The Dragonfly and Raven

The Dragonfly and Raven

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Southern Civil Rights and Black Power Movements

Race has always been a problem in the United States. The fledgling republic nearly committed genocide against the various Native Americans. Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants were treated with disdain. Chinese immigrants who helped build the West were openly discriminated against, as were Japanese Americans during the WWII. Today, the Republican Party and President Trump actively work to injure and remove Hispanic and Muslim Americans and immigrants. However, none of this compares to the treatment of Blacks in the United States. Since its founding, the United States has built its progress and growth on the broken backs of black bodies. Slavery was a fundamental component of the Southern economy, taking a civil war to remove the de jure slavery from the United States—however this did nothing to combat the de facto slavery that existed for Blacks in the United States that stemmed from segregation laws and the complete lack of economic and political power after their emancipation. In response to this state of inequality (both racially and economically), two disparate, yet interconnected, movements rose in an attempt to improve the lives of Blacks in the United States. There were the Integrationists (also known more broadly as the Southern Civil Rights Movement or the Civil Rights Movement) and the Black Power Movement. Both movements viewed the then-present condition of the United States and race relations differently. Both had different goals, politically and socially, and different ways of achieving those goals. However, these discordant movements did influence each other, and their leaders did have a dialogue.

The Integrationist and Black Power movements were born out off the mass-suburbanization of whites in the US and the mass urbanization of blacks post-WWII with the collapse of the sharecropping system, and the advent of the GI Bill (Hall 1239). The Integrationist Movement sprung out of the Black Churches that grew to incredible prominence, both politically and socially, with the massive influx of blacks from rural America (Morris 4). The Church served as a social nexus for blacks in America, allowing for political organization that would otherwise be impossible for impoverished individuals (as almost all blacks were) to undertake. The NAACP was also created around this time, with a goal to end of the de jure segregation that was so prominent in the country at the time. While the Integrationist Movement was large, and had many leaders, the most well-known of the movement's leaders is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He saw the United States as a nation that was segregated—a nation divided culturally. This divide, to Dr. King, prevents Americans from seeing the promise of freedom and human rights that is promised to all both in the foundations of the American Democracy, and then also with the common Hebraic-Christian heritage that is shared by many in the nation (Washington 118-119). It is this belief that Dr. King and others in the the Integrationist Movement held that led to their use of nonviolent demonstrations in the form of civil disobedience, boycotting, sit-ins, and freedom-riding that still hold a striking image in the national psyche of the era—for it was the goal of the Integrationists to first desegregate, and then integrate both Black and White America. However, not everyone saw the United States in such a positive light.

While the Integrationist Movement was rising the in the South, the Black Power Movement was rising in the North, Midwest, and the West. Unlike the Integrationist Movement, the Black Power Movement did not think that integration was the answer. Instead, the Black Power Movement advocated for self-determination and racial solidarity (Joseph 22), as well as proper representation within government (Marable and Mullings 445). The Black Power Movement saw the US since its inception as being flawed—having been built on the backs of black slaves—comparing the US to a colonizer, and blacks as the colonized (Ibid.). Integration is also, in the mind of Stokely Carmichael, a further subversion of the black vis-a-vis the white—as integration is not a marriage of black and white cultures, but rather black culture being consumed and destroyed by white culture (Ibid. 445-446). Thus, Black Power is a type of self-defense against White America and Supremacy (Ibid. 444) This view of the world does not lend itself to the idea of nonviolent protest. If the problem is not one of ethics, but one of power, then arguments to morality will not be sufficient in the alleviation of the plight of blacks. Rather, it will take direct action, through the accumulation of economic and political power by blacks in order to force positive social change—which, at its core, was the goal of the Movement.

As mentioned above, the Integrationist and Black Power Movements utilized different tactics to work toward their goals. The Integrationist Movement, seeking to bring Black and White America together, implemented tactics that aimed to change the hearts and minds of White America. Their choice of tactics was heavily influenced by those used by Mahatma Gandhi to win independence from the British (Washington 124). The Integrationist Movement used boycotts (cf. the Montgomery Bus Boycott), sit-ins (cf. Greensboro) (Black Southern Student 748), speeches, and rallies (cf. March on Washington). The Black Power Movement worked towards its goals by first gaining control of black organizations (cf. SNCC) from the top-down, allowing for self-determination (Marable and Mullings 445), along with attempts to take over majority-black districts in the South, and the appointment of sympathetic individuals into county-level positions of power (Ibid. 454), the creation of a third political party in the Black Panthers (Joseph 28), and the accumulation of capital by blacks to increase their economic positions (Marable and Mullings 445).

These two movements were quite different, in terms of worldview, goals, and the ways in which they sought to accomplish those goals. However, they did influence each other greatly. Perhaps the best example of this comes with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was founded around the same time as the NAACP, and was an instrumental part of the early Integrationalist Movement that would eventually be taken over by Stokely Carmichael, and shift its allegiance to the Black Power, it did retain its political activism and engagement. Furthermore, Dr. King's “Beyond Vietnam” speech spoke of and with the same anti-colonial conviction that Black Power utilized for many years prior.

With the mass suburbanization of whites and the mass urbanization of blacks in the United States, two disparate yet interconnected movements came into existence—those being the Integrationist Movement and the Black Power Movement. The Integrationist Movement saw the United States as being divided, and overlooking its bonds and obligations both to the fundamental nature of the democracy, and of the shared Hebraic-Christian heritage. The goal of the Movement was integration of blacks and whites in society. To do this, the Movement utilized boycotts, sit-ins, and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience, in an argument to the morality of White America, hoping to change its antiquated beliefs. Meanwhile, the Black Power Movement viewed America as a flawed state—one built on the exploitation of black bodies—a colonizer. Seeing the condition of blacks as being resultant of economics and power dynamics, the Black Power Movement believed that it would only be through these approaches that Black America would be able to achieve their ultimate goals—self-determination and racial solidarity. This involved complete control of black organizations, as well as actively seeking to consolidate political power in majority-black districts and capital through control of county political positions, among other methods. Lastly, both movements, while different, influenced each other, as is proven with Dr. King's “Beyond Vietnam” speech. Thus is how both the Integrationist and Black Power Movements had similar goals which they then approached differently.