Black Power

After the heady rush of the civil rights movement’s first years, anger and frustration was increasing among many African Americans, who saw clearly that true equality–social, economic and political–still eluded them. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, this frustration fueled the rise of the Black Power movement. According to then-SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael, who first popularized the term “black power” in 1966, the traditional civil rights movement and its emphasis on nonviolence, did not go far enough, and the federal legislation it had achieved failed to address the economic and social disadvantages facing blacks in America. Black Power was a form of both self-definition and self-defense for African Americans; it called on them to stop looking to the institutions of white America–which were believed to be inherently racist–and act for themselves, by themselves, to seize the gains they desired, including better jobs, housing and education. Also in 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, college students in Oakland, California, founded the Black Panther Party. While its original mission was to protect blacks from white brutality by sending patrol groups into black neighborhoods, the Panthers soon developed into a Marxist group that promoted Black Power by urging African Americans to arm themselves and demand full employment, decent housing and control over their own communities. Clashes ensued between the Panthers and police in California, New York and Chicago, and in 1967 Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter after killing a police officer. His trial brought national attention to the organization, which at its peak in the late 1960s boasted some 2,000 members.

 

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