A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

What We Want, What We
Believe (1966)
Black Panther Party

The Civil Rights movement began in the 1950s with goals of integration and assimilation. Its most visible leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., called upon doctrines of brotherly love and adopted tactics of nonviolent protest. It was not long, however, before other voices challenged that vision. Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X espoused black nationalism and racial separatism, urging African Americans to take control of their communities and to fight white racism “by any means necessary.” After his assassination in 1965 Malcolm X came to symbolize militant defiance and racial pride, inspiring those who would move from demands for civil rights to demands for Black Power.

By mid-1965, many of the young people who filled the ranks of major civil rights organizations such as CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) had become frustrated with the slow pace of change and angered by the white violence they faced. Both SNCC and CORE had decisively rejected the goal of integration and the tactic of nonviolence by mid-decade, but the turning point came in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1966. Stokely Carmichael, the fiery young head of SNCC, fresh from his twenty-seventh jailing, shouted to the angry crowd of SNCC and CORE workers waiting for his release: “We been saying freedom for six years and we ain’t got nothin’. What we gonna start saying now is Black Power!”

Black Power meant different things to different people, but one of the groups that developed the philosophy the most fully was the Black Panther Party. Organized in Oakland, California, in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, the Black Panthers constructed an ideology rooted in self-defense against racist aggression and police brutality. The media-savvy Panthers appeared in public dressed in berets and leather jackets, brandishing an impressive array of weaponry. Claiming that African Americans constituted an oppressed colony within a white oppressor nation, they attempted to create a militant,

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