Sproul Plaza and Mario Savio Steps, UC Berkeley
Mario Savio on Sproul Hall steps at UC Berkeley in 1966
Backstory and Context
At the age of twenty-four, Stokely Carmichael walked out a Mississippi prison in 1966 and told a crowd of supporters “We want Black Power!” This phrase would come to mean many things to different people, from African Americans who recognized the need for autonomy and power to those who opposed racial equality and saw Carmichael as a direct threat.
By the time Carmichael gave his famous speech on the Berkeley campus at the SDS-sponsored Black Power Conference in October 1966, he had already been arrested twenty-seven times for participating in sit-ins and other protests in the South. While he supported non-violent protest, his own personal accounts and experiences of injustice convinced him that radical change was needed to reform the political system of the United States.
Carmichael was put under FBI surveillance after his speeches in Detroit and California urging African Americans to refuse military induction in protest of the Vietnam War. In New York City on April 15, 1967, Carmichael gave a speech connecting Black Power to the war in Vietnam and linked poverty to racial oppression.
"SDS Refused Permission for Black Power Meeting," Madera Tribune, October 11, 1966.