The simultaneous convergence of these leaders, groups, and movements, is easy to understand when one considers the environment of the Harlem area during the early 1900s. With vast numbers of new African-American citizens having come from the racist south, the area was ripe with social, political, and cultural concepts that come with new found freedom. In such a charged atmosphere, leaders such as Garvey had an audience ready to listen, and motivated for change. As their empowerment became reality, the view of those individuals altered, and with assistance from groups such as the UNIA, their ideas became reality, creating a new social order and an entirely new cultural center.
Black power as a movement rose from the freedom movement of the 1960s. A political movement, black power strove to express a racial consciousness throughout the world, although the movement was centralized in the United States.
This paper discusses the black power movement, and will discuss the impact of the movement on African-American history.
The term "black power" was first used by Robert Williams, one of the founders of the North Carolina NAACP, in the late 1950s. The movement stemmed from previous civil rights movements, but meant different things to different individuals. To some, black power represented racial dignity and self-reliance, or freedom from white authority in economics and politics. To others, however, it was solely an economic principle (U of Mich., 2007).
While Malcom X did not specifically support the black power movement, his rhetoric, style, and attitude provided much of the basis for it. The movement primarily encouraged African-Americans to improve their communities rather than fight for their integration into white society. The leaders of the movement, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, along with other leaders such as Robert Williams and Stokely Carmichael, pushed the movement to the forefront of society. Carmichael, in particular, used the term profusely during his organization of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, which sought to ensure whites would no longer hold all leadership responsibilities (U of Mich., 2007).
Some African-Americans combined the black power movement with a search for cultural heritage and historical roots. Their search was believed to be the consciousness of the movement as those individuals attempted to find the true roots of black identity. Musicians such as Funkadelic and James Brown incorporated such concepts into their music through lyrics such as "free your mind" and "say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud." Such concepts created ideas of standards of beauty and self-esteem (U of Mich., 2007).
Still other individuals saw black power as a cultural-nationalist concept and related it to the artistic movement of the Harlem Renaissance. Like others, however, these individuals stressed the "black consciousness" of African-Americans. Further, they believed in the importance of self-representation and racism, imperialism, and segregation. As black power grew, resistance from white power groups began to build, as did criticism from other African-American organizations. The NAACP, in particular, criticized the black power movement for its anti-white messages, noting that the goal should be cooperation between the races, rather than a battle of the two sides (U of Mich., 2007).
The Black Panther party grew in the late 1960s, and quickly became the largest black power movement advocators. However, the group was continually accused of violence against whites, reverse racism, anti-white sentiment, and harassment. This continued condemnation of black power as a separatist movement caused the movement to begin to expire (U of Mich., 2007).
The black power movement grew from the non-violent freedom movement of the early 60's for a number of reasons. The non-violent movements had achieved short-term goals of increased civil rights and voting rights. However, the African-Americans realized the only way to continue advancement was to show force. The blacks in the north expressed anger and frustration through riots in more than two hundred cities. Militant blacks, after years of brutality and racism, questioned American society. The riots became a way to vent anger over racist politics and continued discrimination in housing, employment, and politics. Black power, then, became the answer for the vacuum non-violent protests created (Graham, 2007).
The long lasting effect of the black power movement was obvious. It had a strong effect on the consciousness of African-Americans, and focused long-term goals on cultural autonomy and self-esteem (U of Mich., 2007). Further, the social, political, economic, and civil lives of African-Americans were altered in that the black power movement brought confidence in numbers. Sit ins, demonstrations, court battles, bombings, and other forms of violence. Worldwide media coverage and intense political dispute forged alliances otherwise not possible within that society. In essence, it altered the ways in which the races interacted, communicated, and related to one another. African-Americans continued to increase in power and prosperity.
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