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History of The Black Power Movement

Info: 4095 words (16 pages) Essay
Published: 30th Jul 2021 in History

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The failures of the Civil Rights Movement resulted in the Black Power Movement. Members of the party felt that passive resistance was unrealistic and that for real change to occur, violent direct action would need to happen. Leaders like Malcolm X felt that passive resistance was not effective. Not only did Black Power promote black beauty is also unified African Americans.

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Why did the BPM come into existence?

The Civil Rights Movement achieved many great things, their powerful protests created an immense amount of awareness for the oppression of black people in America. Protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, The sit-ins in 1960, the March on Lincoln Memorial, the Birmingham Campaign in 1963, Freedom summer of 1964, and the Selma-Montgomery marches, attained: the passing of the Civil Rights Act by the American Congress in 1964. This outlawed discrimination based on racial, ethnic, national, religious and gender identity, and the passing of the Voting Rights Act by the American Congress in 1965. In addition to these acts being passed black people gained a new self-confidence as the result of The CRM. Black people also gained a new sympathy for the things that they had lost during the CRM from their fellow white citizens of America.

Despite the achievements of the CRM by 1965 the general economic conditions of African Americans were poor. They lived in ghettos which were crowded and diseases would often arise due to the lack of facilities, the ghettos were often in bad conditions and most of the time unkempt[1]. Apart from the living conditions, most of these people were unemployed or paid very low wages as job opportunities were lacking. This resulted in poverty and crime and to many the achievements of the CRM were in vain, they had lost all hope.

Although they had achieved civil rights they were still subject to copious amounts of discrimination often racial abuse and violent attacks with this the police provided little protection and sometimes were guilty of these brutal attacks. The African Americans had no solution to this problem as they were taught by previous leaders like Martin Luther King that passive resistance and civil disobedience were commendable ways of disapproving authority but many felt that this ideology was inadequate and so they turned to more forceful ways of resistance[2]. Black power promoted black interests and this appealed to many frustrated African Americans. Black power grew out of black dissatisfaction of the CRM. Although the achievements of the CRM were praiseworthy it was not good enough.


A Ghetto during the 1960s

What Influence did Malcolm X have on the development of the BPM?

Malcolm X was an African American Muslim minister and a human rights activist. Malcom X joined the Nation of Islam, which believed that blacks were superior to whites. They also believed in black self-reliance and that African Americans should return to where they originated from, Africa, as they believed that they would never be abundantly accepted in American society. Malcolm X became one of their best outspoken speakers.

After his time as part of the Nation of Islam his relationship with the leader of the movement Elijah Muhammad grew hostile [3] and he decided to leave the movement. Malcolm X believed that blacks had the right to defend themselves violently in the face of a violent attack if necessary to achieve their freedom and equality. He did not believe in integration between blacks and whites making him an early proponent of Black Nationalism. Thus he didn’t believe in Martin Luther King’s ideology of passive resistance, their lack of power was the foundation of Malcolm X’s duty to encourage that protests be more assertive.[4]

Although he was a firm believer of the promotion of black interests, black self-esteem, black self-pride and black self-defence against racial oppression his views began to change after his pilgrimage to mecca. He discovered that Muslims preach equality of the races. After returning to America he remained convinced that racism ruined the spirit of America and that only black people could free themselves.


Malcom X

What were the main beliefs and aims of the BPM?

The Black Power Movement was interpreted in various ways and had many beliefs but ultimately a common objective, Black Nationalism. Black power promoted black interests, self-sufficient black economy, Black self-pride and self-esteem. They believed that black people and white people should not be integrated therefore they fostered a distinctive black culture. [5]

These ideas caused friction with leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as the CRM worked towards social equality whereas Black Power believed in black separation. Not all parties were in favour of Black Nationalism, The Black Panther party believed in Self-defence against racial oppression. They also believed that the structure of power in America was imbalanced [6] and that majority of the people in power in America were white thus making it unfair, they believed that people of colour were economically exploited and that it needed to be rectified.

Black power believed in black control of their communities, they didn’t believe in nonviolent protests as they believed that direct action was more effective. Supporters of the Black Power Movement began adopting distinctive ways of dressing, especially women who then decided that their wardrobe would be more uniformed inspired than European. They coined a term “Black is Beautiful”[7] and this became their mantra, men and women were asked to stop straightening their hair and bleaching their skin, as in American culture it was believed that certain black characteristics were undesirable, thus men and women donned an afro hairstyle to display their new found confidence in being black.

They believed that time was not to be wasted on proving to the white people that they were equal but rather that, that time to be spent on educating the black community of black power , building institutions and providing protection to fellow black citizens.

http://www.opednews.com/populum/uploaded/kathleen-11235-20090728-93.jpg http://fashiontrendshoes.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/black-panther-party-guns-5dowmrho.jpg

What methods did the BPM employ?

There were various methods that were employed by the members of the BPM. During the Civil Rights Movement, an organisation called the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a non-violent committee that would participate in sit-ins and freedom rides, protesting against the inequality between white and black people. It started out non-violently but later on in the 60s it fell under the leadership of a passionate Stokely Carmichael and this organisation became a predecessor of the BPM.

