‘In comparison with the more traditional civil rights movement, the Black Power movement achieved little.’ Assess the validity of this view.

Introduction

  • The civil rights movement evolved dramatically during the 1960s.
  • This was influenced by the passage of legislation, a deterioration of urban ghettos and changes in leadership.
  • Specifically, the 1960s saw the emergence of the Black Power movement which was far more militant in nature when compared with the traditional CRM.
  • Overall, while the Black Power movement is significant in understanding the situation for African-Americans at that time, they did achieve little in absolute terms.

On the one hand the Black Power movement was limited…

  • Their militant nature made them very unpopular within federal government. J Edgar Hoover described them at the time to be the greatest internal threat to the USA.
  • This is particularly associated with the Black Panthers, led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
  • Acts such as the storming of the California State Assembly Chamber in protest of the Mulford Act 1967.
  • Traditional civil rights branches were concerned that this would decrease white sympathy and reduce their funding.

On the other hand, the Black Power movement did have achievements…

  • The Black Power movement helped to mobilise disillusioned young African-Americans by teaching them to celebrate their heritage and equate black with beautiful.
  • The movement was also responsible for multiple aid programmes which offered free breakfasts, health clinics and legal advice to members of the ghetto community.
  • However, these achievements were small-scale and did little to advance the movement in their ultimate goals about housing, economic justice and ending police brutality.

The achievements of the traditional civil rights groups must also be considered…

  • The March on Washington, which was a mass protest involving the ‘Big Six’ organisations including CORE, SCLC, SNCC, NAACP, the Urban League and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
  • It was intended to put pressure on the Kennedy administration for Civil Rights legislation and their succeeded with the Civil Rights Bill at the committee stage by his death in November 1963.
  • The attempt by the SCLC to address the limitations of this act during their demonstrations in Selma in 1965 is a further example of success of the traditional civil rights movement as the Voting Rights Act was passed in the following year.
  • This prohibited discrimination in voting at a state and local level.
  • This success is more tangible than the success of the Black Power movement as it resulted in legislation which theoretically influenced the lives of African-Americans nationwide.

The riots of the late 1960s highlighted the progress which still had not been made…

  • Around 250 deaths, 10,000 injuries and 60,000 arrests occurred as a result of rioting in the ghettos during the late 60s until 1972.
  • The Kerner Commssion’s report shows clearly how the issues of police conduct, discriminatory practices in multiple sectors and the inadequacy of many welfare programmes continued to cause distress for African-Americans.
  • The riots and the resultant report shows that although traditional CRM made progress during the 1960s, it was just a drop in the ocean of what was left to achieve.
  • It also provide excellent conditions for the growth of the Black Power movement as people felt disillusioned with the work of CORE and the SCLC.

One can also argue that it was in fact the weaknesses of the traditional civil rights movement which facilitated the growth of the Black Power Movement…

  • The enforcement of this legislation was often patchy and the federal government’s failure to protect the Freedom Riders or get involved during the Albany campaign led many African-Americans, especially those within the ghettos, to believe that the non-violent protest was becoming ineffectual.
  • Combined with the assassination of Malcom X in 1965, the Civil Rights movement was becoming increasingly radicalised firstly through the emergence of the Black Power Movement and secondly through the changing leadership of groups such as CORE and SNCC.
  • This suggests that while the achievements of the Black Power movement may have been limited, they relied on the failings of the traditional civil rights movement to win them support from people, especially in the ghettos, whose problems were arguably misunderstood by King and the traditional CRM.

One could also argue that the aims of the Black Power movement were unrealistic and therefore they inevitably achieved less in comparison to the more realistic traditional CRM…

  • Some of the ideas of the Black Power movement, especially the Black Panther Party were considered very radical. For example, in their Ten-Point-Programme, the party demand the release of all black men from all jails and for the exemption of black men from the draft.
  • The SCLC for example, approached the fight for civil rights as a step by step process, focusing on one thing at a time and there demands aligned a lot more with the idea of equality which gained them white sympathy.

Conclusion

  • Ultimately, the Black Power movement achieved little in comparison to the traditional CRM.
  • Even though these groups lost influence following the death of King, they were crucial in the passage of key legislation like the Voting Rights Act 1965 and had more successes than the BPM did after them.
  • The BPM were limited in that their nature made them unfavourable to white sympathisers and to the federal government. Furthermore, their demands were unrealistic in comparison to those of the traditional CRM and therefore they experienced less success.

 

 

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