The Molding of a Leader: Stokely Carmichael and the Washington, D.C. Race Riots of 1968
28 November 2006
To nurture and encourage truly inspirational and charismatic leaders requires significant investments of time and energy. Events congeal to form a potential leader’s identity, and the interpretation of those events and an ability to communicate this interpretation together constitute the basis for a leader’s solitary emergence from a pool of equally intelligent and insightful men and women.
Our leaders are far from perfect. But their experiences, memories and interpretations of their existence—where they fit in the present and how they might hope to shape the future— all provide a vibrant mountain of knowledge to students of rhetoric, charisma and leadership in general.
Specifically, the Civil Rights conflict is saturated with captivating leaders and serves as an excellent backdrop for their comparison, because variables such as geography, race, culture, and education can be neutralized. Given the same context, it is far easier to isolate and examine the diverse personalities, identities and histories of multiple leaders.
As always, the charisma of Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly deserves our attention and respect; but in the context of leadership, there are a number of reasons why analyzing Stokely Carmichael’s role in resolving the American social conflict for civil rights might elicit more valuable tools for resolving such conflicts.
First, like most great leaders, Carmichael was once a great follower, but he grew disenchanted with his leader—namely, Dr. King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Second, Carmichael’s rhetoric has always been founded on practical ideas, which can be helpful to any student, not merely those who are struggling against the grave injustices that made Dr. King so iconic. In contrast, Carmichael’s strategy was more accessible to his followers, and its lessons are more readily applicable to any issue or conflict, not merely those that elicit a comprehensive sense of grandeur and oppression.