towards Stokely, but in the end John Lewis prevailed.”

In other words, John was a “good Negro.” He was not like the unruly Stokely character who co-authored the book “Black Power.” Unfortunately, Lewis, who remained friends with his successor in the SNCC leadership, even publicly praising him, was not able to respond to the insult.

Besides, Bubba was wrong about the history and direction of SNCC. Kwame was succeeded in the chairmanship by H. Rap Brown — now known as Jamil Al-Amin — who was even more militant, and the SNCC, the Black Panthers and the Black movement rejoiced in the change.

How dare Bubba offer his revisionist, white, neo-liberal interpretation of the history of the civil rights movement before a Black audience, at the funeral of one of its icons? I’ll tell you how. He stood on the authority he derived when he slapped activist and recording artist Sister Souljah around, comparing her to former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke at a 1992 campaign rally — also, by the way in front of a Black audience — the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.

Bubba liked to clown in front of Black folks. He once appeared on Arsenio Hall’s television show, playing the saxophone, wearing dark glasses like he was some sort of a Cool Breeze. His skinning behavior and popularity with Black voters earned him the sobriquet: The First Black President. Not.

Me, I fell in love with Stokely, long before I ever met him. He spoke to my heart, to my generation, in the words we were reciting in the 1960s in Black Student Union meetings on college campuses like San Jose State, where I was a student.

I was the editor of a campus “underground” newspaper called “The Son of Jabberwock,” and as a result, I fell in among the progressives, and radicals of the time, and I’ve never fallen out. The reporter in me led me to Lorna Smith, then a 60-something-year-old white lady who met Stokely, and fell madly in love with him during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1965, when she and so many others trekked down to the Delta — all around my hometown of Indianola.

Mrs. Smith then made it her passion, for the rest of her life, to collect every scrap of newsprint with Stokely’s name on it, and pictures, and other mementos into dozens of scrapbooks that were all about Carmichael, which she donated to Stanford University. Those scrapbooks are among the most valuable first-hand accounts of his early career.

So, by the time I met him during an appearance at San Jose State, I was already a #1 Fan. I was Team Stokely/Team Lorna, and he took to liking me because I was so fond of his dear friend Lorna Smith.

In fact, he even gave me a wad of cash, and invited me to come to Washington to attend a conference in November, 1968 at Howard University called “Toward a Black University.” Stokely Carmichael was, and is, my all-time favorite civil rights leader.

Later, after serving as editor-in-chief of the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, I learned that my boss, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, was also very fond of Stokely, and ordered the Fruit of Islam to help secure him!

Even later than that, when I went to work with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, as he was establishing The Final Call newspaper, producing it out of his home in Chicago’s “Beverly Hills” neighborhood, there were two people who were always at the residence when I went to work there, who I love dearly—the Minister’s Mother, Maryum (nee Sarah Mae Manning), and my dear friend Kwame Ture.

So, Bubba, you have no standing with me. If I enter a room and you are in it, I’m walking to where you are not, and if necessary, I’ll turn my back on you! But Stokely Carmichael is forever my champion.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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