Stokely Carmichael – Part 6: Freedom Rides and White Backlash
Mar, 25, 2009Posted by
… After having participated in various sit-ins during his freshman year at Howard University, Carmichael decided to take part in another form of nonviolent protest: the freedom rides.
As a nineteen-year-old college freshman Carmichael was one of the youngest freedom riders, but it should not remain his only record. Trying to desegregate a railway station in Jackson, Mississippi, the black activist set the record of being the youngest detainee in the summer of 1961.
The experience of his first detention (during his successive SNCC activities in the Deep South he would be arrested for another 26 times) was particularly sadistic. Carmichael spent 53 days in “a six-by-nine cell. Twice a week to shower. No books, nothing to do. They would isolate us. Maximum security”.
In his article “The Brilliancy of Black” (see my “Further Reading” section for more info) Bernard Weinraub recalls a very illustrative description of the tortures Carmichael and the other detainees had to face in Jackson, Mississippi:
“[...] and those guards were out of sight. They did not play. [...] The sheriff acted like he was scared of black folks and he came up with some beautiful things. One night he opened up all the windows, put on ten big fans and an air conditioner and dropped the temperature to 38 degrees. All we had on was T-shirts and shorts. And it was so cold, so cold, all you could do was walk around for two nights and three days, your teeth chattering, going out of your mind, and it getting so cold that when you touch the bedspring you feel your skin is gonna come right off.”
Notwithstanding the inhumane treatment by the local and state authorities inside and outside of jail, not to mention the ferocious aggressions by the South’s white racist mobs, Stokely Carmichael did not hesitate to return to Mississippi the following summers joining the SNCC in its activities.
To be continued…