Black Power

Around the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Movement began to shift strategies. Many activists began to question the effectiveness of the two major tenets of the movement: integration and non-violence. Stokely Carmichael, who became the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1966, was one of the first people to use the “Black Power” slogan. In 1966, he and other black leaders began urging African American communities to arm themselves against their white oppressors. In their opinion, it was the only way to ever rid the communities of the terror caused by the Ku Klux Klan, the police, and white supremacy as a whole.

Many people who participated in the Black Power movement gained cultural pride or what some would call “black pride.” They began to embrace their African cultural identity by demanding that they no longer be referred to as “Negroes” but instead as “Afro-Americans.” Many also started to embrace African culture by wearing African clothing such as Dashikis and styling their hair in afros.

Many black organizations began to embrace Black Power ideology. One particular group was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded in Oakland, California in 1966. The group sought to rid African American neighborhoods of police brutality and oppression. They frequently greeted each other with a black power salute (a closed fist) and the statement “Power to the People.” Many activists, like Martin Luther King, Jr., were not comfortable with the Black Power movement because they believed that it alienated black people and the civil rights movement from white allies.

The Milwaukee NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Council and its Commando unit were advocates of Black Power. Their idea and definition of “Black Power” however, differed from other civil rights groups of that era. For the Youth Council and Father James Groppi, Black Power advocacy was not reserved exclusively for blacks. In fact, the Youth Council developed a unique kind of black power ideology that suited their local context. Since the Milwaukee movement was integrated, they believed that it was possible for people of other races to support black power because it was not about race, but about having a certain kind of consciousness. EM