Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement are colluding with media to rewrite history – yes, rewrite history. Both entities assert that all of Black activism during the 1960s and 1970s was part of the Civil Rights Movement. They have even coined the period, the Civil Rights Era. There were other movements going on during the same period as the Civil Rights Movement. Just as (some say) the Civil Rights Movement is the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Power Movement is the legacy of Malcolm X. And just for you who think you are aware, the Black Power Movement was much more than the Black Panther Party.
Muhammad Ali, Amiri Baraka, Stokely Carmichael, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela are all Black Power not Civil Rights icons. On the Joe Madison show aired on Sirius XM, Muhammad Ali and Marcus were called civil rights icons. Joe Madison Show quotes Malcolm X without context. On Inside the Issues by Dr. Wilmer Leon, a guest called Black Power organizations, “cults” and Muhammad Ali was called a civil rights icon. Amiri Baraka was called a civil rights icon on the Karen Hunter Show. I don’t have any problems with the Civil Rights Movement per se, but it cannot claim all Black activists as their own. Indeed, none of the aforementioned men were ever part of civil rights activism. They should be honored for who they were, what they represented, and what they did.
Muhammad Ali belonged to the Nation of Islam, a Black Power organization, and exercised his right to self-determination (not going into the military). Amiri Baraka was one of the leaders of cultural nationalism (Committee for Unified Newark, the Congress of African People), member organizations of the Black Power Movement. He later embraced Communism. Marcus Garvey was a forerunner of the Black Power Movement, organizing the largest Black organization in world. The UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association), Garvey’s organization, focused on Black social and economic empowerment. Garvey said “Rise up, Black people. You can accomplish what you will.” He was not about integration nor did he embrace the theory of nonviolence. He was about reconnecting African Americans with Africa, a major goal of the Black Power Movement. Nelson Mandela was a South African revolutionary who never lived in the United States. Efforts spearheaded by Black Power Movement activism (TransAfrica, SNCC) led to his release from prison. 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, specifically the Black Panther Party. In addition to these examples, there are a number of other Black Power leaders and icons that the Civil Rights Movement has inappropriately claimed as its own.
October 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the Black Power Movement. 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 Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael) during a march in honor of James Meredith’s efforts (Joseph, 2006; Tyson, 1999). The term, “Black Power” was condemned by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders but was embraced by many other Black organizations. In an interview, Mukasa stated that his organization, SNCC, had to fight civil rights activists on the issue of Black Power. So why incorrectly claim us and our achievements now?
The Black Power Movement grew significantly after the assassinations of Rev. Dr. King, Jr., El Haij Malik El Shabazz (aka Malcolm X) and President John F. Kennedy (Joseph, 2006; Robinson, Battle, & Robinson, Jr., 1987). Black Power activists rejected non-violence and integration as accepted strategies for Black freedom (Ture & Hamilton, 1992). The Black Power Movement 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 into White society. The importance of the Black community winning its freedom while preserving its racial and cultural integrity was stressed.
Although there was general agreement on the tenets of Black Power among Black Power activists, there were divergent emphases and strategies. However, none of the organizations embraced integration and/or non-violence strategies. One segment – the Revolutionary Nationalists - embraced the idea of self-defense and focused on defending the Black community from police brutality. Another segment – the Cultural Nationalists – focused on healing and reeducation, fostering a reconnection with Africa; reeducating African Americans through African history, African American history, and African culture; and, developing parallel Black organizations and 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. To address potential conflict, the activists agreed on the construct of “unity without uniformity’. They agreed to work together on certain issues and, at the same time, continue to employ their own strategies to accomplish Black liberation.
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 foci of Black Lives Matter activists is reform of the criminal justice system; ending the wanton shooting (and killing) of Blacks by police officers and ending mass incarceration. Ending police brutality and senseless arrests was the original focus of the Black Panther Party, a Black Power organization. The movie, Straight Outa 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. There are now.
Many benefits that African Americans specifically and our society generally enjoy today were the result of activism of the Black Power Movement. Among them are:
- Self Defense for the African American community (Black Panther Party, Deacons for Defense, Guardian Angels)
- Formation of Black Student Unions (see Black Panther Party Platform)
- Growth of the Black Intelligentsia: academicians, researchers, authors
- Independent Black Schools
- Black Studies Departments in Colleges and Universities
- Higher Education Curricula
- Black Professional Organizations
- Reconnection of African Americans to Africa
- African Expression in Clothing, Hair, Language, Music, Dance, Drama
- Improved Nutrition (Black Vegetarians, Health Food Stores, Eat to Live)
- Promotion of African Manhood
- An African American holiday (Kwanzaa)
- A Black Value System (Nguzo Saba)
- Growth of African-centered Spirituality and Religions – Akan, Yoruba, Santeria, Maat
- Free Breakfast Programs in Public Schools
- Use of Religion to Treat Addiction
- Rites of Passage Programs (life skills programs)
- Black Book Stores
- African Art Stores
- African Symbols (flag, pyramid, key of life, drum, etc.), and
- Hip Hop.
We of the Black Power Movement will not allow Civil Rights leaders to mimic past practices of the dominant society and rewrite our history. We are putting you on notice. We will call you out on this misrepresentation of past and current activities. Our efforts and accomplishments were just as significant as yours and deserve acknowledgement – not for us but for our children. We devoted much time, energy, and effort to build institutions; and, we conducted original research to uncover the truth and correct the historical record regarding the contributions of African descendants to the world. We and our children have been taught enough lies. Don’t be part of the problem.