By any measure, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) fundamentally altered the course of history. Published at the fifth anniversary of Carmichael's death, this long-awaited autobiography fills a yawning gap in the American historical record as it chronicles the legendary civil rights leader's work as chairman of SNCC, patriarch of Black Power, Pan-African activist, and social revolutionary. It is an unflinching, searing, often visionary testament to the man's legacy and joins the works of Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela as a crucial and colorful contribution to contemporary history.
As in life, the Carmichael in these pages is the definition of charisma and determination. In sharp prose full of Carmichael's candor, wit, irrepressible sense of irony, and undying love for his people, "Ready for Revolution" relates with clear-eyed intelligence the epic struggle for human liberation in our time. Carmichael -- who in 1978 changed his name to Kwame Ture in honor of his mentors, the revolutionary African leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure -- recounts the course of his own experience and struggles, ranging from the prison farms and lynch mobs of Mississippi through the firefights and political intrigue of the African liberation wars to Black Power and Pan-Africanism. His transformation from immigrant child to impassioned activist is spellbinding. Populated with an international cast of luminaries, including James Baldwin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Miriam Makeba, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Toni Morrison, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, and Fidel Castro, "Ready for Revolution" captures, as few books ever have, the pulse of the cultural upheavals thatdefine the modern world.
More than the sum of its parts, this book is the personal testimony of a supremely courageous and committed African-American freedom fighter, radical thinker, and warm and engaging human being. Regardless of whether one subscribes to Carmichael's politics and ideas, there is no denying the overwhelming influence he had on American lives and history. And his view from the eye of the black-struggle storm is invaluable.
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The personal story of the civil rights leader's work and life discusses his witness to and experiences with the prison farms and lynch mobs of Mississippi, and the efforts of Black Power and Pan-Africanism.Review:
Stokely Carmichael (known as Kwame Ture later in his life) died before his autobiography, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael, could be completed, so much of the text was stitched together from extensive taped sessions by his long-time friend, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell. What remains is a sometimes uneven but always stirring record one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of the Twentieth Century.
Carmichael was born in Trinidad, but his life as an activist began with his immersion in the Civil Rights movement at the Bronx High School of Science and then Howard University in the 1950s and 60s. At Howard he joined the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) and later, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), through which he drove voter registration efforts in Mississippi and Alabama. Later, as chairman of the SNCC he moved beyond the teachings of nonviolent resistance and forged the Black Power movement, authoring one of its key documents, "Toward Black Liberation" with Thelwell. He became a nationally recognized figure, reviled by leaders on both the left and the right for his apparent abandonment of integration. Yet his vision for black self-determinism would empower a generation of African-American artists, scholars, and leaders to embrace a new vision of African and African-American identity that is still transforming black culture. Eventually, Carmichael settled in Guinea, where he became a member of the ruling party and spent his later years promulgating his vision for Pan-African revolution.
In the introduction to Ready for Revolution, Thelwell admits that, in keeping the story faithful to the recordings, he left it essentially a "first draft" of Carmichael's vision. Thelwell's intrusions in the text, whether his own points or thoughts of others whom he interviewed are bracketed--while this formal approach honors Carmichael's words, the passages are often distracting and would have been better left as endnotes. Further, Thelwell seems to let Carmichael's original text stand where some pruning would have been beneficial, notably in Carmichael's overly detailed recounting of his school days. That said, Thelwell has done a great service to African-American studies by shepherding Carmichael's controversial, quirky, and uncompromising autobiography into print. --Patrick O'Kelley
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