Black Power movement
|Black Power movement|
|Part of the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement|
Black Panther at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in June 1970
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The Black Power movement was a political movement that emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment as well as the creation of political and cultural institutions. Several philosophies such as pan-Africanism, black nationalism, and socialism served as early ideological influences of the Black Power movement, as well as contemporary events like the Cuban Revolution and the decolonization of Africa. The movement grew out of the Civil Rights Movement, as black activists experimented with various forms of self-advocacy, ranging from political lobbying to armed struggle. Many Black Americans became frustrated with the Civil Rights Movement's reformist and pacifist elements, believing that these methods were not effective in changing race relations in the country at the time. The Black Power movement served as a focal point for this view.
While Black American thinkers such as Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X influenced the early Black Power movement's philosophy, the Black Panther Party and its views are widely seen as the cornerstone of the movement. At the movement's peak in the early 1970s, some of its more militant leaders were killed during conflicts with police, prompting many activists to abandon the movement. The influence of the Black Power movement continued, however, as seen in the Caribbean's creation of the Black Power Revolution.
Motivated by a desire for safety and self-sufficiency that was not available inside redline neighborhoods, Black Power activists founded scores of institutions and services, including black-owned bookstores, food cooperatives, farms, media, printing presses, schools, clinics and ambulance services.
The first popular use of the term "Black Power" as a social and racial slogan was by Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) and Willie Ricks (later known as Mukasa Dada), both organizers and spokespersons for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). On June 16, 1966, in a speech in Greenwood, Mississippi, during the March Against Fear, Stokely Carmichael led the marchers in a chant for black power that was televised nationally.
By the late 1960s, Black Power came to represent the demand for more immediate violent action to counter American white supremacy. Most of these ideas were influenced by Malcolm X's criticism of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s peaceful protest methods. The 1965 assassination of Malcolm X coupled with the urban uprisings of 1964 and 1965 ignited the movement. By 1968 Black Power was a recognized movement embraced by the majority of African-American youth. New organizations that supported Black Power philosophies ranging from socialism to black nationalism, including the Black Panther Party, grew to prominence.
Beginning in the early 1960s
The organization Nation of Islam began as a Black Nationalist movement in the 1930s, inspiring later Black Nationalist groups. The Nation of Islam continues to function to this day. Malcolm X rose rapidly to become a minister and national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. He is largely credited with the group's dramatic increase in membership between the early 1950s and early 1960s (from 500 to 25,000 by one estimate; from 1,200 to 50,000 or 75,000 by another). In March 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation due to disagreements with Elijah Muhammad; among other things, Malcolm X cited his interest in working with other civil rights leaders, saying that Muhammad had prevented him from doing so in the past. Later, Malcolm X also said Muhammad had engaged in extramarital affairs with young Nation secretaries—a serious violation of Nation teachings. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York. In March 1966, three NOI members were convicted of assassinating Malcolm X.
After the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965, the civil rights group the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) decided to break its ties with the mainstream civil rights movement and the liberal organizations that supported it. They argued that blacks needed to build power of their own, rather than seek accommodations from the power structure in place. SNCC migrated from a philosophy of nonviolence to one of greater militancy after the mid-1960s, as an advocate of the burgeoning “black power” movement, a facet of late 20th-century black nationalism. The organization continued its militancy later on and established ties with radical groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society. In late October 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense). In formulating a new politics, they drew on their experiences working with a variety of Black Power organizations.
Focus on education
The Black Panther Party's Ten Point Program included point #5, "We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society." This sentiment was echoed in many of the other Black Power Organizations. Its roots can be found in the works of some of the Black intellectual leaders of the early twentieth century. Carter G. Woodson, in his book The Mis-Education of the Negro, observed that “the thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies” (p. 5). It was only in his exit from school before too much damage could be done to his psyche that “he may recover in time to be of service to his people.” Having been taught that the Black race was without accomplishment, it was only natural for Woodson that the products of that education would do their best to imitate the race that they were taught was the foundation of all accomplishment. This desire to assimilate would lead to Black intellectuals promoting ideas of color-blindness, asking the question, “Aren’t we all Americans?” (p. 7). Marcus Garvey, who was one of the founders of the Back-to-Africa movement, agreed with that assessment. As soon as a black person accomplishes anything, he argued, they are no longer considered black. Based on this, Garvey concludes that in the eyes of the dominant group, “A Negro is a person of dark complexion or race, who has not accomplished anything and to whom others are not obligated for any useful service” (p. 120). This is further exemplified by the teaching that Egypt is its own group outside of Africa (a distinction made by W. E. B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (p. 45)). Du Bois, in his work The Souls of Black Folk, described the “twoness” created in the psyche of Black former-slaves in the United States wherein their black identity was always at odds with their American identity.
