The Treatments of Blacks after Slavery
The treatment of blacks after slavery was beyond harsh even though they were free. Blacks had to face Jim Crow laws, police brutality, bloodthirsty KKK members, and so much more. Society viewed blacks as inferior and the progression of blacks in America was slow. It was not until 1964 when Congress approved the Civil Rights Act that forever changed history and the lives of people of color. The Civil Rights Act is a law that responded to demands of the civil rights movement by making discrimination in employment, education, and public accommodations illegal. It was the strongest such measure since Reconstruction and included a ban on sex discrimination in employment. (p. 830)
Once the Civil Rights Act was passed many black political organizations began campaigning, determined to get black Americans registered in order to vote. Unfortunately, there were determined racist opposers who murdered civil right workers and bombed or set fire to churches. Supreme Court decisions and new laws did not automatically produce changes in society. (p. 834) The optimism in the black community was discouraged and it seemed like protesting was not enough. Minorities had economic disadvantages and the new laws did not change that.
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Key social and political institutions controlled by white males did not care that minorities were facing poverty. In order for blacks to gain complete equality, a change from protest to politics was necessary. This drew many black Americans to embrace black nationalism, a philosophy that emphasized black pride, building black institutions, and having the power to dictate their own future. Legendary African Americans such as Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey have inspired others to acknowledge their racial heritage and renounce white society.
The impact that Black Nationalism had on African Americans was tremendous that the term Black Power quickly emerged. Not to be confused with White Power, a phrase used by whites who believe their race is superior, Black Power empowered people of color to unite and be a voice for social injustice. Black Power does not in any way mean black supremacy; it means embracing black culture and self-determination.
Rather than being dependent on whites to accomplish racial justice, African Americans would self-improve by constructing political and economic power in the black community. In the book Freedom, When? (1965), James Farmer addresses the responses to Black Power and writes that “Demonstrations in the last few years have provided literally millions of Negroes with their first taste of self-determination and political self-expression.”
Two college students, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, in Oakland, California formed the Black Panther Party (1966). It was an organization inclined towards a form of nationalism that promotes self-determination. Their goal was to advocate socialism and protect people of color from police brutality with the weapons they carried. As the Panthers’ grew in number the organization had spread to other cities.
Using self-determination as strategy, the party performed multiple community- organization projects and created the Ten Point Program for black liberation. They successfully started the free breakfast program for children, they even provided a testing program for sickle cell anemia, a common illness in blacks. Blacks were not safe from police officers who harassed them, and many were innocently killed by them.
The Panthers carried their weapons to protect themselves and others from the same tragic faith. Unfortunately, the Panthers often clashed with law enforcement in self-defense. Even the leader and founder, Newton, was charged with murdering a police officer. The FBI labeled the party as extremely violent and had disrupted the party’s events under the domestic counterintelligence program. In the end, the majority of the members were either assassinated or sent to prison.
The self-determination strategy brought some success to the Black Panther Party, but it ultimately led to their demise. Despite the tragedy of the Black Panther Party, they contributed so much to the civil rights movement. Groups similar to the Panthers include the Young Lords Organization (YLO) and the Nation of Islam. Like the Black Panthers, YLO activists sought self-determination for Puerto Ricans, both those in the United States and those on the island in the Caribbean. P. 836 The most famous member from the Nation of Islam was Malcolm X.
His approach to racial injustice was completely different than Martin Luther King Junior. Dr. King trusted that unifying white and black Americans and a nonviolent direct action would be effective strategies and it was. However, Malcolm focused more on strengthening the black community and strongly believed in self-determination.
Gays, minorities, and women in America did not have the social justice they deserved. The 1960s was a time when activists fought hard for freedom and change and the black community demanded that change. They sought judicial equality, conducted nonviolent protests, and self-provided economic opportunity for minorities. Pursuing civil rights involved many strategies including self- determination.
It is thanks to nationalist groups, especially the Black Panther Party, that used this strategy and successfully drew attention to the poverty in the black community. This motivated President Johnson to declare the War on Poverty, and black organizers joined, setting up day care centers, running community job training programs, and working to improve housing and health care in urban neighborhoods. P836 The 1960’s civil rights movement faced challenges with battling poverty, but it ultimately ended with a solid principle of legal equality.