What are your thoughts on the rise of the Black Power movement?

Patricia Anderson:
Only that I do not believe that violence brings anything but more violence. And that Dr. King's message of non-violence was more effective in the long run, and from a P.R. point of view a much more efficient way of handling the situation that was at hand.

Gloria Xifaras Clark:
I was out of SNCC when the transition was occurring, but I was following their lead as I had for 4 years. It was 1968 when I told the youth at the NAACP youth council that I would no longer be their advisor because they needed to get someone from the black community, and I was white. I spoke with several adults whom I asked to replace me. No one came forward. The group folded.

I later became involved with the local chapter of the Black Panther Party, delivered the newspapers to our city of New Bedford MA from Boston, delivered clothing and food and was involved in the free breakfast and lunch program the BPP started in one of the black churches. At no time was I pushed out of the BPP.

Bruce Hartford:
I think that in many ways it did good service in bringing pride of race and heritage to Black people. But I also think that as it's message evolved towards race separation, and hostility to white people as a race, it slowed down and eventually contributed to the end of the civil rights movement.

Margaret Herring see Narrative.

Gabe Kaimowitz:
John O'Neal and I parted several years later in NYC because he had joined that movement. It was inevitable, necessary, but however, allowed whites to get off the hook and "we" all have done so ever since.

Joan Mandle:
The Black Power Movement was a political disaster. It was about psychology — about feeling powerful — rather than doing the hard work of politics to win allies and change people's minds. It split the Civil Rights Movement and made it a movement of exclusivity — that drove out the white allies of African-Americans and severely weakened the movement. African-Americans were and are a small minority (10% or so) and to make social change they, like anyone else, need allies. Black Power alienated others, including many African-Americans and shifted the tone, the content and the power of the movement for the worse. It was not about all of us being better, more just, more humane, but about getting something for a group of people that stood against, separated from the majority of the society — this can never succeed in making positive social change.

Curtis (Hayes) Muhammad:
The "Black Power" moment in SNCC is still a touchy subject, so I'll walk easy. Firstly, I was in Chicago and was one of the founders and organizers of the "Union of Organizers." The early conversations among us sought to continue the experiment SNCC had started and we thought had failed. We set out to build a Union of Organizers to discuss common strategies and common work, but supported Black organizers working in Black communities and white organizers working in white communities. We developed a school for organizers in Englewood and the school's teachers came from the UO. We developed a Center for Radical Research to service the organizers and the organizer school. We supported Black and white working in the school and research center and organizers working in there own communities.

From this experiment we developed a strong coalition called the Chicago Council of Community Organizations, again with Black and white organizational participation. When we hosted the New Politics Convention that nominated Dr. Spock and Dick Gregory for president and vice president, it was the UO that organized a Black caucus that held a grass root convention in Englewood.

Organizing in uptown (JOIN) and Englewood were the two main organizing projects of the UO. I always felt that we made a contribution to a lot of stuff. When you name the Black folk that were part of this experiment like SNCC folk, Earl Durham, Larry Landry, Alexander Ben, Rev. Archie Hargraves, T.W.O. organizers, Renee Davis, Bernadene Dorhn, Jane Adams, Mike James Al Rabe(sp?), folk from the Westside Organization, Oped Lopez, Maria Verela, etc. paints a different picture then the one you painted.

People left this experiment to almost everything that happened throughout the seventies. Not only Weathermen, but the The Midwest Academy, the Black Panther Party, The Farm Workers Union, those brothers who carried guns to the court house in New Mexico, Unversity Without Walls, etc. I actually think we came close to putting in practice what SNCC was talking about. I really think the Black Power discussion was dominated by the talkers while the organizers as usual were trying to subject the theory to practice and I think the Chicago experiment was an honorable attempt to make sense of nonsense.

I hope this small contribution don't cause too much anger. It is interesting to note that whites have yet to bounce back from environment, solidarity movements, women movements, labor, people of color (except Black), trees, whales, egles, snakes and almost anything but Black people since Black Power."

I have been working since SNCC with a "bottom-up" organizing concept a concept seeking to mimic much of what Ms. Baker pushed SNCC to do and what I think we came close to in Mississippi. At a time when the civil rights movement was sitting-in, marching, boycotting and freedom riding for public accommadations, Ms. Baker asked Bob Moses to go to Mississippi to talk with civil rights leaders there and ask them what SNCC could do to help. Amzie Moore, E.W. Steptoe and C.C. Bryant told him to help register Black folk to vote. When this proposal was placed before the SNCC staff and executive board it almost caused the death of SNCC. It was saved by Ms. Baker who suggested that SNCC have two wings, one direct action and one voter registration. In my mind this was the birth of"bottom-up organizing".

When the Oakland Black Panther Party complained that they were having problems gaining acceptance in the community after they went to the state house with guns...SNCC suggested a door-to-door survey to find out what the community wanted. The breakfast program was born. Again "bottom-up organizing."

In Mississippi the national focus for the civil rights movement became the right to vote and the cry "one man one vote" made it all the way to South Africa. In the case of the Panther Party the breakfast program produced a milieu in which community participation and acceptance was possible.

I think "bottom-up" produced Black Power. Before Black power most left and progressive thinking folk would have and did appreciate SNCC's battle cry in Mississippi, "let the local people decide." This meant that the script was flipped. All of us Black, white, educated, lawyers, doctors and all staff had to follow the leadership of the community. Now what would this look like in a pamplet written for the grass root community in a "bottom-up" organizing culture:

With this understanding whites deserted the Black movement for power and they have yet to return to this concept of organizing in the Black communities.

