Africans have struggled for freedom since the beginning of their enslavement. According to Robinson et al. (1987), African Americans have revolted since the beginning of their enslavement, throughout their enslavement, post slavery, and the Jim Crow period; and, efforts continue in present times. One of the latest activist groups is the Black Lives Matter Movement. When looking at this new movement, there are a number of similarities between it and the Black Power Movement. I shall examine some of these similarities below.
The Black Power Movement emerged in 1966 following the shooting of James Meredith as he attempted to integrate the University of Mississippi. The term, “Black Power” was coined by Mukasa (aka Willie Ricks) and popularized by Stokely Carmichael during a march in honor of James Meredith (Joseph, 2006; Tyson, 1999).The term was condemned by Martin Luther King, Jr .and other civil rights leaders but was embraced by other organizations. The Black Power Movement grew significantly after the assassinations of Rev. Dr. King, Jr., Malcolm X, and President John F. Kennedy (Joseph, 2006; Robinson, Battle, & Robinson, Jr., 1987).
In Black Power, The Politics of Liberation in America, Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael) and Hamilton (1992) defined Black Power as “…a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community…to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations and to support those organizations” (p. 44).The premise of Black Power was articulated in the words, “Before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks…group solidarity is necessary before a group can operate effectively from a bargaining position of strength in a pluralistic society” (p. 44). To this end, Black Power activists purported that Black people must lead and run their own organizations. Black Power activists called for Black self-determination, Black self-identity, Black self-defense, and the creation of power bases for proper representation and sharing control. The goals of these constructs were “…full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of Black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as Black people” (p. 47).
The Black Power Movement rejected non-violence and integration as accepted strategies (Ture & Hamilton, 1992) for Black freedom. The Black Power philosophy was influenced by the writings of Harold Cruse and Malcolm X, who promulgated the need for African Americans to have self-determination, self-defense, and self-respect (Joseph, 2006; Woodward, 1999). Ture and Hamilton (1992) stated there could be no social order without social justice. Black people must fight back and meet aggression with defense. They saw integration as devaluing the Black community, requiring Black people to give up their identity and deny their heritage for acceptance in White society. The importance of the Black community winning its freedom while preserving its racial and cultural integrity was stressed. The authors saw integration as working against this preservation.
Black Power did not reject the participation of Whites in the movement but defined their role as educative, organizational, and supportive (Carmichael, 1971; Ture & Hamilton, 1992). Whites were encouraged to educate White groups that Black activists could not reach on the need for Black power. They were urged to go into White communities and work to end racism. Organizationally, Whites were urged to form a White power block that would join with Black groups to end racism. The leaders of Black Power organizations stated that Whites should play a supportive role, offering specific skills and techniques, but the organizations should be led and staffed by Blacks.
In Black Liberation in Conservative America, Marable (1997) called for a new Black Power Movement stating, “Whenever there is a crisis in confidence in middle-class Black leadership, and whenever this occurs at a time when White political and corporate power turns aggressively against Black folk, the conditions are ripe for an upsurge of Black nationalism and Black awareness. This social eruption is cultural, educational, political, economic, and ideological” (p. 229). Marable noted the gap created by what he considered the demise of the Black Power Movement. He asserted that the Black Panther Party was largely destroyed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s (FBI) Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Black activists that favored political and social change were isolated, harassed, and/or imprisoned. Marable defined “power” as “…the ability or capacity to realize your specific, objective interests. Power is not a “thing,” but a process…” (p. 247).Because of the gap, he believed that a new movement was needed.
Although there was general agreement on the tenets of Black Power among Black Power activists, there were divergent views on emphases and strategies. One segment – the Revolutionary Nationalists - embraced the idea of self-defense and focused on defending the Black community. Another segment – the Cultural Nationalists - promoted fostering a reconnection with Africa, African history, African American history, African culture, and the development of parallel Black institutions to fill the void in the Black community (Marable, 1997; Woodard, 1999). Other organizations, such as the Nation of Islam, embraced both self-defense and cultural renewal through religion. The passion and difference of opinions of Black Power activists on these issues led to dissension and conflict. To address the conflict, Karenga called for “unity without uniformity” (Woodard, 1999, p. 104) at the 1967 Black Power Conference in Newark, New Jersey. The groups agreed to work together on certain issues and, at the same time, continue to employ their own strategies to accomplish Black liberation.
In 1968, Black activists held a Black convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Participants included activists from the Black Arts Convention held in Detroit, Michigan and the Black Power Planning Summit held in Washington, DC. Organizations/coalitions that spun off from the meeting included the Congress of African People, the African Liberation Support Committee, the National Black Assembly, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Black Women’s United Front, and the Federation of Pan-African Educational Institutions (Woodard, 1999). Many of the organizations that were part of the coalitions continue to exist today.
There are a number of common themes that emerge when comparing the Black Lives Matter Movement with the Black Power Movement. Both were born as the result of the shooting of a Black man – James Meredith and Michael Brown. While Black Lives Matter activists have embraced the strategy of non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement, they have also embraced the strategy of confrontation politics, which was a major strategy employed by activists in the Black Power Movement. Like Black Power activists, Black Lives Matter activists are not aligned with any political party. The major focus of Black Lives Matter activists is reform of the criminal justice system; ending the wanton shooting (and killing) of Blacks by police officers and mass incarceration. Ending police brutality and the senseless arrests was the original focus of the Black Panther Party, a Black Power organization. The movie, Straight out of Compton, provides a snapshot of how young Black men in Compton were (are) mistreated by the police for no apparent reason other than they were Black. Black Lives Matter activists unapologetically advocate for African Americans as Black Power Movement activists did. This struggle for the life, liberty, and freedom of Black people continues because racism is alive and well and the issue of police brutality was never adequately addressed. There were no cell phones then to take pictures of police misconduct and abuses. The move to massively incarcerate Blacks had just begun during the Clinton administration. As an old Black Power activist, in recent years, I have been disheartened by the seeming disconnect and lack of passion of the Millennials. They have proven me wrong. Go with God young people and maybe this time we can see an end to police officers killing Black people with no consequences, the release of thousands of non-violent offenders, and a reduction in the number of prison facilities.