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Civil Rights Movement

Black Power adherents believed in black autonomy, with a variety of tendencies such as black nationalism, black self-determination, and black separatism. Such positions caused friction with leaders of the mainstream Civil Rights Movement, and thus the two movements have sometimes been viewed as inherently antagonistic. Civil Rights leaders often proposed passive, non-violent tactics while the Black Power movement felt that, in the words of Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, “a ‘non-violent’ approach to civil rights is an approach black people cannot afford and a luxury white people do not deserve.” [15] “However, many groups and individuals—including Rosa Parks,[16] Robert F. WilliamsMaya AngelouGloria Richardson, and Fay Bellamy Powell—participated in both civil rights and black power activism. A growing number of scholars conceive of the civil rights and black power movements as one interconnected Black Freedom Movement.[17][18][19]

Numerous Black Power advocates were in favor of black self determination due to the belief that black people must lead and run their own organizations. Stokely Carmichael is such an advocate and states that, “only black people can convey the revolutionary idea—and it is a revolutionary idea—that black people are able to do things themselves.” [20] However, this is not to say that Black Power advocates promoted racial segregationStokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton write that “there is a definite, much-needed role that whites can play.”[21] They felt that whites could serve the movement by educating other white people.

Not all Black Power advocates were in favor of black separatism. While Stokely Carmichael and SNCC were in favor of separatism for a time in the late 1960s, organizations such as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense were not. Though the Panthers considered themselves to be at war with the prevailing white supremacist power structure, they were not at war with all whites, but rather with those (mostly white) individuals empowered by the injustices of the structure and responsible for its reproduction.

Bobby Seale, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was outspoken about this issue. His stance was that the oppression of black people was more a result of economic exploitation than anything innately racist. In his book Seize the Time, he states that “In our view it is a class struggle between the massive proletarian working class and the small, minority ruling class. Working-class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. So let me emphasize again—we believe our fight is a class struggle and not a race struggle.”[22]

Internationalist offshoots of black power include African Internationalism, pan-Africanismblack nationalism, and black supremacy.