Wazir (Willie) Peacock:
Black empowerment, I think, was where we were coming from all the time because, at the time, in the South, Blacks had no power at all. So we needed power, and we just happened to be Black. Power, real power, has no color. Power's just power.

But the form of Black Power that was declared by Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture, that came later after me and Sam had left and come to California in '66. That form of Black Power where you separate yourself from your allies, regardless of what color they are, I don't go for that.

Dick Reavis:
I gave up civil rights work when SNCC asked whites to exit. A couple of its field staffer encouraged me to join the Vietnam anti-war movement instead because "we have the same enemy." They were right.

Wally Roberts:
I think the seed of Black Power was sprouted by Freedom Summer.

At least this is my experience. The Freedom School teachers for Shaw were delayed getting into town and starting the Freedom School there because the SNCC field secretary assigned to the town, a local man who had only a high school education, never showed up to lead us into the town, which had not previously experienced an CR activity. I met with him once later in the summer, and he told me he simply could not imagine how to deal with a dozen college educated white Northerners.

Throughout the summer, we encountered similar feelings on the part of some but not all of the SNCC staff, and at the end of the summer, at a debriefing in Jackson, these feelings surfaced with an explicit request that however much we wanted to stay to help with the struggle, would we please return to the North. We were told that many of the staff felt that we whites would overwhelm the organization, that the struggle was one that black people had to do by themselves if it was to be an authentic freedom movement. I didn't take notes, but I've always remembered what happened and was said this way.

I didn't have any choice; I had to get back to my wife and kids and graduate school, but I wanted to stay and continue to be a part of the struggle for the same reason I joined, to share the risk in the hope that I could help. I couldn't help if the local folks who's struggle it was couldn't feel it was their struggle, so I had to find other ways to work for social and economic justice.

A year later when Stokley came up with the slogan, I knew where it came from.

Jimmy Rogers:
I think that one of the reasons that it made it difficult for the Movement to continue in that form was that there were various conflicts within the group. I think one of them was, and I'm not going to say whether this was a good or bad thing, was the rise in Black nationalism. Around 1966, 1967, I was listening to a lot of Black people stating, "We have to take back our movement and take control." Then from there, there was a lot of white people who left or were forced out. I put that in the context of one of the reasons for the Movement's failure to continue. When Dr. King got killed and when Malcolm got killed, I think the Black nationalist movement grew. A lot of people had given up hope.

Black Power and Black nationalism have existed in this country ever since I can remember and probably a long time before I was born with Marcus Garvey and other groups. I think it has some good points and it has some bad points. I think one of the good points is that it more or less motivates Black people to rely on themselves. As Black people the one thing that we don't have that most other groups have is that they have a culture that they brought with them, that's been able to thrive through the centuries.

Yet I don't think this should be carried so far that you waste a lot of energy by getting too involved in their Blackness or whiteness or Asian- ness. For example, there was some Muslims from the Middle East who went to Black Muslim Temple #7 in New York one day to see what went on there. But there were not let in because they were too white. There was a big brouhaha.

Howard Romaine:
Probably psychologically inevitable tho 'logically' based on inapplicable Arfican model...Continues to be destructive of profound multi-cultural alliances necessary for real democratic change in America, in its bourgeios self-interested version, as well as 'rhetorical version'...But has culturally transforming educational value for whole culture, if properly presented and openly appreciated by Euro- Americans..

Alvin Rosenbaum:
In 1966, working fulltime in the campaign to elect Richmond Flowers governor of Alabama I was dumfounded by Stokely Carmichael's Black Panther Party Lowndes County. I wrote to Stokely (who was not from Alabama), complaining that he was undermining our efforts to transform Alabama politics. He replied that "the only hope in Alabama was radical change." This was my first experience with radical politics and the concept of Black Power. I was and continue to be an integrationist (now, an old- fashioned concept) and believed then and now that King was right and Carmichael was wrong.

Jean Wiley:
I understood it. Very well. In the Southern context in those rural counties, it made absolute sense to go for a power base. It was really what we were trying to do anyway, we just didn't call it that. Get people registered, get the numbers in so that they can start changing the sheriff. Like in the case of Greenwood where you have people sitting on the county board saying, "we won't take the free food." Families are starving on the plantations and they refuse to take free food for them. So you know, you have got to change that. That is power.

So it made absolute sense to me, but I was struck by the vehemence with which it was attacked. So I did have to wonder, well, what did people think we were trying to do if that wasn't it? I was stunned by the vehemence, by the attacks, overnight it seemed to me. From "Friends of the movement." I was also struck by how much of the older leadership of the movement hurried to denounce it.

I was also struck by the fact that we weren't, we couldn't quite define it in a way that captured what we were talking about, in the context that we were talking about it, without succumbing. I wanted to defend it in a way that people would understand — you bring people along we used to say in the South, you bring people along in their understanding. I was struck by how you couldn't do that on that term Black Power. refuse to say that it was a mistake. I wish that we'd been talking about power back in '62, you know, and bringing people along with us in that thinking.

There's also the thing about North versus South. They were then, and probably in a way they still are, different universes. People in the North don't hear you when you talk about people in the South. One thing that used to drive people nuts when I was in New York was that I would get annoyed and I would say, because of all the criticisms about the Southern movement, and these are among Black people now I'm talking about because what also is happening is the nationalist movement is solidifying in New York as it is in other large Northern cities. I would sit for hours, and finally I would blurt out, "You know, you people can't organize your own apartment building. Forget the block. You can't organize your own apartment building. Maybe your own floor you can't organize, or you won't organize. How dare you, critique an experience you know nothing about."

Copyright ©
Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
(Labor donated)