We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era

By Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters | Go to book overview

2
The National Black Political Convention, 1972-84

The proximate historical roots of the 1970s convention process may be traced to the black power rebellion sparked by Stokely Carmichael and the SNCC on the 1966 Meredith March in Mississippi. 1 The black power symbol stimulated a critical debate on the future of black politics in the post—civil rights era, in some ways as important as the nineteenth-century debate between Washington and DuBois on the future of the race in the post-Reconstruction era. Black power essentially represented a variety of reformist black nationalism, appealing to race group consciousness and solidarity, cultural revitalization and independent organization as means to establish blacks as an independent force in American politics. 2 This essential meaning of black power was obscured in the initial historically and contextually uninformed debate surrounding the symbol. First, the press coverage was generally slanted, painting black power as a dangerous form of radical black separatism. Second, both the black and white political establishments, reacting to some extent to the slanted press coverage, distorted the import of black power; Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young for example charged extremism and "racism in reverse." And finally, at the time of the Meredith March Carmichael and his colleagues did not themselves have a clear understanding of black power's significance. Caught off guard by the immediacy of the slogan's rise to national prominence, it was, as Carson writes, "only after Carmichael attracted national attention as an advocate of black power did he begin to construct an intellectual rationale for what initially was an inchoate statement of conclusions drawn from SNCC's work."3 Then, in a series of articles and the book with Charles Hamilton, Carmichael elaborated a pragmatic black power formulation that was essentially a race version of the familiar interest group, pluralist model of American politics, which called for the mobilization of the groups' resources so that blacks could become an independent force, capable of extracting concessions within the pressure-group-based American polity. 4

Within a year, however, Carmichael had abandoned this reformist variety of black nationalism and his name (becoming Kwame Toure),

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