The Black Power Movement: 50 Years Later
By Robert T. Starks
Defender Contributing Writer
We all agree that the 1960s was the de- cade that changed America and the world. However, while the entire decade was iconic, the last half of that decade set the pace that would influence the rest of the century and serve as a harbinger for the Black youth activism 50 years later in 2016.
1966 was two years before the most tragic and most iconic year in that decade, i.e., 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was cut down, — stopped in his prime — by assassin James Earl Ray. Clearly, while the activism of the late 50s and the first five years of the 1960s set the stage for 1966, the confluence of world events and the domestic African-American struggle for justice distinguished it as the pivotal year.
To commemorate the historical events that occurred in that iconic year and the movement that it set in motion, several events will take place and give credit to this year in the month of June as the beginning of the movement that changed the nation and the world, i.e., Black Power.
The 50th anniversary will be commemorated from June 16 thru 20 around the nation. The National Black Political Convention will convene from June 9-12, which is 44 years after the landmark meeting in Gary, Indiana in 1972. The 45h Annual Rainbow PUSH Convention, June 25-29, will take place at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel and celebrate 50 years since the founding of Operation Breadbasket (later renamed Rainbow PUSH) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s appointment as the head of it.
Dr. King had already established himself as the headliner of the 1960s as leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, major spokesman at the March on Washington, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He had already confronted President Lyndon B. Johnson and won some major legislative concessions. However, in spite of these monumental accomplishments, Dr. King was being challenged by the younger generation of activists, namely SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee). In May of 1966, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) was named the new leader of SNCC, succeeding John Lewis. The ascension of Carmichael to the leadership of SNCC signaled a philosophical change in the direction of the group, which was a reflection of the mood of the younger Black activists. This younger generation of activists was eager to express its frustration with the gradual pace of the movement and the traditional reliance on the goodwill of white America.
Thus, when SNCC joined James Meredith’s March against Fear in Mississippi in June of ’66, it became clear that the movement was about to take a more militant turn. On June 16 near Greenwood, Mississippi, on highway 51, Carmichael and Willie Ricks (Mukasa) shouted the words “Black Power!” These words launched the Black Power Movement! “Young activists throughout the world,” according to Karen Spellman, director of the SNCC Legacy Project, “embraced the phrase, making it their own and expanding the dynamic of struggle.” Spellman continues her commentary: “The call led to new goals and redefined the measures of success, inspiring a new generation of activists who had not previously been involved in the civil rights movement. It built upon the lessons learned from the southern civil rights struggle and called for a Black consciousness, establishing new independent organizations and institutions that were controlled by Black people. It shaped personal transformation as well as political activism and led to the creation of organizations by those who never found their place in the civil rights agenda. There is a need to look back at this often-distorted era and in doing so, to look ahead to the work that still needs to be done.”
Commemoration in Chicago
Spellman and the SNCC Legacy Project have organized a national 50th anniversary commemoration of this anniversary event. The major commemorations will be held in Jackson and Greenwood, Miss., as well as in Washington, D.C., on June 16. SNCC alumni will hold a commemoration in Chicago on the 16th also.
Mr. Bob Brown, veteran SNCC activist, Chicago Black Panther organizer and leader of The All African People’s Revolutionary Party, reminds us that while Stokely Carmichael proclaimed the need for Black Power on that fateful day in Mississippi, “Frederick Douglass coined the phrase in his 1855 speech “The Doom of the Black Power,” in which he forecasted the demise of slavery which was fueled by the power and strength of enslaved Blacks. He said ‘The days of the Black Power are numbered. Its course, indeed, is onward, but with the swiftness of an arrow, it rushes to the tomb. While crushing its millions, it is also crushing itself.’ Please remember that Douglass made this pronouncement five years before the outbreak of the Civil War.”
This mantra was repeated by Richard Wright in his 1954 book Black Power, in which he denounced the evils of African colonialism and called for the emergence of a totally decolonized Africa that is independent and self-sufficient. In 1967, Carmichael and Professor Charles Hamilton published their book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Inspired by the concepts outlined in Carmichael and Hamilton’s book, scholar and professor Amos Wilson published Blueprint for Black Power in 1998. Wilson’s book examines the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of Black powerlessness and outlines the means toward Black political and economic empowerment.
During that same year Dr. King, who spearheaded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, selected Rev. Jackson to be the head of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago (later renamed Rainbow PUSH).
This new organization immediately captured the attention of the Black activists, including high school and college students who joined their elders in the push for better education, housing, jobs, economic justice and fresh food in neighborhood stores.
