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

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

3
Continuity and Innovation in
Post—Civil Rights Era Black Organization

The black community in the United States has always had an extensive and diversified structure of organization, paralleling that of white America but in some ways much more extensive. Indeed, the problem of hyper black organization has in the past been identified and is today to some extent a problem itself in black society and politics. Amongst this plethora of organizations, however, there were relatively few national or local organizations of an explicitly political nature devoted exclusively to campaign organization, fund raising and electoral activism. Instead, black organizations were generally apolitical— church, fraternal, business, professional—or, when political, have tended to be oriented to civil rights protest or radical or nationalist programs of political change. There were a few exceptions in terms of local political organizations in various cities and states, and the civil rights organizations and the church sometimes engaged in forms of electoral mobilization and lobbying, but in general black organizations were devoted to internal, communal affairs or narrowly focused on civil rights lobbying, litigation and protest. Thus, with the end of the civil rights era the existing organizational structure of black America was not conducive to the new forms of institutional politics. As Charles Hamilton put it, black politicians during the civil rights era were socialized to go to court or the streets rather than the ballot box or the local precinct hall. 1 And in Black Power Hamilton and his colleague recognized this problem and asserted that the new black politics would require "searching for new forms of political structure to solve political and economic problems and broadening the base of political participation to include more people in the decision making process."2 Thus, it was recognized at the outset of the transformation from protest to politics that it would require either transformation in the existing organizational structure of black America and/or the development of new organizational forms.

The National Black Political Convention process was an initial effort to create a new form of organization that would facilitate the

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