Lesson Plans for Secondary Educators

Stokely Carmichael, Black Power 29 October 1966

High School Lesson Plan created for Voices of Democracy by Michael J. Steudeman, University of Maryland

Click here for the VOD unit corresponding to this lesson plan.

Value for Social Studies Teachers

1) The Civil Rights movement is often taught in a vacuum: a few key speeches and events are addressed and then quickly abandoned. Carmichael’s address helps to add several layers of complexity to students’ appreciation for the tumult and protest of the era.

2) The speech helps students recognize the intersections of movements for civil rights, free speech, and anti-war protestors, and how these groups overlapped during a time of social change.

3) The speech draws on the concept of natural rights, but uses it very differently than students may be used to—as an argument against integration. Likewise, Carmichael challenges the principle of nonviolence in provocative ways that can generate in-class debate.

4) One virtue of studying oratory is that it captures the vernacular and style of a particular historical moment. Carmichael’s use of phrases like “dig yourself” helps to capture the 60s for students.

Relevant Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts

  • ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
    • Carmichael’s speech is an effort to shape the audience’s understanding and support/opposition for several important concepts, including “Black Power,” “Integrationism,” “Movement,” and “Nonviolence.”
  • ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
    • Judging the purpose and effectiveness of a text requires a consideration of audience, and the audience for Carmichael’s speech is complicated.
      • First, students should recognize the task for Carmichael in promoting his “Black Power” message to an audience of white student protestors.
      • Secondly, students should carefully evaluate how Carmichael unites the purposes of white student resistance and Black Power while dividing the role of each group in encouraging social “movement.”
  • ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.1.B Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
    • As part of a larger unit on civil rights issues, Carmichael’s speech provides an important counter-point to better known addresses like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” by challenging the assumptions of integrationism.
    • One assessment suggestion (see page 2) requires students to contrast the views of Carmichael and King, considering their belief systems and appeals from the perspective of multiple audiences.

Ideas for Pre-Reading

  • Students will need to grapple with the complexity of Carmichael’s audience and purpose. Have students consider Aristotle’s observations about audience (especially [4-5]), particularly the concepts of “character” and “judgment.”
  • Next, have students consider the culture of Berkeley student culture in the 1960s. The spirit of protest is exemplified by two Mario Savio speeches from 1964 (1 and 2). Linda Churney’s Yale unit provides additional context.
  • In building solidarity with student protestors, Carmichael repeatedly referenced his opposition to the Vietnam War. The University of Washington provides an archive of anti-war images that can help students recognize the passionate feelings the war provoked for many different groups.
  • The concept of “natural rights” shapes Carmichael’s argument: people are born free, he argues, but freedom can be taken away. The Declaration of Independence provides one option for reviewing this theme with students.
  • As the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael endorsed a more assertive vision of civil rights than other leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Lewis. Students should understand the historical circumstances of SNCC’s formation and evolution under Carmichael.

Important Vocabulary/Figures

  • Neshoba County, MS [para. 4]: Carmichael’s speech addresses the murder of three civil rights workers the previous June, which galvanized the civil rights movement.
  • Missionaries [para. 43]: In confronting integration, Carmichael links efforts like the Peace Corps to a history of white colonization. He links this to his broader argument against existing institutions.
  • Democratic Party: The speech reflects growing divisions between Southern “Dixiecrats,” anti-war activists, and New Deal liberals. Students should be familiar with Lyndon Johnson and his struggles with these tensions.

Suggested Timeline/Objectives

Day I: Condemn Yourselves?

  • [Read paragraphs 1-16]
  • Students will assess the tension Carmichael faces in delivering a Black Power argument to a mostly white audience.
  • Students will examine how Carmichael employs natural rights arguments to contest integration.

Day II: Unity and Division

  • [Read paragraphs 17-31]
  • Students will analyze how Carmichael divides roles for white student protestors and blacks within the civil rights m
  • Students will also assess how Carmichael unites these two parts of the movement together against a common system, e.g. through reference to the Vietnam War.

