8/26/08 - black power

In today's excerpt - in the maelstrom of riots and resistance in the U.S. during the 1960s, Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) coined the phrase 'black power.' The term captured the frustration of blacks with the lack of results from a nonviolent approach:

"Rejection of nonviolence tended to come of an organic process: heartening civil rights gains would be followed by corrosive disappointment; disillusionment set in calling for increasingly spectacular acts, a spriral of militancy. ... Few had lived the process more intimately than ... twenty-four year old ... Stokely Carmichael. Stokely had grown up watching white people humiliate his idealistic Trinidadian father -- and seeing his father, the more he was humiliated, profess ever more faith in the American dream.

"In 1960, Stokely headed South after reading about the Woolworth lunch-counter sit-ins. The next year on the Freedom Rides he was beaten and went to jail for the first of twenty-six times. In 1964, after Lyndon Johnson seated the 'regular' white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic convention instead of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Stokely's commitment to ordinary politics ended for good. 'This proves,' he cried, 'the liberal Democrats are just as racist as Goldwater.' The next year he watched police beat demonstrators outside his Selma hotel-room window. He started screaming. He couldn't stop. He had a nervous breakdown that lasted two days. ...

"The SNCC militants had been testing out a phrase among one another. Americans of African descent were known as 'Negroes.' SNCC militants had begun to call one another 'black,' the word Malcolm X had used: its starkness carried a militant charge. ... They also began telling one another that to call theirs a 'freedom' movement was wishy-washy; what they really needed was power.

"Thus, the phrase Stokely Carmichael now debuted -- the phrase that signified a civil war within the civil rights movement.

" 'We want black power!'

"Some in the crowd: 'That's right!' ...

" 'We want black power, and we don't want to be ashamed of it. We have stayed here, and we have begged the president. We have begged the federal government. That's all we been doin' -- beggin', beggin'. It's time we stand up and take over. Every courthouse in Mississippi ought to be burned down tomorrow to get rid of the dirt in there!' "


Rick Perlstein


Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America


Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Copyright 2008 by Rick Perlstein


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