Black power emphasized black self-reliance and self-determination more than integration. Proponents believed African Americans should secure their human rights by creating political and cultural organizations that served their interests.
They insisted that African Americans should have power over their own schools, businesses, community services and local government. They focused on combating centuries of humiliation by demonstrating self-respect and racial pride as well as celebrating the cultural accomplishments of black people around the world. The black power movement frightened most of white America and unsettled scores of black Americans.
The inspiration behind much of the black power movement, Malcolm X’s intellect, historical analysis, and powerful speeches impressed friend and foe alike. The primary spokesman for the Nation of Islam until 1964, he traveled to Mecca that year and returned more optimistic about social change. He saw the African American freedom movement as part of an international struggle for human rights and anti-colonialism. After his assassination in 1965, his memory continued to inspire the rising tide of black power.
More than any other person, Malcolm X was responsible for the growing consciousness and new militancy of black people.Julius Lester 1968
Malcolm X’s expression of black pride and self-determination continued to resonate with and engage many African Americans long after his death in February 1965. For example, listening to recordings of his speeches inspired African American soldiers to organize GIs United Against the War in Vietnam in 1969.
Stokely Carmichael set a new tone for the black freedom movement when he demanded “black power” in 1966. Drawing on long traditions of racial pride and black nationalism, black power advocates enlarged and enhanced the accomplishments and tactics of the civil rights movement. Rather than settle for legal rights and integration into white society, they demanded the cultural, political, and economic power to strengthen black communities so they could determine their own futures.
Black Power Intertwines with Civil Rights
Organizers made no distinctions between black power and nonviolent civil rights boycotts in Madison County, Mississippi, 1966.
SNCC Supports Black Power
SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, created in 1960, destroyed “the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage,” according to its chairman, Julian Bond.
Protest, Teaneck, New Jersey
Building on the successes of the civil rights movement in dismantling segregation, the black power movement sought a further transformation of American society and culture.
Black Power Around the World
Revolutions in other nations inspired advocates of black power. The African revolutions against European colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s were exciting examples of success. Wars of national liberation in Southeast Asia and Northern Africa offered still more encouragement. Stokely Carmichael’s five-month world speaking tour in 1967 made black power a key to revolutionary language in places like Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam.
Protesting Apartheid, Cape Town, South Africa
In 1972 African Americans began annual celebrations of African Liberation Day to commemorate and support liberation movements in Africa.
“Free All Political Prisoners!”
Critics vilified black power organizations as separatist groups or street gangs. These critics ignored the movement’s political activism, cultural innovations and social programs. Of nearly 300 authorized FBI operations against black nationalist groups, more than 230 targeted the Black Panthers. This forced organizations to spend time, money, and effort toward legal defense rather than social programs.
The War on Black Power
Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI and other government agencies waged a war against dissidents, especially African Americans and anti-war advocates. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) targeted Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers, Us and other black groups. Activities included spying, wiretapping phones, making criminal charges on flimsy evidence, spreading rumors and even assassinating prominent individuals, like Black Panther Fred Hampton. By the mid-1970s, these actions helped to weaken or destroy many of the groups associated with the black power movement.
The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover 1969