#TBT - "Say It Loud" - 50 years ago Stokely Carmichael came to Seattle and ignited a movement.
The #TBT series is a collaboration between the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and Africatown Seattle to give historical insights and perspectives into Black history and Black contributions in the Seattle area and Washington State as a whole.
By Stephanie Johnson-Toliver
Fifty-three years ago, this month, in April 1967, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) came to Seattle and delivered a wake-up call packed with no-nonsense, straight talk around the topics of Black enterprise, identity, and power.
Carmichael’s visit was deliberately coordinated with the swell of discontent throughout much of the Black community to push responsive action on justice issues that had slowed and building frustration with political rhetoric that was just that, talk. It was three years since the legislation for War on Poverty programs was initiated and by 1967 the community saw funds dwindling that were promised to support equity in housing, health care, job counseling, and educational opportunities.
Adding to unrest were voices of Black students at the University of Washington to demand equity in educational opportunity student recruitment/retainment and a diverse facility across academic departments that reflected the student populations. Protests locally and nationally were also intensifying to challenge the heavy unpopularity for U.S. involvement in the Viet Nam War.
At the time of Carmichael’s Seattle visit, his notoriety was rising throughout the country’s civil rights movement as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCCC). He coined the slogan, “Black Power” and in 1968 he left SNCC to become affiliated with the Black Panther Party.
Stokely Carmichael spoke to a majority Black audience that was a standing-room-only crowd that flowed outside the auditorium doors at Garfield High School. Earlier in the day Carmichael addressed nearly 3,000 students at the University of Washington. He clarified some misinterpretation by the “white press” regarding “Black Power”. Carmichael said, “No one is talking about the blacks taking over the country, but about taking over and empowering our own communities.”
Carmichael’s appearance at Garfield High School did not come without push back from the Seattle School Board for his right to use Garfield as a venue. King County Superior Court Judge Frank James overturned the Board’s decision and there was also strong support in the battle for use by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Audience members included Aaron and Elmer Dixon who shortly following the Carmichael visit would establish the Black Student Union (BSU) at Garfield with the help of Larry Gossett’s leadership at the University of Washington BSU. The Dixon’s later went on to form the Seattle Chapter Black Panther Party, the first chapter outside Oakland, CA in 1968.
When Gossett was interviewed years later, he stated, “Stokely knew black history. Negroes were so starved for information to make them proud of who they were. The next morning, people who had gone to hear him thinking themselves Negroes were calling themselves black. It just spread like wildfire.”
A local legacy of Carmichael’s visit and speech at Garfield came a year later on May 20, 1968, when the UW BSU staged a sit-in on campus that led to a tremendous victory. The sit-in directly influenced the creation of the Office of Minority Affairs, the Ethnic Cultural Center and Theatre, and the American Ethnic Studies department…all remain and continue to thrive today.
Standing in the light of history and in the strength of community, we should never forget or underestimate the unity of Black Power.
Here is a link to Stokely Carmichael’s speech at Garfield High School, April 19, 1968. https://digitalcommons.cwu.edu/library_lectures/10/
1. Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Inc., Seattle, WA www.bhswa.org
2. HistoryLink.org, Essay 3715, author, Priscilla Long, 2002
3. Museum of History & Industry, Seattle, WA, photo credit, www.mohai.org
4. Dixon, Aaron, “My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain”, Haymarket