Black Power, Revisited
Freedom, that’s what we wanted; [the] power to determine the destinies of our Black communities.”
— Elaine Brown, Chairman of the Black Panther Party, 1974
In the most classic documentary, Eyes on the Prize, one episode is devoted to “Black Power” and the birth of the ideology. Stokely Carmichael, a.k.a., Kwame Ture invoked the term “Black Power” in 1965 and it was a counter to Martin Luther King’s assimilationist approach to African American freedom in the U.S. It was a very rich period in the U.S. where many approaches in the Black struggle were waged. Carmichael’s ideals helped the struggle immensely.
Carmichael didn’t invent the concept that is “Black Power.” It had been said before. But, Carmichael did become synonymous with its popularity in the Black struggle. Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton published Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in 1967. It is the gold standard now for understanding the concept.
Many contend that “Black Power” was inspired by Richard Wright’s book, Black Power. That is a book about Wright’s visit to Ghana after independence from colonial rule. At the time, Ghana was governed by the revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah had set Ghana on a path to independence and socialist rule in the late 1950s and 1960s. His influence is still felt today across the African continent.
“Black Power,” according to Carmichael and Hamilton, is “a political framework and ideology which represents the last reasonable opportunity for this society to work out its racial problems…” Carmichael and Hamilton asserted that the relationship between African Americans and their country, America, was a “colonial” relationship. According to Carmichael and Hamilton, African Americans must reject the assimilationist approach to change that colonial arrangement.
They needed an approach that gave them a path to control of their lives and institutions. Carmichael and Hamilton wrote that “Black people must come together and do things for themselves,” and before Black people can enter society, “they must first close ranks.” According to Carmichael and Hamilton, “in a pluralistic society” like America, African Americans…