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What is the Black Power Movement?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Black Power Movement is an important part of American and African-American history. It refers to a period during the 1960s when African-Americans, or blacks, changed their views about the manner by which they should achieve economic power, political power, and civil rights. During that time, white Americans and the media often exaggerated the association between the slogan “black power” and violence.

The movement evolved during a time when blacks were said to be free and equal, although the realities of life readily proved otherwise. White Americans were generally resistant to releasing the reigns on economic and political power. The continuing fight for civil rights showed that blacks were obviously not being treated as equals.

Prior to the Black Power Movement, there were two contrasting approaches that blacks took with regards to their aims to equality. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an influential man and the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). His approach was one of unconditional non-violence. Malcolm X, on the other hand, was an influential figure in the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group that condoned self-defense.

The slogan “black power” is generally believed to have gained widespread popularity in 1966 during the March Against Fear, also known as the Meredith Mississippi Freedom March. The concept, however, was in the works long before this event. Whites acted as though the slogan frightened them, and together with the media, the term was readily linked to violence and racism among people in white communities.

During this period, there was an obvious shift in attitudes. Activist groups such as the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) had previously worked with white supporters and sympathizers. Frustrated by ongoing injustice and unfairness, these groups and many others changed their attitudes to reflect a move toward separatism.

Groups and individuals who once subscribed the approach of non-violence began to readily adopt attitudes of self-defense upon attack. Black power, as a slogan, however, never truly had a violent meaning among most African-Americans. For them, it was more of a call to take pride in themselves.

The popularity of the Black Panther Party (BPP) did not do much to prove this, however. This group dressed in macho attire, including berets and leather jackets. They also carried loaded guns in public to represent their willingness to defend themselves and to encourage blacks to become aware of their rights.

These shifts of attitude and a surge of black activism were concentrated during the mid to late 1960s and are now labeled as the Black Power Movement. It is important to note, however, that during that time, there was not a cohesive effort with this title. In those days, there were numerous groups and activists, a frustrated black population, and a common desire for change.

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Discussion Comments
By anon344890 — On Aug 13, 2013

Check out Arthur George Gaston, born in rural 1892 Alabama, whose impulse and insight was for his people to subsume and supersede the Black Power Movement with "Green Power"! (the title of his 1968 autobiography).

By Crispety — On Feb 19, 2011

Sneakers41 - I think that Rev Jesse Jackson does not further black civil rights either. He actually sets black people back because his organization sets out to call companies racist and then collects settlement money from them. That does nothing to further the black power civil rights cause.

However, people like Condoleeza Rice do. She grew up in Alabama in the height of segregation and she became the first black Secretary of State.

Her accomplishments are amazing and it is because her parents instilled in her that she had the ability to do whatever she wanted and the adversity that she faced made her stronger.

She was not bitter about her past. She embraced it and stayed motivated. She is a true inspiration to all people.

By sneakers41 — On Feb 18, 2011

BrickBack - I know exactly what you mean. I think that the Black Panther group that was intimidating those white voters during the last presidential election looked like thugs.

They actually carried clubs with them. They create a very negative image for the black community and nothing like what Dr. Martin Luther King would have wanted.

I think that Dr. King’s words were more powerful because they were peaceful words that we could all relate to. He did not try to intimidate or insult people of another race like the Black Panther’s do.

He just wanted everyone to understand that all people should be treated equally. His famous words that say, “We should be judge by the content of our character and not the color of our skin” is an amazing statement that still resonates today.

By BrickBack — On Feb 15, 2011

Anon138475 -I agree that there should be more of a peaceful and unified message within all of the races.

I wanted to add that I think that the black civil rights movement was so powerful and gave blacks a voice for the first time that many wanted to continue and expand those rights.

There were really two camps at the time which was the Martin Luther King side and the Malcom X side. Dr. Martin Luther King wanted peaceful change and did not condone violence.

The Malcom X branch of the civil rights movement felt that violence was justified which I think is wrong.

I think that this is where people stop listening because violence is always a bad idea. When a person is violent because of anger and negativity that emotion needs to be expressed in a positive manner in order for any positive change to come about.

Resorting to riots and burning down buildings in your neighborhood does nothing to bring positive change to the black power movement.

It actually sets it back a bit and alienates other people who would normally sympathize with the movement.

By anon138475 — On Jan 01, 2011

I feel the black power movement (Malcolm X) approach to today's black power movement, which I feel exists more then ever has to take into account that their movement quit like the Hitler catastrophe to change the world into one color, must take into account that children born to white mothers and black fathers are still considered the lowest of their race and will suffer serious consequences and initiations that will limit them for the rest of their lives.

While that is true, because of the nature of their sins to the unsuspected is one of the reasons that there is black on black violence, for the sins of the forefathers will be upon the children. Nothing should be held higher then God's law and for those reasons it will not end until these types of movements and mentality are done away with.

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