Welcome and thanks for joining our historical journey!
First Stop: Stokely Carmichael!
It was officially black history month and although I had formal and informal education, I did not know a lot about my heritage. Well, I knew enough to get by, but I wanted to learn more. Which is why I was in the bookstore near LIU in Brooklyn about to get the book, All you need to know about black history.
As I went to grab the book, there was some resistance, causing me to turn around and see that it wasn’t stuck, but someone else had the book in their hands as well.
“Excuse me,” I spat.
“Excuse yourself, I was here first,” the man snapped back.
He was dressed in tan khaki pants, a polo shirt, and his hair was cut low. His chocolate brown eyes were heated with annoyance but they were on me still. Yet his mouth was curled up in anger, which was unfortunate because he looked like he might have had a great smile. The mahogany colored man had clear skin and a beard, like those guys from Philly. He was well-groomed and I wouldn’t mind tugging on it if he wasn’t so nasty.
Despite his appearance, I was not accustomed to men snapping back at women and nor would I put up with it from a stranger. Therefore, I snatched the book out of his grasp, then said, “You’re a real …”
“You folks want to know all there is about black history, eh?” An older man with curly silver gray hair all over his head and silver facial hair to match, yet contrasted almost perfectly against his light wood colored weathered skin. He had to be around his late seventies or early eighties.
“Pardon?” I asked, clutching the book for dear life, just in case, chocolate eyes had any ideas.
“You want to learn all there is about black history? I have something better than a book. I know some people.”
“Like an orator?” the book thief asked.
“One step better than that.” The old man smiled. “Just follow me, down here.”
He had already started to move down the aisle. The thief and I looked at each other, then followed as he shrugged his shoulders and murmured, “You already took my book.”
“What?” I asked as my head begin to feel light.
“Thief,” I swore I heard him say before I blacked out.
It seemed like the three of us were transported back in time. The thief was on my left while the old man was on my right. I had so many questions, but the scene before us took precedence.
We looked around the small room and saw a tall, thin man looking intently at the old television set. Tears were in his eyes as they bore into the black and white ten-inch screen that blared in the small decorated room. It had to be the sixties because of the wood paneling on the walls, the orange hotel carpet that was run down near the door and the pastel coloring in the kitchen. There was an empty plate with crumbs and a glass on the table. The couch the man was sitting on had been worn with tattered edges alongside the seams of the fabric.
The tears were noticeable because the man’s hands were gripping the sides, causing his nails to tear the seams even more.
“Where are we?” I whispered to our guide.
“Can you take a guess?” He looked at both my book thief and me.
Chocolate eyes looked to where the guy was staring and whispered, “Well, it’s definitely the sixties because of the sit-ins and he looks familiar, but I’m not sure who.”
I merely shrugged my shoulders because I had no idea who he was.
The older man smiled at me and said, “Look closer.”
Turning my eyes, I moved closer to the man and saw that his eyes were no longer holding the water that threatened to spill over because they had burst through and tears were running down his face.
What made a grown man cry?
I turned towards the television and saw young girls and boys lying on the floor of an old diner with people standing over them pouring sugar on their faces. A few red-faced, angry men and women were dumping ketchup that landed on their matted hair. One girl was crying with her hands over her face and one of the guys had his arm draped over his eyes shielding them from the various condiments that were purposefully dumped on them. There were about seven to eight of them and only six were on the floor.
As I looked towards the top of the small screen, I saw two men pulling a young black girl from the counter stool as the waitress face distorted into something inhuman. In her eyes was pure hate but underneath her exterior resided fear. I wasn’t sure how I knew that, but I did.
My eyes turned back towards the tall, lanky man’s hands as they were shaking but his eyes remained glued to the screen as the tears continued to flow. I turned towards the old man and tried to ask him a question, but nothing came out.