Day III: Critiquing Institutions

  • [Read paragraphs 32-46]
  • Students will debate Carmichael’s argument that the existing system cannot eliminate racism.

Day IV: Defining Themselves

  • [Read paragraphs 47-63]
  • Students will determine how the principle of nonviolence fits within Carmichael’s condemnation of existing institutions.
  • Students will consider the speech’s overall reasoning for the claim that blacks should “define themselves as they see fit.”
  • Students will evaluate whether Carmichael’s position leaves room for white student involvement.

Key During Reading Passages and Discussion Questions

  • Audio: Recordings of Carmichael’s speech are available online, and can help students understand both his style and rapport with his audience.
  • Paragraphs 1-5: Throughout the speech, Carmichael argues that existing institutions in the United States cannot be changed, and must be replaced. Discuss with students how the idea that people cannot “condemn themselves” suggests something unchangeable about institutions.
  • Paragraphs 7-16: The idea of natural rights comes into play in this section: no one can grant rights; they can only be taken away. Ask students:
    • How does this position lead into Carmichael’s rejection of integrationism?
    • What place does this position leave for students in his audience?
  • Paragraphs 22-25: These passages are key to Carmichael’s argument that blacks and whites must approach the struggle from different institutional directions. Prompt students to consider the implications of this division: What is each group supposed to do to further the cause of Black Power?
  • Paragraph 28: Carmichael notes that the students have deferred their draft to Vietnam to study. This evidence supports both Carmichael’s view of divided roles and a united purpose for Black Power and student protest groups:
    • First, Vietnam protests on a college campus are “preaching to the choir” and not directly challenging problematic social institutions;
    • Second, this point links Carmichael’s anti-war and civil rights appeals; because blacks are denied education, they are disproportionately drafted.
  • Day III: Carmichael attacks multiple aspects of American institutions and myths throughout these paragraphs, linking them to an overall critique of integration. Black Power means changing and working outside of dominant institutions. This provides a basis for an in-class debate on the resolution:
    • Racism can only be addressed by transforming social institutions.
  • Paragraph 46: In addressing the connotations of “black,” “colored,” and “negro” as terms for his race, Carmichael illustrates how struggles between dominant and countercultural groups often hinge on terminology—an issue that persists in modern struggles over race, class, and LGBT rights.
  • Paragraphs 53-57: Carmichael addresses a double-standard in calls for civil rights activists to embrace “nonviolence.” Ask students:
    • What are the potential risks and benefits of rejecting nonviolence?
    • Is it clear through Carmichael’s appeals—for example, the metaphor of the Black Panther—that what he advocates is defensive violence?
    • How does this appeal connect to Carmichael’s broader arguments—e.g., against integrationism and working within the system?
  • Conclusion: Carmichael tends toward hyperbole, and the final passages of the speech are particularly assertive. What room does this leave for his audience?

Ideas for Post-Reading and Assessment

  • Evaluating Approaches to Civil Rights: Students will write an essay that draws contrasts between Carmichael’s arguments and those expressed by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Writing for an academic audience, students should evaluate the reasoning of each with a consideration for how different forces (“Black Power” activists, integrationists, apathetic or moderate whites, gradualists, segregationists, etc.) would respond to both speakers’ contentions. Specifically, students should react to the question: Which speaker’s strategy—King’s or Carmichael’s—provides the strongest rhetorical approach for the Civil Rights Movement? (RH.11-12.6; W.11-12.1.B)
  • Student Activist Review: Students will write a “review” of Carmichael’s speech from a student perspective for an activist campus newsletter. The essay should address what actions students should take, grappling with two questions:
  1. What role does Carmichael envision for (primarily white) students in the struggle for Black Power?
  2. To what extent do we, as student activists, agree with the role he envisions for us in the movement?
    Responses should engage critically with the speech’s style, purpose, and audience adaptation. (RI.11-12.6; RI.11-12.2)