Black Nationalism advocates the idea that the African-American people should maintain their own unique culture and heritage. Black Nationalism lies at the heart and core of the African-American struggle with identity. The ideologies of this nationalism impose racial standards, wherein African Americans attempt to separate from the American melting pot in an exclusive community. Racial pride plays a key role in Black Nationalism.
The ideology first took root when Africans were brought to America in chains. Throughout their enslavement, blacks endeavored to preserve their inherited culture despite being surrounded by a dominantly white society. Despite the fact that blacks became Christians, their religious ceremonies as practiced in black churches held on to the cultural remnants of their African roots, particularly the African rhythms and dancing styles. Though America claimed to adhere to New World ideologies of freedom and equality, the African-American community benefited little from these ideals. Dexter B. Gordon, in his book Black Identity: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Nineteenth Century Black Nationalism, describes the dilemma of negotiating between the American dream and the reality: "Slavery and republicanism were woven into this new American ideology with its reproduction of equal whites and inferior blacks. This development was not limited to the South but was national in scope." Though freedom was a basic precept of the Founding Fathers, slavery was an economic reality, one that many predicted could never be eliminated without harming American industry.
Black Nationalism built its basic foundations in the late 19th century and early 20th century. After the Civil War, black communities nurtured educated, self-reliant members who vocally promoted the ideals of Black Nationalism. Many consider Martin Delany to have been a founding father of Black Nationalism. After being refused admission to Harvard Medical School despite his obvious merit, Delany wrote a book called The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered, in which he claimed that African Americans could not hope for a better life in America and should create their own country.
Marcus Garvey was a prominent revolutionary figure in the Black Nationalist movement. He promoted a Pan-African philosophy that called for a massive return to Africa, which became known as Garveyism. Due to increasing European colonialism and imperialism in Africa, Garvey encouraged a redemption of Africa. Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, in which his goal was "to unite all people of African ancestry of the world to one great body to establish a country and absolute government of their own." Garvey believed that the black community could find little success as a minority. He said, "We believe that with the rising ambition of the negro, if a country is not provided for him in another 50 or 100 years, there will be a terrible clash that will end disastrously to him and disgrace our civilization." The rhetoric and philosophies of Black Nationalism in the 19th century fueled the fire for active progress in the 20th century.
The late 19th and early 20th century saw a violent rise in racism, as dramatized by the Ku Klux Klan. The civil rights movement of the 1960s saw the rise of political activists like Martin Luther King Jr. who demanded equal rights and opportunities for the segregated black community. In opposition to King's pacifist perspective, Malcolm X preached violence and aggression as a means of achieving equality. He encouraged rejecting white society as a means of retaining and strengthening the African-American identity. Malcolm X declared that due to the continued degradation of the black people, America's experiment of integration had failed.
During this period of contemporary Black Nationalism, it was proposed that blacks separate themselves from the white community regarding education, culture and religion. Revolutionary nationalists determined that since African Americans could not achieve self-realization in the present circumstances, they would have to destroy capitalism, imperialism, racism and sexism. These radical ideas became the basis of the Black Power Movement as personified by the Black Panther Party. Black unity and autonomy were the primary goals of this revolution; the carrying of firearms was considered the means of bringing these goals to fruition.
In opposition to the political activism of the Black Panthers, cultural nationalists endorsed a cultural rebirth among African Americans. The Black Arts Movement developed in the 1970s as a response to the assassination of Malcolm X. Through poetry, literature and drama, the cultural revolution embellished all the views of Black Nationalism. Black artists broke away from white culture and drew upon the themes of their African heritage.