The Black Power Movement Stokeley Carmichael (1967)

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The Black Power Movement

Stokeley Carmichael (1967): No person can be healthy, complete and mature if he must deny a part of himself; this is what “integration” has required thus far. This is the essential difference between integration and as it is currently practised and the concept of Black Power.


To understand the origins of the Black Power movement it is necessary to consider both the long term social and economic causes of black discontent as well as well as the increasing militancy of the Civil Rights campaign resulting from impatience for change and the violence of southern white resistance.
Many activists in the Civil Rights movement were shocked by the levels of violent southern white resistance to which they were subjected during the campaigns of the early 1960s. They felt that the mainstream civil rights movement was too beholden to Federal authority, and that the new focus should be on gaining rights through direct action.


1. Black Americans and the trends in the US economy

In the two decades since the end of World War II, America had experienced massive industrial growth, which translated into increasing consumer spending (fuelled by easily available credit) and rising living standards for many Americans.
Black Americans were largely confined to un-skilled and semi-skilled parts of the labour force, with correspondingly low wages.

  • In 1960 black people constituted 15% of the population, but constituted 32% of the families in the lowest income bracket, earning less than $5,000 annually.

  • In 1962 a black man earned on average 55% of the wage of an equivalent white employee.

Black Americans were not sharing in the prosperity of the period 1945-1965. The increasing demand for specialisation in the US economy, combined with the growth of automation, caused a reduction in the number of unskilled jobs, on which Blacks Americans has been disproportionately reliant since the Great Migration of the early part of the century. In cities such as Michigan and Detroit, with large numbers of poorer black families, the impact of these job losses was severe.

  • In the 1950s 1.5 million industrial jobs were lost to automation.

  • In 1964 black unemployment stood at 12% compared to a national average of 5%.

2. Education
Black Americans left school with fewer qualifications than their white counterparts. Schooling remained highly segregated because of the concentration of black people in specific neighbourhoods.

  • In 1964 85% of Black pupils were in schools where in schools were 90%+ of the roll were black.

3. The Labour Unions
Although the major labour unions had publicly stated commitments to non-racial recruitment, their local branches seldom conformed to this.

  • The NAACP sponsored several court cases by rejected black applicants against the labour unions. (Membership of unions was essential, as many trades operated a “closed shop” – meaning that all employees had to be union members.)

4. Employment practices
By the 1960s the great conglomerates (companies that owned other companies), such as Ford, Chrysler and General Electric, were gaining a dominant position in the economy. Often they discriminated against black applicants, effectively barring them from entire sectors of the US economy.

  • Of the 7665 employees that Ford had in its four main plants, only 74 were black.

Employers were often able to use the excuse of low black educational attainment to justify discrimination in employment.

Herbert Hill of the NAACP said: “when the building Trades Unions prevent Negroes from working on highly visible public construction projects … they are directly contributing to the racial crisis in the cities.”
5. Housing
By the mid 1960s, the issue of housing in the major northern cities had become highly politicised. One of the most notorious cases was that of Chicago, where the black population was heavily concentrated in ghettos in the south and west sides of the city.
Many estate agents applied restrictions to properties that prevented black people from occupying them, thereby further perpetuating the segregation of housing.
6. Crime
High levels of unemployment and social despair for young black Americans translated into increasing levels of crime.
In 1965 Daniel Moynihan was commissioned by Pres. Johnson to investigate the conditions experienced by black Americans in the northern cities. The Moynihan Report was one of the earliest and most significant analyses of social breakdown in the black urban communities.

  • The Moynihan Report found that 50% of young black males aged 16-25 had a criminal record - the results of low educational attainment, unemployment and despair.


Background: By 1966 Martin Luther-King and the mainstream of the Civil Rights movement had begun to turn their attention away from the issues of voting rights and de-segregation in order to focus on the social and economic experiences of black Americans in the northern cities.

1. King and Chicago

  • The 1966 campaign in Chicago against low quality black housing pitted the movement against the enormously powerful Democrat mayor of Chicago, Richard Dayley, who, although not discriminating actively against blacks, had allowed increasing levels of squalor in their neighbourhoods.

