AMHERST, Mass. - Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, a professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Afro-American studies department at the University of Massachusetts, is co-writing the life story of Stokely Carmichael, now known as Kwame Ture. The book, which will be released in 1999, will chronicle Carmichael’s experiences as a political activist and organizer in the Civil Rights, Black Panther, and Pan-African movements for four decades. Thelwell says Carmichael has decided to tell his story now because he was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Thelwell will draw on nearly 40 years of friendship with Carmichael in writing the book. "We met at Howard University in the early ’60s and became involved in the Freedom Rides and the Voters’ Rights Act around the same time," Thelwell says. "Over the years, we remained friends, and I watched Stokely’s rise to prominence with the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later on his own as an activist for many causes. He was always charismatic, highly committed, and courageous."
Carmichael’s accomplishments are both varied and historic, Thelwell says. He served as a founding member of SNCC, and became its chairman in 1966. He also was honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party from 1968 to 1969, and in 1970 was invited by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the deposed first president of independent Ghana, to serve as his political secretary and student. Later, at the invitation of president Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, Carmichael and his then-wife South African singer Mirian Makeba made Guinea their home. In recent years, he has served as president of the Pan-Africanist Party and has traveled throughout Africa, Europe, and the United States lecturing and organizing.
The book, tentatively titled "Dancing in the Fire: From Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture, An Autobiography," will tell the story of Carmichael’s life. As well as focusing on Carmichael’s involvement in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and his relationships with key figures from that time, such as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and Ella Baker, the book will deal extensively with his Pan-Africanist revolutionary activities, Thelwell says.
Carmichael chose Thelwell to co-write the book not only because of their years of friendship, but because of Thelwell’s commitment to both literature and social justice. A leading activist in the southern Civil Rights movement, Thelwell coordinated a national challenge to the Mississippi congressional delegation by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. He is also the author of numerous books, including "The Harder They Come," an exploration of Jamaican political struggle, Rastafarian tradition, and reggae, based on the film starring legendary musician Jimmy Cliff. At UMass, Thelwell teaches courses in both Afro-American literature and the history of the Civil Rights movement. He is the founding chair of the W.E.B. Du Bois Afro-American studies department.