The Black Panther Party carried out most of the procedures when it came to educating the black people of black power. The Black Panther Party was initially formed to protect black people from police brutality but under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael the Black Panther Party adopted Black Nationalism. Many of the members of the party carried firearms with them; this was thought to protect the black people from the police but also made them look very intimidating displaying their clear contrary to the Civil Rights Movement.

Majority of the black people were illiterate and this created a problem for the party as leaflets could not be made therefore it was pointless if no one could read them, so the leaders made decisions to incorporate awareness in less literal way. “They could have leafleted the community and they could have written books, but the people would not respond. They had to act and the people could see and hear about it and therefore become educated on how to respond to oppression.”[8] They decided that crime and poverty in the ghettos could be decreased if they employed people who were interested in conveying radical change.

Apart from being responsible for various criminal activities the BBP formed armed groups for self-defence against the police, this was their strategy to protect themselves and idea of Black Nationalism. Under this party the main focus was that black people would be free from white people completely, and that they only relied on themselves and other people falling under the black nation.


Members of the BBP

How successful was the BPM?

It is suggested that Black Power made positive, lasting contributions to the African American lifestyle.[9] It created greater racial pride amongst the black people in America. Black people became more accepting of their American heritage, they noted that they would be stronger as country than as segregated races. African Americans were now taken care of, ghettos decreased as well as crime and poverty.

Black voters were endowed to support their black candidates[10]. The Black Power Movement also formed a path; black students were now given the opportunity to study at university without any racial oppression or discrimination. Although we like to believe that racial discrimination no longer existed in America, it did and it still does.

The Black Power Movement also created a strong black culture for African Americans, this was something that they could relate to, and this culture consisted of soulful music, eccentric fashion and heartfelt literature. The BPM also formed a platform for cultural tolerance in America, as different cultures were now accepted amongst people of the country.


What is the legacy of the BPM today?

The Black Power Movement set down a fundamental platform for the advancement of African Americans. Black Power was not the only contributing factor, but the Civil Rights Movement also played a big role in achieving equality for African Americans. Under the Civil Rights Movement, Civil Rights Acts were passed, race discrimination became illegal and this gave African Americans a new kind of self-esteem and self-confidence in who they were as Americans.

Although the Black Power Movement “ended” the spirit today still does exist, not only in America but in all parts of the world. If we look at America today, there are many successful African Americans in the country. The dream of many African Americans was achieved in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected as America’s first black president. This could not be made possible if black power did not exist. It was the strength and power of the many activists in the 1960s and 1970s that fashioned an important part in history today. “Black power’s impact thus remains powerfully resonant — however fraught and contentious — as a generation of black politicians, artists, and intellectuals have channelled the new black identity it first articulated in diverse and varied ways”[11] with this said the writer makes a very crucial point, that Black Power was the basis of the accomplishments of African Americans today and that it should remain as a token that African Americans should remember of the struggle.


It is suggested that the failures of the Civil Rights Movement subsequently lead to the rise of Black Power. The methods used during the Civil Rights Movement like passive resistance and civil disobedience felt inadequate to the black people therefore it appeared that was a need for alternative methods to achieve equality.

Timeline of the BP

1952 Malcolm X joins The Nation of Islam

1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott

1960 The first Sit-in occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina

1963 The March on Washington (Lincoln Memorial)

1963 Birmingham Campaign

1964 Freedom Summer Campaign

1964 Civil Rights Act was signed

1964 Malcolm X breaks with the Nation Of Islam

1965 Voting Rights Act was signed

1966 The Black Panther Party was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale

1966 Stokeley Carmichael becomes ‘Honorary Prime Minister’ of the BBP

1967 Stokeley Carmichael is removed From BBP

1972 National Black Political Convention was held

1980 BBP started to dissipate

1983 Martin Luther King Jr Day was created



A protest of Asians showing their support of Black Power, they’re protesting for the release of Huey Newton who was imprisoned for murdering a policeman in 1967.


A Black panthers poster with their mantra “Move on over or we’ll move on over you” which basically meant that they were not afraid for fighting for their rights.


Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics written by Cederic Johnson

Black theology and black power written by James H. Cone










[1] http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080312215601AA8bRSr

[2] http://prasadokurian.blogspot.com/2011/10/paradox-of-passive-resistance.html

[3] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/malcolmx/peopleevents/e_noi.html

[4] Adapted from http://marnielangeroodiblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/malcom-x-black-power/

[5] http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/N/bo3633780.html and adapted from New day in Babylon the BPM movement and American culture written by William l. van Deburg, ISBN: 9780226847153 Published November 1993

[6] http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/fhamptonspeech.html

[7] Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_is_beautiful

[8] Quote by Black Panther leader, Huey Newton 1968

[9] adapted from New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975By William L. Van Deburg

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_Rights_Act_of_1965

[11] Quote from an article http://www.penielejoseph.com/legacy.html


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