  • The attacks on King and his followers by white protestors in the Marquette Park district of Chicago encouraged many black activists to question the doctrine of non-violence.

2. The rivalry between the SCLC and the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee)

In June 1966 James Meredith, a prominent SNCC activist, was shot and injured by a sniper, while making a loan protest march from Tennessee to Mississippi.

  • Floyd McKisack replaced James Farmer as the leader of CORE. McKisack and James Forman came to believe that the mainstream leaders of the Civil Rights movement had become disconnected from the black grassroots.

  • Stokeley Carmichael, the new chair of the SNCC, openly questioned the imperative of non-violence. In 1967 he co-authored a book called Black Power. Soon after he left the SNCC and joined the Black Panthers.

Carmichael (1967): The concept of Black Power rests on a fundamental premise: before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks. By this we mean that group solidarity is necessary before a group can operate effectively from a bargaining position of strength in a pluralistic society. Traditionally, each new ethnic group in this society has found the route to social and political viability through the organisation of its own institutions with which to represent its needs within the larger society
It does not mean merely putting black faces into office. Black visibility is not Black Power. Most of the black politicians around the country today are not examples of Black Power. The power must be that of a community, and not emanate from there.

Black Power” became a powerful new slogan for black American activists. Many white members were removed from SNCC and CORE.


Malcolm X was the antithesis of Martin Luther-King, and set out to consciously reject his approach to improving the lot of black Americans.

1. Background
Born Malcolm Little, he changed his name to “X” because he would not accept the surname given to one of his slave ancestors by a white man. Unlike King, who had been brought up in a comfortable and middle-class home, Malcolm X had experienced harassment and intimidation from childhood. In 1931 his father was murdered, and six years later his mother was committed to a mental hospital. In 1938 he was expelled from mainstream schooling and sent to a juvenile detention centre.

2. Imprisonment and religious conversion

  • During his period of imprisonment (1946-52) Malcolm converted to an Islamic sect called Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. Nation of Islam had been founded by Wallace Fard. It advocated the theory that all people had originally been black until an evil scientist called Jacoub caused all the pale faces to breed in order to create an inferior race.

  • Malcolm Little also changed his name to Malcolm X.

Following his release from prison in 1953 he became first minister of the Black Muslims’ Temple Number One in Detroit. The following year he became minister of the New York Temple, and deputy to Elijah Muhammad.

3. Malcolm X’s Ideology

Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American. Why, if birth made you an American, you wouldn’t need any legislation, you wouldn’t need any amendments to the Constitution, you wouldn’t be faced with civil-rights filibustering in Washington DC, right now. They don’t have to pass civil-rights legislation to make a Polack an American.
No, I’m not an American. I’m one of 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism.”

  1. The American Nightmare

Malcolm X was heavily influenced by the separatism of Marcus Garvey, who saw black people as Africans not as Americans.

  • Malcolm believed that integration was a conspiracy to perpetuate the subordination and enslavement of black Americans. While King had a “dream” for black Americans, Malcolm X spoke of the “American Nightmare”.

  • Malcolm’s own experiences of the northern ghettos convinced him that ordinary white people were racists, and that the integration of black people had brought them nothing but crime, poverty and economic failure.

  1. Criticisms of King and the mainstream Civil Rights movement

When MLK received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Malcolm X criticised this as a form of surrender. Malcolm also hated the northern white liberals, whom he called wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  • He called Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington “the farce on Washington”.

  • He described the assassination of Pres. Kennedy as a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”

  1. Malcolm X and Violence

  • Malcolm X rejected the principle that protest should be non-violent. Although not personally violent, he explained and justified black violence as a response to persecution by white Americans.

  1. Islam and internationalism

By 1964 Malcolm was positioning himself more closely with the Muslim mainstream, and in the spring of that year he visited some societies where Islam was the predominant religion.

