The Rights Future and Past
For this project I viewed a panel discussion titled “Civil Rights and The Black Power Movement” held at The John F Kennedy Library. The purpose of these panelists and audience members coming together was to have an active discussion to examine racial relations following the Kennedy administration. The panelists included bright minds and scholars that had a plethora of knowledge on the topic. They included Tufts Professor Peniel Joseph, Harvard Professor John Stauffer, and civil rights activist Elaine Jones. Throughout the discussion they each shared valuable pieces of information and history to shape the discussion. The topics discussed by this panel are so critical to one’s understanding of African American History because the early 60’s are considered the heroic period of the Civil Rights Movement. Events like the sit in campaigns and the freedom rides would dramatically impact the future of race relations. It is important to understand history in order to grasp where we are today and to move forward. This event challenged the misconceptions of the black Freedom Struggle- from limited definitions of black nationalism, to prevent them restraining the timeline of the movement.
During the first half of the discussion there was one point made that really stuck out to me. When discussing black nationalism, John Stauffer stated, “Black Nationalism is not Black separatism.” This idea of black nationalism was something that we discussed heavily throughout class. It is seen in our textbook, Freedom On my Mind, on page 529, where Black Nationalism is defined as, “the idea that black people constituted a nation within a nation, where survival depended on the exercise of power: black power.” (White 529). This view of a “nation within a nation” could be construed as a separatist view. That is not the case, this view was not an abandonment of America but an embrace of it. Challenging America to uphold its pronounced values. As J. Herman Blake says when discussing Afro-Americans in his article titled, “Black Nationalism,” “People who are identified by racial characteristics as different from the “typical” American and denied full participation in this society for that reason, while, at the same time they are expected to meet all the responsibilities of citizenship.” (Blake 16.) This provides a clear insight into the imbalances and duality of their citizenship. The injustice of this had to be acted upon and that is where Black Nationalists come into the picture. Black Nationalists sought to unite the two nations that were so undeniably separate and ensure that the ideals of America applied to African Americans as well. In order to do so, the community had to claim and exercise power.
During this time period of the early 60’s the civil right movement was undergoing many changes in its strategies for justice. One of the most vital tactics introduced was the focus on de jure segregation instead of de facto. As activists shifted their focus on discrimination within the laws they were better able to combat discrimination and gain footholds in the fight for justice. As the panel states, the defacto inequality, such as zoning laws and housing regulations led to the degradation and segregation of black communities had detrimental effects. The zoning for example allowed liquor stores and waste dumps to be built in black communities. This is also seen in our textbook on page 590. There is still evidence of that today, as we discussed in class, in major cities across the country such as Los Angeles. Peniel Joseph speaks to this within the panel discussion, bringing up how some black communities were even annexed to create parks. This is another topic that really sticks out to me. The laws that allowed entire communities to have their homes taken from them is heartbreaking. It also speaks to some of the reasons why communities today are divided demographically.
During this discussion there was a certain panelist that really caught my attention and that is Elaine Jones, a civil rights activist. It is one thing to hear about history from those who have researched it, but it is another to hear about it from someone who has witnessed it. During one specific part of the video, the panelists discussed Stokley Carmichael, an activist and black nationalist. Jones chimes in the discussion sharing a story from when she had a class with Stokley himself! Describing his personality, specifically his charisma and how he was able to have so much influence was amazing to hear first-hand.
The panelists also discuss the start of the Black Power movement, going as far back as Fredrick Douglass. A very good point brought up is the misconceptions many Americans still have about the Civil Right movement and African American history in general. Peniel Joseph brings up a point that really rang true with me. He laughs as he says, “Black people weren’t given freedom or liberation, they fought in every single war.” Throughout our course nothing has been more clear than the struggle that it took for racial equality to be where it is today. Countless obstacles overcome, countless setbacks and trials. Every step made links back to African American activists, black nationalists, and the change makers within this country. Building on this assertion, John Stauffer went on to say that most white Americans believe that Lincoln freed the slaves. This is far from the truth as many events led up to this action. Without the influence of Fredrick Douglass it can be argued that this never would have happened.
As the discussion continued into the 1970’s, valuable information emerged about the movement and the “traditional narrative.” The “traditional narrative” as defined by Joseph, is that “the Civil Rights Movement ended after Martin Luther was assassinated.” This is obviously not the case. The panelists go on to disprove that stating how many advancements were made after that point. Elaine Jones is a prime example of that as she graduated law school in the 1970’s and spent her whole career committed to civil rights issues. It is important to understand this in order to realize that the Civil Rights Movement didn’t end then, and still has not ended.
This discussion of Black Nationalism and activism holds key information on understanding the Civil Rights Movement. Discussion of those groundbreaking years following the Kennedy Administration help us to grasp where we have been and what the future holds.
Blake, J. (1969). Black Nationalism. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 382, 15-25. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/1037110
“Civil Rights and the Black Power Movement .” Civil Rights and the Black Power Movement , JFK Library, 19 Nov. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1_TJqa8kAA.
White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: a History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2017.