Civil rights activist Kwame Ture, who was born Stokely Carmichael, was a key leader in the development of the Black power movement. Early in his career, he led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), before becoming “honorary prime minister” of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in the late 1960s. He was still part of SNCC at the time.
His activism led to government scrutiny, particularly by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI targeted him for counterintelligence activity through its COINTELPRO program — a series of covert and illegal projects conducted by the FBI aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic U.S. political organizations. The government put a snitch-jacket on Ture.
The scrutiny pushed Carmichael to move to Africa in 1968. While living in Ghana and then Guinea, he adopted the name Kwame Ture.
The FBI was relentless in its pursuit of Black activists like Ture. In July 1968, Hoover intensified the agency’s efforts to divide the Black power movement. According to declassified documents, Hoover launched a plan to “bad-jacket” (or snitch-jacket) Ture as a CIA agent. Snitch-jacketing meant creating suspicion about a person by spreading rumors, manufacturing evidence, and disinformation.
The FBI “hoped that when the informant report is read, it will help promote distrust between Carmichael and the Black Community,” according to Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, author of the book, “Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement” (1988).
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The FBI’s efforts got Ture expelled from SNCC, and the Panthers denounced him. Ture was a victim of “pig jacketing by the FBI who planted false documents and spread lies calling him a CIA agent to create a split in the Black Panther Party,” according to a research paper entitled “The COINTELPRO Jacket: Destroying the Movement from Within,” written by James M. Simmons. The paper was published in January 2017. Simmons is a professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Northridge.
The FBI’s tactics worked. Black Panther Party co-founder and leader Huey P. Newton declared, “We…charge Stokely Carmichael is operating as an agent of the CIA.”
The FBI’s snitch-jacketing put Ture’s life at risk.
“On 7/4/68, a pretext phone call was placed to the residence of Stokley Carmichael, and in absence of Carmichael his mother was told that a friend was calling who was fearful of the future safety of her son. It was explained to Mrs. Carmichael the absolute necessity for Carmichael to ‘hide-out’ inasmuch as several BPP members were out to kill him, and it was probably to be done sometime this week. Mrs. CARMICHAEL appeared shocked upon hearing the news and stated she would tell Stokley when he came home,” Churchill and Vander Wall wrote in “Agents of Repression.”
Ture died of prostate cancer on Nov. 15, 1998, in Conakry, Guinea. He was 57. He had been treated at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York in the two years preceding his death. Ture once said his cancer ”was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them.”
Photo: Kwame Ture, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, talks on the phone in his hospital room in Havana, Cuba May 2, 1996. (AP Photo/Anita Baca)