He smiled at me and nodded his head and then we were back in the bookstore. Everybody continued to go through the hustle and bustle like they did not witness the heinous crime and hatred that was demonstrated towards people who just wanted equal rights.
“If you don’t recognize that young man at the time, he was Stockley Carmichael. That scene, as I would have imagined it, was a turning point in his life when he decided to get involved in the civil rights movement. We went to visit him first because he used to live over near Morris Park, in the Bronx. He later went to Howard University in D.C. and graduated with honors.”
“You say turning point, why?” my book thief asked.
“Turning point, because he saw an injustice and set to do something about it. He did not continue to sit on his couch and watch other people besides himself be treated unfairly. He joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), picketed a Woolworth’s store, and then traveled to sit-ins in Virginia and South Carolina.” He turned to face me. “Later, he joined Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and after he wasn’t satisfied with the political parties, he founded his own, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Stokely was not to be played with. He was a natural leader and when he felt like the non-violence approach was not working, he decided to follow the road of the first philosophies of Malcolm X. By any means necessary.” He shook his head as if he remembered the historical figure going through the various transitions. “I’d imagine that he was frustrated beyond measure.”
“You think?” I added in an attempt to bring some sarcastic relief to the extremely sensitive subject.
I did want to learn about black history, but I never thought I would get a chance to experience it.
“This is common. Whenever I take folks through this experiential journey, they almost always go through the phases of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance.” He gave me a small smile. “This is not easy. However I wanted you to get only a glimpse of Mr. Carmichael, so when you go to read about him yourself, you can put it into context. He wasn’t just an angry black man, even though his moves and transitions were quite radical. After joining the Black Panther Party, he eventually moved and lived in Guinea for the rest of his life. Stokely was so radical, he answered his phone with, ‘Ready for the revolution!’ The man was tireless, yet powerful in his own right.”
“He’s dead?” I asked.
“Yes, died of prostate cancer in 1998,” The old man answered.
“Is all of black history riddled with these sad, depressing stories?” The guy asked.
“Actually, no. Many of them are full of triumph, have had many successes and include people that have displayed what sacrifice looks like. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and they were crusaders. More importantly, they were the people that gave up so much and sacrificed their lives so that we could live the way we do.”
The old man paused, looked at both of us up and down, then said. “If you’re interested, I’m going on another journey tomorrow. Same time. Same place. Only if you’re interested.”
I was totally interested as I planned to read more about Mr. Carmichael tonight.
“Yes, I’m in,” I said as the excitement bubbled over.
My book thief turned around and looked towards the front of the store. Then he turned back and faced the old man, “I’m not sure.”
“Well, I want you to be sure. She’ll be here and so will I. If you make it, that would be great and if not, well, that’s on you, young man.”
“Come on, it’ll be cool.” I tried to coax him into joining us.
His eyes darted towards me quickly, then he said through gritted teeth, “I said I’ll see.”
He turned around and stalked off.
“Some people skip the denial phase and go straight to anger.” The old man said. “I hope he makes the right decision.”
“Hmm,” I hummed.
“Do you want to try one of our new mocha frappe’s?” A sweet woman in the background asked us.
“No, sweetheart. I was just leaving, but I think she might.” The old man jerked his thumb to me.
“Oh goodie,” she exclaimed. “I’m Candace by the way and you are?”
“I’m Toni,” I replied.
“Nice! Well, welcome to The Reader’s Block, home of the Bookstore Chronicles.” She intertwined her arm with mine and pulled me while saying, “Now, let’s get you that frappe. You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
I almost laughed out loud at her comment. The crazy thing was, I think I did.
Thank you for experiencing Stokely Carmichael with us! We hope you stay tuned as we continue to explore various figures during this month and that you’ll take this snippet and learn more about Mr. Carmichael and the various organizations.
- See if Jared decides to come back and continue the journey or will another join him.
- Experience the next historical figure, Frederick Douglass, the Civil rights activist
- Like Author N. Saba’s page
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