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Essay: Uncovering the Black Power Movement in American History

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The fight for equality has been fought for many years throughout American History and fought by multiple ethnicities. For African Americans this fight was not only fought to gain equal civil rights but also to allow a change at achieving the American dream. While the United States was faced with the Civil Rights Movements a silent storm brewed and from this storm emerged a social movement that shook the ground of the Civil Right Movement, giving way to a new movement that brought with it new powers and new fears. The phrase “Black power” coined during the Civil Right Movement for some was a slogan of empowerment, while other looked at it as a threat and attempted to quell this Black Power Movement.

The Peaceful Protest

During the 1950’s a struggle for African American rights were under way. Prior to this many means were taken to protect the Black traveler across the nation. African Americans were often treated as second rate humans and this inferiority would promote the civil rights movement. For traveling African Americas different books were printed up with one intention, to protect the negro traveler. “Your cooperation will enable us to reach the summit or our goal and further our efforts in giving “ASSURED PROTECTION FOR THE NEGRO TRAVELER (Alston, 1956.)” These measure along with years of being denied civil rights demanded that a time for change to come. Starting in the southern states civil right activists began fighting to earn their constitutional rights. People such as Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat after working so that a white man could sit down, was arrested for her public display of disobedience. This would begin the most notable and effective movement in the entire Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King’s boycotting of buses as described by Stokley Carmichael, “”A boycott is a passive act. It is the most passive political act that anyone can commit…no sort of antagonism. Dr. King’s policy was that nonviolence would achieve the gains for black people in the United States (Carmichael, 1967.)” This logic was the bases for the Civil Rights Movement, peaceful protest were often met with violence, and from this violence a new movement was born, The Black Power Movement.

While the southern states met injustice in song, humility and strength, the northern states along with the east and west coast state began to develop their own means of civil rights. This movement came from hearing about the injustices that the Freedom Fighters were meeting in the southern states, and new movement began to shape up. With so many key figures in the south being arrested, beaten, hosed down, and bitten by dogs but still remained non-violent, it would only be a matter of time that these protest of peace would evolve to self-defense. This would begin in New York and California, where masses of Black Communities set out to protect themselves against white injustices within their own communities, and would come together to protect their respective communities. Through different means of community ranging from providing food and schooling within communities to keep families safe and keeping children accounted for, to armed patrol at night to ensure safety the Black community quickly came together, and this union would become the threat of the Civil Rights Movement.

Black communities banned together all over the United States, they found an empowerment in Black Power, but this empowerment would turn out to be a calling call for danger. Black Power for many in the black community was a way to ensure safety and know that the community was out to protect its residents by all means. This in later years would grow beyond the borders of the Black community to becoming a phrase associated with at the time was being considered to be the militant arming of the Black community set on revolution, Thus the birth of The Black Panthers. “The Black Panthers wanted to improve life in black communities and establish social programs to help those in need. They also fought against police brutality in black neighborhoods by mostly white cops. Members of the group would go to arrests in progress and watch for abuse (Newton, 2014.)” Outside the Black communities knowledge of the Black Panthers was limited and usually reported on in negative means. “Although liberals and leftists have tended to disregard J. Edgar Hoover’s fear of subversion within the Civil Rights Movement as either a disingenuous cover for his own racism or the paranoid fantasy of an anticommunist psychosis, I would argue that Hoover’s fears were well founded within the context of his own premises: that the Civil Rights Movement posed a fundamental threat to the power arrangements of the American social order that he was sworn to defend (Berger, 2009.) ” “Hoover said of the Panthers: “While falsely claiming their intent to protect the black community, Panther have in fact assaulted and threatened Negro citizens” and intimidated neighborhood stores into contributing food and money (Dickinson, 1970.)” Panthers all over the United States were under fire for their militant means and revolutionary ideas, ideas that focused on gaining equality and constitutional rights any way possible.

When Violence meets Violence

Civil unrest and constant assaults carried out on African Americans would eventually lead to a clash of morale’s and reason. For White America seeking to maintain their way of life and feeling threatened by the rising fear of what African Americans where capable of, encouraged the attempt to silence the Black Power Movement. While for Blacks the Black Power movement was a way to show a nation that equality was going to be gained by any means necessary. It wouldn’t be long before the community protectors the Black Panther would begin to plan and plot to gain means of equality through brute force and random acts of violence.

