Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Carmichael moved with his family to New York when he was eleven. While attending Howard University, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He participated in the Freedom Rides of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and was arrested, spending time in jail. He became chair of SNCC in 1966.
In that year, after the sniper shooting of James Meredith, Carmichael joined Martin Luther King, Floyd McKissick, and others to continue Meredith's "march against fear". He was arrested during the march; on his release he gave his "Black Power" speech, using the phrase to urge Black pride and independence:
It is a call for Black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for Black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.
In 1969, Carmichael and his then wife, the South African singer Miriam Makeba, moved to Guinea, in West Africa, and he became an aide to Guinean prime minister, Sekou Toure. There, in 1971, he wrote the book, Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. In 1978, he changed his name to Kwame Ture to honor Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure.
He died of cancer at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea.