What motivated SNCC activists, Carson shows, was that the slogan of black power “aroused blacks and disturbed whites,” and was meant to “stir racial emotions.” Eventually, Carson says, Carmichael and SNCC “moved ever closer to an ideology of black separatism.” And, a bit later, it joined the anti-Vietnam War movement and sided with the radicals in that effort, seeing the war as part of American imperialism’s thrust. SNCC also tried to move American blacks to adopt hatred of Israel as a major part of its anti-colonialist program, and became one of the first black organizations to support Yassir Arafat’s PLO, as Fatah was then called.
Carmichael’s analysis was made clear in the following excerpt from a speech he gave on June 15, 1966:
The advocates of Black Power reject the old slogans and meaningless rhetoric of previous years in the civil rights struggle. The language of yesterday is indeed irrelevant: progress, non-violence, integration, fear of “white backlash,” … One of the tragedies of the struggle against racism is that up to this point there has been no national organization which could speak to the growing militancy of young black people in the urban ghettos and the black-belt South. There has been only a “civil rights” movement, whose tone of voice was adapted to an audience of middle-class whites. … We had only the old language of love and suffering. And in most places — that is, from the liberals and middle class — we got back the old language of patience and progress. … There is no black man in the country who can live “simply as a man.” His blackness is an ever-present fact of this racist society, whether he recognizes it or not…. “Integration” as a goal today speaks to the problem of blackness not only in an unrealistic way but also in a despicable way…. “integration” is a subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy.
And before his death from cancer in November of 1998, Carmichael, by then called by the African name Kwame Toure, said the following as he reflected back on his life and prepared to take an illegal solidarity trip to Libya:
In the 1960s, we said “Hell No, we won’t go” to Vietnam, to fight against a people who never called us a nigger, and we didn’t go. We said that they would defeat U.S. imperialism, and the heroic Vietnamese People, under the sterling example and leadership of the eternal Ho Chi Minh, did. Today we say “Hell yes, we are going to Libya” … and we warn the U.S. government not to interfere. We are certain today that the people of Cuba and Libya, under the steadfast leadership of Fidel Castro and [Libyan President] Muammar Qadhafi, will be victorious.
By then, Toure had come to support Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. Learning that he had advanced and irreversible prostate cancer, he told the press that it was “an FBI induced cancer,” the result of the never ending attempt of the US government to assassinate him and part of “the white man’s arsenal of chemical and biological warfare.” Maybe it was fortunate for their reunion that Carmichael is no longer with us, for his presence would have made their attempt to transcend “old antagonisms” and hide the truly extremist direction to which SNCC had moved impossible.
Nevertheless, Bob Moses told the meeting that SNCC’s work was not yet done. Black people were “second-class constitutional people,” he said, who will only leave that position if there is a constitutional amendment guaranteeing them a right to a quality education.
One could ask, “Don’t all Americans deserve a quality education?” — and would a constitutional amendment really bring it about? At least his chimerical demand is less absurd than demanding the U.S. government award reparations to all the black people in America for slavery. It is certainly better than the unfortunate violent turn SNCC took at the end of the 1960s.