The Black Power Movement

Created By

Brenna Wynn Greer, Wellesley College

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  • Post-WWII Domestic Confidence and Unrest, 1945–1968: The Civil Rights Movement Expands
  • Conservative Resurgence and Social Change, 1964–2000: Counterculture and Social Activism
  • Conservative Resurgence and Social Change, 1964–2000: Domestic Politics

Introduction & Context

In the mid-1960s, civil rights activists compelled Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The crowning achievement of the civil rights movement, this historic legislation acknowledged and protected essential citizenship rights for African Americans. These acts prohibited segregation and racial discrimination, and eliminated longtime, discriminatory barriers that prevented African Americans’ access to the ballot box. Still, Blacks in the United States continued to experience racism and injustice, as well as economic inequality and discrimination in housing, education, and employment. In this context, some notable civil rights activists started to promote and popularize the concept of “Black Power.” Beginning in 1966, activists, students, politicians, religious leaders, media personalities, and ordinary citizens debated the meaning and merits of Black Power. While the meaning of Black Power continues to be debated, central tenets included wealth distribution or economic equality, anti-imperialism, Black nationalism, and Black pride. Nowadays, Black Power is typically associated with the late 1960s and the rise of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. However, as this set of sources reveals, the concept of Black Power predated the 1960s and the Black Power Movement was firmly rooted in the civil rights movement.

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Teaching Tips Download PDF

The resources in this set are composed of video and audio clips from the 1960s of Black Power advocates and activists speaking in various settings, including interviews, conferences, rallies, protests, television broadcasts, and press conferences. Arranged chronologically by date, this resource set allows students to see how Black Power definitions and issues evolved over time and to consider how and why African Americans from different walks of life thought about and engaged with the movement.

Background Information

Before engaging with this resource set, students should possess the following:

  • a general understanding of Jim Crow, racial segregation, racial violence in the mid-twentieth-century era, and pre-1960s Black nationalist movements
  • a general understanding of the civil rights era and Black Power era timeframe
  • an understanding of differences between civil rights and Black Power politics
  • knowledge of nationally recognized Black figures and organizations in the post-World War II United States
  • an understanding of nonviolent direct-action protest
  • knowledge of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • a general understanding of issues impacting African Americans in U.S. cities, such as de facto segregation, unemployment, unequal housing and education, and police violence
  • a general knowledge of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War
  • a general understanding of other 1960s social movements, including second-wave feminism and the antiwar movement

Essential Question

What do the voices of Black Power activists contribute to our understanding about African Americans’ rights and experiences in the post-civil rights era United States?

General Discussion Questions

  • What do you think the goals of the Black Power Movement were?
  • What challenges did Black Power activists face?
  • How have these primary source audio and video clips affected your understanding about Black Power as a concept or a movement?

Classroom Activities

Ask students to engage in group work around specific topics, then come together to discuss.

1) Divide the class into four groups. Ask each group to watch or listen to the sources in their assigned topics, as organized below.

Group 1: Black Power Politics
Group 2: Nonviolence and Black Power
Group 3: Black Panther Party for Self Defense
Group 4: Student Protests

2) Bring the groups back together for a discussion guided by the following questions:

  • How did Black Power advocates define Black Power? What, if any, thread was running through their definitions?
  • What distinguished Black Power objectives and protests from those of the civil rights era?
  • What issues did Black Power activists identify as the biggest challenges to Black people and Black communities?
  • What was the relationship between Black Power and education?
  • How did Stokely Carmichael and James Bevel, both well-known and important activists in the civil rights movement, view Black Power?

Additional Resources

  • SNCC Digital Gateway, SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University
  • Black Panther Party Community News Service, The Freedom Archives
  • Curriculum, The Freedom Archives
  • The Black Panther Party Ten-Point Program, BlackPast
  • Black Culture Connection, PBS
  • Citation

    Greer, Brenna Wynn. "The Black Power Movement." WGBH and the Library of Congress.