BLACK POWER: Radical Politics and African American Identity

Article excerpt

BLACK POWER: Radical Politics and African American Identity, by Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. 280 pp. $33.00, hardcover.

Jeffrey Ogbar does an exemplary job of providing a comprehensive overview of organizations and leaders involved in the Black Power Movement. Through his detailed analysis, the reader is able to make his or her own decision about what constitutes Black Power and what variation was most effective in providing for advancement of Black Americans. Additionally, the book provides the basis for comparing the traditional Civil Rights Movement and its methods with those of Black Nationalists and of Black Power advocates.

Early in the text, Ogbar establishes the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party as the two most significant organizations of the Black Power Movement. He skillfully provides connections between the philosophies of these two organizations and their connections and influences on other Black Power organizations. He succeeds at bringing a human dimension to the leaders of the era by discussing their philosophical struggles. This is true in the case of well-known nationalists, such as Malcolm X, and leaders of the Black Panther Party, such as Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, as well as lesser known leaders of the Black Power Movement. He strengthens his analysis by examining civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King. The reader will realize that regardless of ideological position, all of the leaders struggled, at times, with the responsibility to their respective movements.

In the Introduction, Ogbar provides definitions of Black Power and Black Nationalism. In chapter one, he offers extensive background on the Nation of Islam, while giving particular attention to the philosophical underpinnings of the group. He draws a connection between the Nation of Islam's success in the 1950s and 1960s and the environment that existed in the United States during that time. While pointing out the positive aspects of the Nation, he also addresses what he sees as inconsistencies between its rhetoric and its actions. In chapter two, Ogbar provides a detailed description of the traditional civil rights groups, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It is also in this section that he mentions the fact that traditional civil rights organizations felt threatened by influence of the Nation of Islam. Although he provides an outstanding comparison of the Nation of Islam and the civil rights community, the most valuable section of the chapter includes his discussion of the self-defense groups that emerged in the South during the Movement. Organizations, such as the Deacons for Defense, are very often not mentioned.

In chapter three, Ogbar addresses the Black Panther Party. He reveals that there were various factions within the group who were not always in sync with the Oakland leadership (Huey Newton and Bobby Seale). However, it is clear, through his discussion in this chapter, that the Oakland area was the hub of the Panther organization, and is the one by which the party is characterized. He also introduces class as a component of the struggle for racial equality and points out how the approach to equality was often influenced by the extent to which the groups bought into capitalism. In this section, he reveals the schism that existed between the traditional civil rights leaders and Black Power advocates over the use of the term "Black Power." He finds that leaders, during that time, tended to associate the term with some kind of violence. However, he reminds us that non-violent direct action actually anticipated violence, and perhaps, even exploited it.

Chapter four introduces the lesser known of the Black Power organizations and distinguishes between the diverse Black Power schools of thought. One school is, of course, the political and social approach promoted by the Black Panther Party; another promotes cultural nationalism. …