Saturday, February 28, 2009

Michelle Obama and Stokely Carmichael

My friend Juan Williams is losing it if he thinks comparing First Lady Michelle Obama to Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) is a bad thing! Furthermore, Black journalists and others who took offense at the Williams absurdity should do some research before they recoil in horror because Stokely Carmichael was and is a hero.
On a cable TV show, on a network I avoid watching like the plague, Mr. Williams baselessly attacked the First Lady recently, claiming that “her instinct is to start with this ‘blame America’ stuff.”
Well the cable, so-called “all news” channels really offer nothing “new.” That’s first. Rather they simulate the sound of the AM-talk-radio, junior varsity, locker room, echo chamber, where snide putdowns resound like the snap of towels on bare bottoms. The remark was intended to appeal to the White-guy, beer-guzzlers in the cheap seats.
The author of the television documentary “Eyes on the Prize,” and a biography of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall clearly forgot everything he learned doing research on those projects when he asserted that Michelle Obama’s “instinct” is to “blame America” or to be “the victim.” Then he said she has “this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going.” Rim-shot! Zinger!
He went on to say that she could be a “liability” or an “albatross” for President Barack Obama. Mister, please! He once previously claimed Michelle Obama sometimes uses “this kind of militant anger.”
Now, I personally like most expressions of Black militant anger.
Next, I can’t imagine that a woman as brilliant and self-assured as Michelle Obama could ever be anything but an asset to anyone with whom she was ever associated. In fact, Prof. Charles Ogletree—who taught both Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama at Harvard University’s law school—told me in an interview that at that time, he thought Michelle would eventually be more politically successful than Barack.
I don’t know either of the Obama’s personally, so I’ll take Prof. Ogletree’s word on the worthiness of their characters. And so far as I’ve been able to see from the public records, he’s been a pretty darn good President, and she’s been a very charming First Lady.
But I do know Stokely Carmichael. He was one of my very special all-time heroes! He was responsible for a number of detours in my life and career and I am eternally grateful (eternally grateful!) for having known him! He was a decent, honorable, principled, generous, and loving man who made a tremendous contribution to our struggle, making it possible for the likes of Juan Williams to even be at The Washington Post, or NPR, or PBS-TV, or Fox News in the first place.
In 1966, after his famous “Black Power” declaration, made literally while in the “teeth of the beast” with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others on James Meredith’s Mississippi “March Against Fear,” he single-handedly began the full-employment- for-Negro- reporters- movement, by demanding that the National Press send only Black reporters to cover his events, otherwise they would not be admitted to his press conferences! Those bold declarations came after his heroic work in Lowndes County, Ala. where in just a few months Black voter registration increased from 70 to 2,600. I read no offense in comparing the First Lady to a great champion like that!
Before I ever met this hero of mine in the flesh, the subject of one of my first journalistic adventures while I was still in school at San Jose State University, taught me to revere Stokely Carmichael. I met and frequently interviewed then 70-plus-year old Lorna D. Smith, a White woman who lived in San Jose, who had been a researcher for renowned journalist and author Theodore Dreiser.
Miss Smith spent a summer working on the Mississippi Project in 1964 and was so inspired by Stokely Carmichael that she collected “All Things Carmichael” for the next 8 years, compiling more than a dozen huge (five linear feet-worth) scrapbooks, which are now a part of the permanent collection of the Stanford University Library!
I repeat, if Juan Williams meant to insult First Lady Michelle Obama by comparing her to my champion, then he missed the mark big time! And any young journalist in particular who takes the comparison of anyone to Stokely Carmichael as anything but the highest compliment, even in this “post racial” era needs to study more.
So, to my friend Juan Williams (of whom I never expect anything better), and to all other un-informed Blacks who trembled at Juan’s lame-brained remark, I ask simply: What’s wrong with being like Stokely Carmichael? Absolutely nothing! We need more thinkers and leaders like him!

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