Influence of Young Activists
Clearly, the young activists who took up the mantle of Black Power had been greatly influenced by Malcolm X and his call for a worldwide liberation movement that would bind African-Americans with their brothers in Africa and in the rest of the diaspora. Thus, these same activists were deeply impressed by the struggles of the liberation fighters, many who were either killed or overthrown in a military coup d’etat.
The most prominent of these was Kwame Nkrumah, who was a hero of the Black Power advocates. Other heroes included Chairman Mao Zedong of China and his famous Red Book that most Black Power advocates carried in their hip pockets, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba and Nelson Mandela.
With the ability to see racism and oppression from an international perspective and show that America was simply a reflection of capitalism at its worst and how it served as the platform for racism and oppression, activists were able to broaden their understanding of racism as an international struggle. At the same time in America and especially in Chicago we were witnessing a revolutionary movement within the Black community: The Black Panther Party is organized in 1966 and SNCC’s Bob Brown organizes a Chicago Chapter that included Fred Hampton, Bobby Rush (now Congressman of the 1st congressional district), Attorney Standish Willis, and Black United Fund of Illinois founder and CEO Henry English (recently deceased).
Black activists, parents and educators joined together to continue their struggles against segregated, under resourced and neglected Black neighborhood schools.
Dr. King comes to Chicago’s West Side and takes up residence to fight for housing and to establish a northern base. When he leads a march in the Gage Park neighborhood, he is shouted at and pelted with rocks.
Chicago experiences riots in the summer of 1966, as well as the infamous Watts Riots in Los Angeles
Maulana Karenga establishes Kwanzaa as a holiday (1st Fruits of Harvest) which was immediately taken up by young activists.
Massive demonstrations begin in Chicago and around the nation protesting the Vietnam War and nuclear disarmament.
The National Welfare Rights Organization forms to fight for the rights of people who are dependent on federal and state welfare subsidies to live. The organizers and most of the members of this organization were Black while numerically, most of the recipients were white.
Many of the Caribbean colonies like Barbados and Guyana that were British and French holdings begin the decolonization process by declaring their independence in 1966 that liberated most of the Caribbean countries.
Many Black Chicagoans attend the World Festival of Black Art in Dakar, Senegal, on April 1 of 1966.
Black Rhodesians step up their fight against the British colonizers and the white Rhodesian overlords that eventually led to independence and the birth of Zimbabwe. And,
The Biafra War of Independence is led by ethnic Igbos in Nigeria begins and lasts for almost four years.
The year 1966 and the Black Power declaration is also important because it set in motion a movement that led to the push for Black Political Empowerment and the election of thousands of Black elected officials across the country.
“Chicago experiences riots in the summer of 1966, as well as the infamous Watts Riots in Los Angeles.” Mayor Richard Hatcher, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and poet and activist LeRoi Jones, aka, Amiri Baraka, among others organized the successful National Black Political Convention in 1972 after the Black Congressional Caucus was organized in 1971.
‘Setting the People’s Agenda’
The 2016 Gary event is themed “Setting the People’s Agenda” and will take place at the Gary, Indiana, Genesis Convention Center from June 9-12. Many of the leaders of the 1972 convention will be in attendance including Gary’s first Black mayor, Richard Hatcher; Tuskegee, Alabama, Mayor Johnny Ford; Amiri Baraka’s son, present Newark, N. J., Mayor Ras Baraka; Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and a host of others.
Hosted by Gary’s present mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, the convention will cover the subjects of education, energy and environment, social justice, health, economic opportunity, women’s rights and Black veterans. Invited speakers and special guests are President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Presidential candidates Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have been invited also.
Dr. Gale Frazier, chairman of the National Black Agenda Consortium and her board members headquartered in Chicago are serving as co- hosts of the convention. NBAC will submit a Black Agenda for the convention to consider, and many of its members will participate as leaders in the forums and committees.
For further information about the convention please visit the NBPC 2016 website at http://www.thenbpc.com, and for further information on the involvement of the NBAC please contact Dr. Gale Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org or James Hill at JEHILL@RCN. com.
Thus, the month of June will be filled with commemorations of the declaration of Black Power and the many movements and events that inspired over the last 50 years. The veterans of the 1960s Civil Rights struggles have often loudly applauded the efforts of the young Black people who are leading organizations like Black Lives Matter.
Many of these veterans are lending aid and comfort to these groups because they see them as the inheritors of their legacy. These elders of the struggle hope that their children and grandchildren have learned the ultimate lessons of the Black Power movement, i.e., It must be won in each successive generation. Racism and oppression are embedded in the fabric of this nation and the world! A Luta continua!