Describe the elements that made Stokely Carmichael's "Black Power Address at UC Berkeley" so significant.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One reason why Carmichael's speech is so significant is that it places the issue of Civil Rights into a philosophical frame of reference.  Carmichael's address is one in which he integrates Postmodern philosophy into the context of Civil Rights.  When Carmichael addresses the issue of whether or not human beings can condemn themselves or the philosophical impossibility of one human being giving freedom to another, it moves the paradigm of Civil Rights into the long standing philosophical discussion on freedom.  Carmichael's analysis can belong to the same tradition of Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes,  Mill, and Sartre.  This is one reason why his speech is so compelling from an intellectual point of view.

Yet, Carmichael does not wish for his words to be seen as solely remaining in the ivory tower of intellectual inquiry.  When Carmichael invokes phrases such as "intellectual masturbation," it brings to light how there is a practical implication for the ideas he is putting forward.  The invocation of "Black Power" is something that African- Americans were able to assert in their own daily being.  It is here in which the speech is significant to the Civil Rights Struggle.  It transformed the movement from one that sought to wait for the social acceptance of White society into one that demanded the assertion of African- American voice into said social order.  When Carmichael suggests that "we are not going to wait for white people to sanction Black Power," it is a telling moment in the trajectory of the Civil Rights struggle.  The address is significant because it seeks to place the primacy of voice within the context of African- Americans.  It is transformative because it does not wish to "wait."  The need for voice is something that can exist outside of the acknowledgement of others.  In this dialectical and yet practical demonstration, the speech acquires a great deal of meaning and galvanizing significance to both the Civil Rights struggles and the movements that followed it.

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