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Congress of Racial Equality in Cleveland and the Rise of Black Power Populism.

Bayard Rustin, an elder statesman of the Civil Rights Movement, was a harsh critic of Black Power in its earliest days. Writing in 1966, shortly after the March Against Fear, Rustin said that Black Power “not only lacks any real value for the civil rights movement, but […] its propagation is positively harmful. It diverts the movement from a meaningful debate over strategy and tactics, it isolates the Negro community, and it encourages the growth of anti-Negro forces.” He particularly criticized the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and SNCC for their turn toward Black Power, arguing that these two organizations once “awakened the country, but now they emerge isolated and demoralized, shouting a slogan that may afford a momentary satisfaction but that is calculated to destroy them and their movement.”[72]

The Black Power slogan was also criticized by Martin Luther King Jr., who stated that the black power movement “connotates black supremacy and an anti-white feeling that does not or should not prevail.”[73] The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also disapproved of Black Power, particularly Roy Wilkins, then the NAACP’s executive director, who stated that Black Power was “a reverse Hitler, a reverse Ku Klux Klan…the father of hate and mother of violence.”[10] The Black Power slogan was also met with opposition from the leadership of SCLC and the Urban League.[9]

Politicians in high office also spoke out against Black Power: in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson criticized extremeists on both sides of the racial divide, stating “we are not interested in Black Power, and we’re not interested in white power, but we are interested in American democratic power with a small ‘d'”[74] At a NAACP rally the next day, Vice President Hubert Humphrey argued “Racism is racism and we must reject calls for racism whether they come from a throat that is white or one that is black.”[75]