With all of these influences as a backdrop, Stokely Carmichael brought political education into his work with SNCC in the rural south. This included get-out-the-vote campaigns (Ture & Hamilton, 1992, p. 114) and political literacy which would allow Black citizens to fight the system effectively. Bobby Seale and Huey Newton made a point to address the lack of identity in the Black community that was the outgrowth of this lack of identity education. Seale himself worked with youth in an after-school program before starting the Panthers and he had seen firsthand the damage caused by believing that your people had no history, no accomplishments. Newton is quoted in Seale’s book Seize the Time as saying “we want decent education that teaches us about the true nature of this decadent American system, and education that teaches us about our true history and our role in present-day society” (p. 61). Through this new education and identity building, they believed that they could effectively empower Black Americans to claim their freedom.
Escalation in the late 1960s
The Black Panther Party initially utilized contemporary open-carry gun laws to protect Party members and local Black communities from law enforcement. Party members also recorded incidents of police brutality by distantly following police cars around neighborhoods. Numbers grew slightly starting in February 1967, when the party provided an armed escort at the San Francisco airport for Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's widow and keynote speaker for a conference held in his honor. By 1967, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee began to fall apart due to policy disputes in its leadership and many members left for the Black Panther Party. Throughout 1967 the Panthers staged rallies and disrupted the California State Assembly with armed marchers. In late 1967 the FBI developed COINTELPRO to investigate black nationalist groups and other civil rights leaders. By 1969, the Black Panthers and their allies had become primary COINTELPRO targets, singled out in 233 of the 295 authorized "Black Nationalist" COINTELPRO actions. In the year 1968 the Republic of New Afrika was founded seeking a black nation in the southern United States, only to be ineffective and dissolve in the early 1970s.
By 1968, many Black Panther leaders had been arrested, including founder Huey P. Newton for the murder of a police officer, yet numbers surged. Black Panthers later engaged the police in a fire fight in a Los Angeles gas station. In the same year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, creating the nationwide riots, the widest wave of social unrest since the American Civil War. The King riots were not the only instances of social unrest in the year. In Cleveland, Ohio, in the neighborhood of Glenville the black radical group "Republic of New Libya" engages the police in a firefight. Open rebellion breaks out and militants begin sniping police officers eventually, the militants are neutralized. After the Glenville shootout, rioting began the next day but it eventually ended. The year also marked the beginning of the White Panther Party a group of whites dedicated to the cause of the black panthers. Meanwhile, in Trinidad the black power movement was growing, forming organizations and staging marches. Plamondon the founder of the White Panther Party was indicted fellow founder Sinclair in connection to the bombing of a Central Intelligence Agency office in Ann Arbor on September 29, 1968.
By 1969, the Black Panthers began purging members due to fear of law enforcement infiltration and engaged in multiple gunfights with police and one with a black nationalist organization. The Black Panthers also continued their "Free Huey" campaign internationally in an attempt to free their founder from jail. In the spirit rising of militancy, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers was formed in Detroit, which supported labor rights and black liberation.
Peak in the early 1970s
In 1970 the Honorary Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party, Stokely Carmichael, traveled to various countries to discuss methods to resist "American imperialism". In Trinidad, the black power movement had escalated into the Black Power Revolution in which many Afro-Trinidadians forced the government of Trinidad to give into reforms. Later many Panthers visited Algeria to discuss Pan-Africanism and anti-imperialism. In the same year it is believed former Black Panthers, including Eldridge Cleaver, formed the Black Liberation Army to continue a violent revolution rather than the party's new reform movements. On October 22, 1970, the Black Liberation Army is believed to have planted a bomb in St. Brendan's Church in San Francisco while it was full of mourners attending the funeral of San Francisco police officer Harold Hamilton, who had been killed in the line of duty while responding to a bank robbery. The bomb was detonated, but no one in the church suffered serious injuries.
