America first heard the words “Black Power” in 1966 as they echoed from the Mississippi Delta. During the second week in June, Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael led hundreds of demonstrators through the state of Mississippi in defiance of white terror and violence and to continue James Meredith’s solo “March Against Fear” begun on June 5. Four years earlier, Meredith had become a household name as days of rioting and violence intended to keep him from enrolling at the University of Mississippi pushed the Kennedy administration to the brink of civil war with the citadel of the Old Confederacy. In 1966 a determined Meredith vowed to walk across Mississippi alone to combat “the pervasive fear” that plagued the state’s black residents. Meredith was ambushed on the second day of his trek and civil rights leaders gathered at his hospital bed in Memphis, where they vowed to take up his banner and continue his March Against Fear. Clashes over armed self-defense, interracial cooperation, and political tactics began immediately and marked the long walk through Mississippi, setting off ongoing debates between King and Carmichael. Over a decade into his public activism on behalf of black Americans, King was an internationally recognized civil rights leader. Carmichael possessed no such international reputation, having spent the past several years-in between successfully completing a philosophy degree at Howard University-engaged in the thankless
task of door-to-door organizing in the rural South. Reporters enthusiastically played up the generational differences between the men, with the 24-year-old Carmichael cast as the 37-year-old King’s latest foil. Tension increased when King and Carmichael were interviewed walking at the head of the march. When asked whether the Meredith incident would shake the movement’s resolve, King professed unwavering commitment to nonviolence while Carmichael casually proclaimed his tactical rather than philosophical support.