Black Power is a motto that personified the age of the civil rights movement and contemporary black nationalism. Political figures like Malcolm X espoused the ideals and ambitions of Black Power. The Black Panther Party devoted itself to the Black Power cause. The ideals surrounding Black Power involved aggression versus the pacifism preached by Martin Luther King Jr.
Stokely Carmichael was a black activist involved in the civil rights movement. Frustrated by the lack of progress generated by the integration policies of the movement, Carmichael affiliated himself with the Black Panther Party. Speaking to a rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael said: "The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin' us is to take over. We been saying freedom for six years and we ain't got nothin'. What we gonna start saying now is Black Power!" The supporters of Black Power believed that if the African-American people could never achieve equality or acceptance, they were obligated to create their own nation. The black community began to redefine itself, reclaiming its culture and history in order to unify and strengthen itself. Though their methods differed, the Black Power movement and the civil rights movement both sprang from the same cause -- the need for African-American freedom.
Richard Wright, a controversial black author, first introduced the term Black Power in his 1954 book Black Power. His work destroyed the myth of the black man being subservient and ignorant. Scholars have referred to the era of Black Power as the civil right's movement "evil twin." Many considered its stance on non-integration a further proponent of racism. Black Power advocates were divided into two main groups: the pluralists and the nationalists. The pluralists believed that as long as the black community was given political representation and equal rights, coexistence would be possible. In direct opposition, the nationalists believed that despite its democratic state, America would always be dominated by one racial group. The only recourse was to separate and avoid assimilation.
The Black Panther Party was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California. The party had various agendas, including replacing American capitalism with socialism, creating an autonomous black territory within America and promoting cultural nationalism. Cultural nationalists believed that the best way to empower the black community was to define itself through art, literature, clothing and theater. Organizations advocated teaching Swahili and celebrating African holidays like Kuzaliwa. Black Power drew on a number of ideologies endorsed by great black thinkers such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W.E B. Du Bois. But probably the most influential leader of black nationalism and greatest advocate of Black Power was Malcolm X. He firmly believed in armed defense and violence as a means of seizing power and respect. All Black Power advocates saw it necessary to mobilize the black community politically, economically, psychologically and culturally. Carmichael defined Black Power as "the coming-together of Black people to elect representatives and to force those representatives to speak to their needs." Racial awareness would be key to their success.
Not only did Black Power express itself politically; it also defined itself intellectually. The 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America expounded the basic principles of Black Power. Its authors Charles Hamilton and Stokely Carmichael claimed that Black Power is "a call for Black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for Black people to begin to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations. It is a call to reject the racist institutions and values of this society." Black Power was established 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." It was necessary that the black community promote exclusivity to reach a state of solidarity. Carmichael would later reject these notions and come to preach armed resistance and Pan-Africanism.
Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, openly criticized the fundamentals of Black Power. In 1966, he addressed the NAACP annual convention and said, "Black Power means anti-white power ... it has to mean 'going-it-alone.' It has to mean separatism." Black Power was a "reverse Mississippi, a reverse Hitler, a reverse Ku Klux Klan" that could result only in "Black death." Wilkins saw Black Power as a reversal of everything the NAACP fought for.