40 pages • 1 hour readC. Vann Woodward
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Black Power was a political slogan used by radical African American groups in the 1960s and 1970s. Popularized by Stokely Carmichael, the slogan advanced self-determination, socioeconomic independence, and racial pride. In linking Black Power to black racism or separatism, Woodward writes:
[Carmichael’s] successive redefinitions of the concept veered more and more in that direction and on toward a license to hate, to violence, and to rage. He was quoted later as defining Black Power as ‘a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created’ (326).
On May 17, 1954, the US Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The separate-but-equal system established by Plessy v. Ferguson was unconstitutional and reinforced social, educational, and economic disadvantages in African American communities. The Supreme Court left implementation of its decision to local districts, and integration happened slowly and unevenly across the South. Segregationists challenged the ruling, but by January 1956, 19 court decisions involving school segregation cases sided with the Supreme Court decision. In that same period African Americans organized for integration. The NAACP filed petitions for desegregation with 170 school boards in 17 states in summer 1955. Southern resistance to the ruling also fueled the civil rights movement.
By C. Vann Woodward