American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture) was actually born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. His parents moved to New York when he was two and he was raised by his grandparents before joining his parents in Harlem at age 11. As a family, they attended a United Methodist church.
But later in life did Carmichael, who changed his name to Kwame Ture, turn to atheism?
There seems to be no official declaration by Ture that he indeed was an atheist, but what is known is that many Black Americans often hide their atheist beliefs. He was also considered part of the Black free thinkers movement, and many who are free thinkers are atheists. Ture did also reject Christianity. And he didn’t make it a secret he had turned away from Christianity.
According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, it was attending the Bronx High School of Science that “led Carmichael to sever his traditional religious notions and pushed him toward secular humanism,” wrote Christopher Cameron in the book “Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism,” published in 2019. The school focuses on science and this caused Ture to question the tenets of Christianity. The “curriculum at Bronx Science, which Carmichael stated was ‘heavily focused on Western rationalism, scientific materialism, and the scientific method, all of which I found logical and thus intellectually satisfying.’ Because of this curriculum, Carmichael claimed, ‘my religious feelings gradually lessened,’” wrote Cameron.
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After graduating in 1960, Ture attended Historically Black University Howard University and joined a chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This is when he became active in the civil rights movement. In 1961 he went to Mississippi along with other Freedom Riders. He was arrested and served 49 days behind bars in the notorious Parchman Farm prison.
Ture also attended Young Communist League meetings, he never joined, according to Cameron.
Sticking with SNCC, he later succeeded John Lewis as SNCC chairman in 1966. After stepping down as SNCC chair, Ture wrote the book “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation” (1967) with Charles Hamilton. He had become involved with the Black Panther Party, but after serving for a time as its “honorary prime minister,” he began distancing himself from the party.
By 1968 he was calling himself Kwame Ture. He married famed South African singer/activist Miriam Makeba and they moved to Conakry, Guinea, in west Africa. After divorcing in 1973, he married Marlyatou Barry, a Guinean doctor. They had a son, Bokar, in 1982, before they, too, divorced.
In his last years, Carmichael promoted the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party founded by Ghanaian politician Kwame Nkrumah. In 1996 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was treated in Cuba and at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York before returning to Guinea. He died in 1998 of cancer at age 57 in Conakry.