In May 1967, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’s groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Com­mittee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of the following year, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Blacks to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In his finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, then the only Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advo­cacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

Parks met Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) in September 1966, as Carmichael’s rallying cry for “Black Power” was grabbing national attention. Parks was a prominent contributor to Life magazine, photographing and writing essays that chronicled, with his characteristic humanity, Benedictine monks and Black Muslims; a Harlem family and a teenage gang member. Carmichael, then 25 and a recent graduate with a philosophy degree from Howard University, was consistently in the news, whether publishing his own writing in The New York Review of Books or being profiled in Esquire and Look magazines.

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael was the figure most identified with the call for Black Power, and was routinely depicted as a representative of anger and separatism. But Parks’s text and photo essay for Life, “Whip of Black Power,” conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person—not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humor, his private moments with family and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”

Text excerpted from the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2022/23.

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Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael Gives Speech, Watts, California, 1967.


Gordon Parks, Untitled, 1967

Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael in SNCC Office, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967

Gordon Parks, Untitled, Watts, California, 1967

Gordon Parks, Untitled, Watts, California, 1967

Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama, 1967

Gordon Parks, Untitled, Los Angeles, California, 1967

Gordon Parks, Untitled, 1967

Gordon Parks, Untitled, New York, New York, 1967