In 1971, several Panther officials were forced to flee the US due to police concerns. 1971 was the only active year of the Black Revolutionary Assault Team, a group that bombed the New York South African consular office, the second and final action took place on September 20, 1971 when it placed bombs at the UN Missions of Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa) and the Republic of Malawi. In February 1971, ideological splits within the Black Panther Party between leaders Newton and Cleaver eventually led to two factions within the party; the conflict turned violent and four people were killed in a series of assassinations. On May 21, 1971, as many as five Black Liberation Army members participated in the shootings of two New York City police officers, Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. Those arrested and brought to trial for the shootings include Anthony Bottom (aka Jalil Muntaqim), Albert Washington, Francisco Torres, Gabriel Torres, and Herman Bell. During the jail sentence of White Panther John Sinclair a "Free John" concert took place, performers included John Lennon and Stevie Wonder, Sinclair was released two days later. On August 29, 1971, three armed BLA members murdered 51-year-old San Francisco police sergeant John Victor Young while he was working at a desk in his police station, which was almost empty at the time due to a bombing attack on a bank that took place earlier - only one other officer and a civilian clerk were there. Two days later, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter signed by the BLA claiming responsibility for the attack. Late in the year Black Panther Newton visited China for meetings on Maoist theory and anti-imperialism. Black Power icon George Jackson attempted to escape from Prison in August, he killed many guards only to be killed later. Jackson's death triggered the Attica Prison uprising which was later ended in a bloody siege. On November 3, 1971, Officer James R. Greene of the Atlanta Police Department was shot and killed in his patrol van at a gas station by Black Liberation Army members. His wallet, badge, and weapon were taken, and the evidence at the scene pointed to two suspects. The first was Twymon Meyers, who was killed in a police shootout in 1973, and the second was Freddie Hilton (aka Kamau Sadiki), who evaded capture until 2002, when he was arrested in New York on a separate charge and was recognized as one of the men wanted in the Greene murder. Apparently, the two men had attacked the officer to gain standing with their compatriots within Black Liberation Army.
1972 was the year Newton shut down many Black Panther chapters and held a party meeting in Oakland. On January 27, 1972 the Black Liberation Army assassinated police officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie at the corner of 174 Avenue B in New York City. After the killings, a note sent to authorities portrayed the murders as a retaliation for the prisoner deaths during 1971 Attica prison riot. To date no arrests have been made. The White Panthers also led many legal reforms in the court system, reforms tackled topics of police surveillance and marijuana law. In the same year, MOVE was founded and engaged in demonstrations for environmentalism and black power. On July 31, 1972, five armed Black Liberation Army members hijacked Delta Air Lines Flight 841 en route from Detroit to Miami, eventually collecting a ransom of $1 million and diverting the plane, after passengers were released, to Algeria. The authorities there seized the ransom but allowed the group to flee. Four were eventually caught by French authorities in Paris, where they were convicted of various crimes, but one—George Wright—remained a fugitive until September 26, 2011, when he was captured in Portugal. Portuguese courts rejected the initial pledge for extradition. After being accused of murdering a prostitute in 1974, Huey Newton fled to Cuba. Elaine Brown becomes party leader and embarks on an election campaign.
Deescalation in the late 1970s
In the late 1970s a rebel group named after a fallen black panther formed named the George Jackson Brigade. From March 1975 to December 1977, the George Jackson Brigade robbed at least seven banks and detonated about 20 pipe bombs—mainly targeting government buildings, electric power facilities, Safeway stores, and companies accused of racism. In 1977, Newton returned from exile in Cuba. Shortly afterward, Elaine Brown resigned from the party and fled to LA. The Party later fell apart leaving only a few members.
MOVE became a commune based living group, when police raided their commune house a firefight broke out one officer was killed, seven other police officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, and three bystanders were also injured. In another high-profile incident of the Black Liberation Army, Assata Shakur, Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were said to have opened fire on state troopers in New Jersey after being pulled over for a broken taillight. Zayd Shakur and state trooper Werner Foerster were both killed during the exchange. Following her capture, Assata Shakur was tried in six different criminal trials. According to Shakur, she was beaten and tortured during her incarceration in a number of different federal and state prisons. The charges ranged from kidnapping to assault and battery to bank robbery. Assata Shakur was found guilty of the murder of both Foerster and her companion Zayd Shakur, but escaped prison in 1979 and eventually fled to Cuba and received political asylum. Acoli was convicted of killing Foerster and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1978 a group of Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground members formed named the May 19th Communist Organization, or M19co. It also included members of the Black Panthers and the Republic of New Africa (RNA). In 1979 three M19co members walked into the visitor’s center at the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women near Clinton, took two guards hostage, and freed Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army. Shakur was serving a sentence of life plus 26 to 33 years for the murder of a state trooper. Several months later the May 19th Communist Organization arranged for the escape of William Morales, a member of the Puerto Rican separatist group, the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), from Bellevue Hospital in New York City where he was recovering after a bomb he was building exploded in his hands.