Fuel would begin to be added to the fires of injustice as unlike the south were Dr. King was marching to Washington and delivering momentous speeches, the North, East and West coast found key note speakers that spoke of civil rights in a different manner. Stokely Carmichael a well-spoken Black Activist in a speech given at UC Berkley stated;

Now, then, in order to understand white supremacy we must dismiss the fallacious notion that white people can give anybody their freedom. No man can give anybody his freedom. A man is born free. You may enslave a man after he is born free, and that is in fact what this country does. It enslaves black people after they’re born, so that the only acts that white people can do is to stop denying black people their freedom; that is, they must stop denying freedom. They never give it to anyone.

Now we want to take that to its logical extension, so that we could understand, then, what its relevancy would be in terms of new civil rights bills. I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being, and therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn’t know that. Every time I tried to go into a place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, “He’s a human being; don’t stop him.” That bill was for that white man, not for me. I knew it all the time. I knew it all the time.

I knew that I could vote and that that wasn’t a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill for white people to tell them, “When a black man comes to vote, don’t bother him.” That bill, again, was for white people, not for black people; so that when you talk about open occupancy, I know I can live anyplace I want to live. It is white people across this country who are incapable of allowing me to live where I want to live. You need a civil rights bill, not me. I know I can live where I want to live.

So that the failures to pass a civil rights bill isn’t because of Black Power, isn’t because of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; it’s not because of the rebellions that are occurring in the major cities. It is incapability of whites to deal with t their own problems inside their own communities. That is the problem of the failure of the civil rights bill (Carmichael, 1966.)”

Speeches like this were given all over the United States and even outside the country as well. For some these speeches were an eye opener as they brought light and a different point of view on civil rights issues but for other they only showed that true injustices and encouraged the pursuit of equality. It would not be long before the Black Panther Party would be considered domestic terrorist and a private militia. Times would only get worse with the assassination of Malcom X, and only a day after Dr. Martin Luther Kings “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech, he too would be gunned down outside of his hotel room. With two top supporters of peaceful protest gunned down violence would be the only acceptable answer.

Black Panther, Activist!

For many around the world the sudden death of key peace keeper and promoter Dr. Martin Luther King would leave only one question left to be answered, What now? A man who dedicated his life to the work of Civil Rights and equality through peaceful means, gunned down showed the true nature of white America. Now was the time for a rebuttal, a time for a nation to unify under one belief and stand for one thing; Black power. All over the United States office of Black Panther Parties began to spring up, all set to achieve the goal of Malcom and Martin, and to help achieve these goal new figurehead would emerge to carry the torch.

Bobby Seale and Huey newton would come to be known as the founding fathers of the Black Panthers. Both Urban activists that would rise to the tops of FBI charts for their own respective roles in the deeds carried out by Panthers, all over the United States. “In 1966, Newton and Bobby Seale founded the left-wing Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The organization was central to the Black Power movement, making headlines with its inflammatory rhetoric and militaristic style (Newton, 2014.)” The Black Panther set out to bring safety and security to their communities. They also ensured that police brutality was at a minimum, in black communities. “During its existence, members of the group clashed with police several times. The party’s treasurer, Bobby Hutton, was even killed during of these conflicts in 1968. In the 1970s, the Black Panthers began to fall apart. Key members left, and Newton faced more criminal charges. To avoid prosecution, he fled to Cuba in 1971, but he returned three years later (Newton, 2014.)” The mission and sacrifices of Martin and Malcom would be carried on for generations to come, and even though the actions of the Black Panthers were frowned upon, their mission of safety, security and equality would achieve just that. From the peaceful protest of the south to the violent ways of the north the fight for equality was well fought and some to this day feel that is is still being fought.


“Black power” a phrase used for the empowerment of Black communities warranting a sense of safety and secure, was also looked at it as a threat against the United States, that many felt the need to attempt to stop and silence. Despite the peaceful movements of leaders in the south and the struggles they face, the Black Power movement along with the Black Panthers became the focus of the United States, and how to stop their uprising. The uprising of African Americans along with the peaceful protests turned a nation of ignorance and intolerance into a nation accepting of other and ensured by constitutional protection.


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