  • The holistic and inclusive nature of Islam (i.e. that all are equal under God), was a challenge to his separatist philosophy of rejecting White America. His discovery of the fact that there are many white Muslims (e.g. in Southern Europe) helped to modify his anti-white stance.

  • When he returned from his overseas tour in April and May 1964 he was more accommodating towards King and the mainstream of the Civil Rights movement.

  • By the end of 1964 Malcolm was co-operating with the mainstream Civil Rights movement, having quit the Nation of Islam (although remaining a Muslim himself).

4. Malcolm X’s assassination and legacy

(i) Assassination

  • In February 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam. He had been openly criticising Elijah Muhammad, and it seems likely that this was an act of revenge.

(ii) Legacy

  • Malcolm X had been very open in his criticism of King and his methods in the period 1959-1963. Whereas King was a Christian who argued that Civil Rights were in the interests of all Americans, Malcolm rejected this, and concentrated on black rights and consciousness. However, Malcolm X did help to open King’s eyes to the extent and degree of northern white racism in the big cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles.

  • Malcolm X was also a major influence on Stokeley Carmichael and on the Black Panthers, who absorbed his ideas on black consciousness and rights.

  • Malcolm X also encouraged black people to be less dependent on the courts and federal government for their rights. Although the majority of black people did not adopt his separatist ideology, they did not become more conscious and proud of their origins. The term African American became increasingly common, where people had used Negro or black previously.


  1. Origins

The new generation of leaders in the SNCC, including Stokeley Carmichael and H. R. Brown, had absorbed many of the ideas of Malcolm X and the Black Power movement.

  • In October 1966 Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther movement as a response to the assassination of Malcolm X, and the subsequent Watts riot in August 1965.

  1. Programme and demands

(i) Political

  • Freedom and autonomy for the black community.

  • Land, bread, clothing, justice and peace.

  • The release of all black people held in prison

  • Black juries for black people.

  • No more police brutality and murder

  • Blacks to be exempt from military service

  • Uniformed and armed black patrols to protect the people from the white police.

(ii) Social and educational

  • Full employment

  • An end to the “robbery of black people” (presumably economic exploitation through low wages etc..)

  • Improved housing

  • Education that told the truth about “decadent racist society”.

  1. The Rise and Fall of the movement

In October 1967, when the California State Legislature was debating the banning of the carrying of firearms, the Panthers conducted an armed march to the building to protest against the proposed measure. Later that year both Newton and Seale were arrested and convicted for serious offences.

  • In 1969 27 black panthers were killed in shooting incidents with the police. Eldridge Cleaver, the new leader of the movement, was forced to flee the USA in 1969.

  • Membership peaked at 2,000 in 1969, but collapsed in the 1970s. The Black Panthers were wound up in 1982.



The Black Power Movement encouraged black people to define their aims and goals in terms of their own heritage, culture and aspirations, and less in terms of securing rights from predominantly white institutions such as Federal Government and the Courts. At a broad cultural level - in sport, the media, television and literature - black people became more assertive and confident in what they could achieve. Black Power also had a real influence on the mainstream civil rights movement, encouraging the shift towards issues such as police brutality and discrimination in the provision of housing in the inner cities.


In its more extreme forms, the Black Power movement had the tendency to dissipate the energies of the Civil Rights movement into internal feuding and conflict. The separatist ideas of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam only ever appealed to a small minority of Black Americans, the majority of whom saw their future in what they hoped would bean economically and socially integrated USA. The Black Panthers received some support in areas where police brutality had become a major issue, but their use of weapons, and their association with crime, ensured that they remained a highly marginal. Intensive police surveillance and rigorous prosecution by the courts ensured the destruction of the Black Panthers by the early 1980s. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP saw Black Power as a racist concept and one that was at odds with the mainstream agenda of Civil Rights. The late 1960s marked the beginning of the decline of the Civil Rights movement, as many black Americans began to pursue their destinies through their own means, such as education, professional employment and home ownership. The black inner city areas remained volatile and prone to disturbances, and other riots followed that of Watts in 1965. A profound legacy of anger, blame and despair was left in many of the major inner city areas, such as South-Central Los Angeles.

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