Decline in the 1980s
Over the 1980s the black power movement continued but after a decline in popularity and membership in organizations. The Black Liberation Army was active in the US until at least 1981 when a Brinks truck robbery, conducted with support from former Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, left a guard and two police officers dead. Boudin and Gilbert, along with several BLA members, were subsequently arrested. The May 19th Communist Organization engaged in a bombing campaign in the 1980s. On January 28, 1983, M19co bombed the federal building on Staten Island. On April 25, 1983, M19co committed a bombing at the National War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. November 7, saw the 1983 US Senate Bombing by M19co. On August 18, 1983, M19co bombed Washington Navy Yard Computer Center. Later, on April 5, 1984, M19co bombed the Israeli Aircraft Industries Building. April 20, 1984 saw a M19co bombing at the Washington Navy Yard Officers Club. On November 3, 1984, two members of the M19CO, Susan Rosenberg and Timothy Blunk, were arrested at a mini-warehouse they had rented in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Police recovered more than 100 blasting caps, nearly 200 sticks of dynamite, more than 100 cartridges of gel explosive, and 24 bags of blasting agent from the warehouse. On September 26, 1984, M19co bombed the South African consulate in the United States. The M19co alliance’s last bombing was on February 23, 1985, at the Policemen’s Benevolent Association in New York City.
MOVE had relocated in Philadelphia after their earlier shootout, residents began filing noise complaints and many members were also arrested on unrelated matters. On May 13, 1985, the police, along with city manager Leo Brooks, arrived in force with arrest warrants and attempted to clear the building and arrest the indicted MOVE members. This led to an armed standoff with police, who lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. MOVE members fired at the police, who returned fire with automatic weapons. Commissioner Sambor then ordered that the compound be bombed. From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop two one-pound bombs (which the police referred to as "entry devices") made of FBI-supplied water gel explosive, a dynamite substitute, targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.
In the late year of 1989 the New Black Panther Party formed. In the same year on August 22, co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, Huey P. Newton was fatally shot outside 1456 9th St in West Oakland by 24-year-old Black Guerilla Family member, Tyrone Robinson.
After the 1970s the Black Power movement saw a decline, but not an end. Since the 1980s black power actions have been rare but not gone. In the year 1998 the Black Radical Congress was founded, with debatable effects. The only popular black power organization that is still in existence and active is the New Black Panther Party. The Black Riders Liberation Party was created by Bloods and Crips gang members as an attempt to recreate the Black Panther Party in 1996. The group has spread, creating chapters in cities across the United States, and frequently staging paramilitary marches. During the 2008 presidential election New Black Panther Party members were accused of voter intimidation at a polling station in a predominantly African-American, Democratic voting district of Philadelphia. After the politically upsetting shooting of Trayvon Martin black power paramilitaries formed, including the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, African American Defense League, and the New Black Liberation Militia, all staging armed marches and military training.
Some have compared the modern movement Black Lives Matter to the Black Power movement, noting its similarities.
Just as Black Power activists focused on community control of schools and politics, the movement took a major interest in creating and controlling its own media institutions. Most famously, the Black Panther Party produced the Black Panther newspaper, which proved to be one of the BPP's most influential tools for disseminating its message and recruiting new members.
In Durham, North Carolina, several young African Americans launched the first-ever public, community-based black radio station in September 1971. WAFR catered to Durham’s black listeners with politically engaged, Black Power programming that included jazz, funk, African music, selected local and national news, and even an African American take on Sesame Street’s Children’s Radio Workshop called the Community Radio Workshop. The station interviewed Black Power activists like Bobby Seale, Howard Fuller, and other Black leftists like Ron Dellums. Unlike previous African American non-commercial radio stations, WAFR was independent, and not based at a university or other pre-existing institution. Key WAFR staffers included Robert Spruill, Obataiye Akinwole, Ralph Williams, Donald Baker, and Kwame and Mary McDonald. Although the station ceased broadcasting in 1976, its influence lives on in other activists radio stations it anticipated, including WPFW in Washington, D.C. and WRFG in Atlanta.
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