W.E.B. Du Bois' prophetic tag about the color line in America being the problem of the 20th Century (still #1 with a bullet in the 21st)may be the great man's greatest understatement. I marvel that Stokely Carmichael(later Kwame Ture)was able to get his arms around the reality of his life and strange times as profoundly as he does. Fortunately for us, confidence was never his problem.
This book is a sustained narrative, in equal parts autobiography, historical analysis, and oral history.
Like SNCC itself, this work is focused, disciplined and deeply grounded in the freedom struggles of African people in communities like Cambridge, Maryland, Greenwood, Mississippi and Lowndes County, Alabama. Stokely's recap of events that made the walls of segregation come tumbling down is illuminated by luminaries like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer. But it's the voices of the real stars of the Movement -- Mr. Hartman Turnbow, E.W. Steptoe, Victoria Gray, Annie Pearl Avery and Endesha Holland -- that, rightly, get pride of place in his retelling.
Thanks and praises to Ekwueme Michael Thelwell for midwifing a masterpiece. Show me a biography or an autobiography in which the text does not "stitch together" memory and chronology, fact and fiction, people and places -- and I'll assume you do your reading in the checkout line at the supermarket. Thelwell includes just enough of Stokely's vocal mannerisms to convey his live voice and real personality, without allowing them to become tics and distractions. His parenthetical asides may challenge readers with attention deficit issues, but personally, I found they captured Thelwell unraveling small mysteries about his friend. Check out the one where Thelwell muses about where Carmichael really was during the March on Washington.
Readers should be told that this autobiography is a page-turner, it reads like a thriller. High School and College students will learn what all the excitement of the Southern Civil Rights Movement was about. Godwilling they'll be motivated by Stokely's example. There is high literary art in the way Carmichael and Thelwell capture the sweep of events that shaped our own life and times. The stories and homilies are so archetypal, you'll imagine they happened to you -- until you catch yourself realizing that that was Stokely, not you, who fell in love with Miriam Makeba over the radio and then married her in real life.
The chorus of voices reveals black and white folks willing to give their lives working for something at the core of our shared humanity. I always knew there were those who do not share that humanity. Stokely's autobiography teaches us that the struggle is so desperately important because they will never stop trying to enslave others by denying them their humanity. You cannot read this narrative and not share Stokely's love for and belief in the struggles of Africans, and indigenous peoples, everywhere.