How Far Did Black Power Hinder Civil Rights In The 1960s?
by rhyswill01 (student)
How far do you agree that the Black Power movement hindered Black civil rights in the 1960s? (June 2009) Despite being only a small minority wing of civil rights the emergence of black power caused significant internal divisions within the movement, not only by alienating the majority of white liberal support through the introduction of new beliefs and philosophies but also by radicalising already existing civil rights groups such as SNCC and CORE. Although Black Power is also often accredited for the development of black consciousness, and unity it began to create amongst black ghetto communities. 1966 saw the formation of a radical socialist group known as the Black Panthers, founded by Newton their main support came from black Americans living in the ghettoes who wanted social and economic change. However the group quickly adopted militant beliefs and began arming its members as they believed they
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should be able to defend themselves from the brutality of the police, although this undermined the idea of peaceful protest that had already become a focal point of the civil rights movement. This new belief along with events such as the Watts Riots which lasted 6 days and resulted in 34 deaths caused a complete withdrawal of support from the Federal Government, thereby causing a significant delay in any legal changes during the 1960’s which can be seen as civil rights act were only passed in 1964 and 1968 due to increased sympathy after the assassinations of Kennedy and King. Another group who played a role in the divisions that plagued the movement throughout the 1960’s was the Nation of Islam, most commonly associated with Malcolm X whose influence alongside help from Carmichael and McKissick caused the SNCC and CORE to become more radical in their beliefs. This effect was most noticeable during the Meredith march which ended in opposing chants from different groups of the protest, showing a lack of unity and cooperation between the groups. This was due to the growing divisions between the civil rights groups resulting in a lack of communication among more moderate groups such as the SCLC and NAACP and more extreme groups like SNCC and CORE. The Nation of Islam also believed in separatism and rejected the multiracial approach to the movement the King had been a strong advocator of; this immediately alienated the white support and lost sympathy with amongst liberals. This shows that not only had they caused strong internal divisions, they had also made divisions between races, isolating the blacks and whites from each other. Furthermore, their belief in black supremacy contradicted the equality of all races that the civil rights movement has fought for since its beginning. Overall black power saw a rapid decline in the late 60’s due to a lack of organisation, leadership and effective programme for change further hindering the civil rights movement as they had been the voice of many northern black Americans. On the other hand during its short life black power managed to significantly improve the lifestyle of many northern black Americans living in ghettoes; through its encouragement of Black Nationalism many people now became proud of their identity and culture. This growth of self-esteem throughout black communities gave many young blacks who had become disillusioned and frustrated with the slow rate of progress hope and their first real chance of socioeconomic change. The black panthers also began to help communities on a smaller scale with the implementation of social schemes such as free breakfasts and free medical clinics, this smaller focus was something that hadn’t previously happened during the civil rights movement and is one of the main reasons why support for groups like the black panthers was strong during the 1960’s. However the effectiveness of black power groups could be shown to be limited by external factors such as the FBI, whose persecution of groups like the black panthers is well-documented as they believed they were a terrorist threat they would often use the media to portray the group and its supporters as violent thugs in an effort to discredit their message. Overall the emergence of the black power movement not only caused significant internal divisions by introducing more radical views to the civil rights movement, but also alienated white support and lost white sympathy with the spread of their more militant beliefs. Although, the movement was also influential with the rise of black pride and culture and supporting communities with smaller social schemes to bring hope to many disillusioned northern black Americans.