The Black Power Movement And The Genesis Of The Black Studies Movement

The term “Black Power” was familiarized in 1966 after Stokely Carmichael, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), used it in reaction to the death of James Meredith, an African American who was killed in an ambush during a nonviolent march. Although the term “Black Power” had entered common American vernacular in 1966, the underlying desires and sentiments it advocated for had long been around. The Black Power Movement, from 1967 to 1974, was a series of coordinated activities used by African Americans with the aim to reach self-determination and self-reliance (Woods 2). The Black Power Movement sought to create institutions that addressed and served African American needs first and recognized their heritage. Its emergence at the end of the Civil Rights Movement highlighted the change in discourse and actions African American took to create change. The Black Power Movement brought about a radical agenda that strove to challenge and directly confront the dominant ideology of America.  

There are contentions among scholars about the aftermath of the Black Power Movement, in its effects on African Americans, which have created divergent views in their assessment of how successful and effective it was in achieving its aims. Scholars have viewed the Black Power Movement as destructive, short-lived, and ineffective, as they view the methods used were too radical and backtracked the initial gains made by the Civil Rights Movement (Joseph 8). However, in viewing the Black Power Movement in such a manner, disregards the contributions the movement made in creating and fostering a national consciousness among African Americans. This is evident as the Black Power influenced the establishment of the Black Studies Movement, which allowed students to transform and challenge the hegemony in the education systems in America that afflicted African Americans. Thus, the Black Power Movement was instrumental in catalyzing the actions of the students in the Black Studies Movement.

In striving to reconstruct and resist Eurocentric ways of teaching, the Black Studies Movement used the ideas that stemmed from the Black Power Movement. The fact that the Black Studies Movement arose concurrently with the Black Power Movement illustrates that influence. The notions of self-determination and self-reliance were utilized in the Black Studies Movement (as embraced by the Black Power Movement) as it allowed students and intellectuals to understand the nature of the education system in America from an African American’s lens. The desire to reform the Eurocentric curriculum to include works of the Africana canon illustrates the desire to articulate the worldview of African Americans. Thus, the Black Power Movement can be seen as successful in actualizing on the national consciousness of African Americans in the Black Studies Movement, as it sought to challenge the Eurocentric curriculum and recognize the dignity and culture of those in the Africana Diaspora.

The use of education as a call to transform the hegemonic structure in America is significant as it is interconnected with other facets of living. As discussed in Tricia Rose’s essay, “Telling Stories about Structural Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era,” systematic racism has exacerbated the inequalities marginalized individuals face in America. Although Tricia Rose focuses on a time frame way beyond the Civil Rights era, the ideas in her essay are still relevant in the context of the Black Power Movement and the Black Studies Movement, as there is continuity in the treatment against African Americans, even though it occurred in a more unbridled fashion. The inaccessibility of education for African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s further fostered that inequality. The homogeneity and decrease of diversity congregated Whites in different areas from marginalized individuals. This created issues of economic inequality as it did not afford African Americans the same economic means to attain the educational quality of Whites. Even when African Americans were given the same education of Whites, it failed to reflect or recognize the existence or humanity of those in the African Diaspora. Thus, the wish to radically change education in the Black Studies Movement can be regarded as a testament to serve the needs of African Americans and fulfill the aims of the Black Power Movement. It created a national consciousness among African Americans that strove to recognize their culture in American academia.

The desires to bring about change to the core structure of American society and call to attention the minimized roles African Americans had in society echo the argument of Michel-Rolph Trouillot in his book, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, as he argues about the role of authority dynamics in controlling and molding the narrative. Trouillot’s argument reflects the struggles African Americans faced during this era as they sought to combat the structural forces they were against. This is evident as Whites controlled the educational system and thus were in figures of authority to control the dissemination of information. Therefore, in the context of the Black Power Movement, this allowed African Americans to contest and object their circumstances and carry on with the Black Studies Movement.

The Black Power Movement, although regarded by some scholars as being an ineffective way to deal with race relations in America during the 1960s and 1970s, was the seed that allowed the Black Studies Movement to occur. By creating a sense of national consciousness for African Americans, the Black Power Movement sought to create changes that shifted views of themselves in American society and through the Black Studies Movement, education. Thus, the Black Power Movement was not a total failure, as it catalyzed the Black Studies Movement that brought about significant changes to the educational system and the need for the inclusion of Africana works into academia.

Works Cited

“Black Power.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/black-power.

Joseph, Peniel E. “Historians and the Black Power Movement.” OAH Magazine of History 22, No. 3 (2008): 8-15. www.jstor.org/stable/25162180.

Woods, Benjamin J. “The Relationship Of Black Power And Black Arts/Consciousness Movements To The Black Studies Movement,” 2009.

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