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Deacons for Defense and Justice

Due to the negative and militant reputation of such auxiliaries as that of the Black Panther Party, many people felt that this movement of “insurrection” would soon serve to cause discord and disharmony through the entire U.S. Even Stokely Carmichael stated, “When you talk of Black Power, you talk of building a movement that will smash everything Western civilization has created.”[44] Though Black Power at the most basic level refers to a political movement, the psychological and cultural messages of the Black Power movement, though less tangible, have had perhaps a longer-lasting impact on American society than concrete political changes. Indeed, “fixation on the ‘political’ hinders appreciation of the movement’s cultural manifestations and unnecessarily obscures black culture’s role in promoting the psychological well being of the Afro-American people,”[45] states William L. Van Deburg, author of A New Day in Babylon, “movement leaders never were as successful in winning power for the people as they were in convincing people that they had sufficient power within themselves to escape ‘the prison of self-deprecation'” [46] Primarily, the liberation and empowerment experienced by African Americans occurred in the psychological realm. The movement uplifted the black community as a whole by cultivating feelings of racial solidarity and positive self-identity, often in opposition to the world of white Americans, a world that had physically and psychologically oppressed Blacks for generations. Stokely Carmichael stated that “the goal of black self-determination and black self-identity—Black Power—is recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.”[20] Through the movement, blacks came to understand themselves and their culture by exploring and debating the question, “who are we?” in order to establish a unified and viable identity.[47] And “if black people are to know themselves as a vibrant, valiant people, they must know their roots.”[20]

Black Lives Matter protest in September 2016
Throughout the Civil Rights Movement and black history, there has been tension between those wishing to minimize and maximize racial difference. W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. often attempted to deemphasize race in their quest for equality, while those advocating for separatism and colonization emphasized an extreme and irreconcilable difference between races. The Black Power movement largely achieved an equilibrium of “balanced and humane ethnocentrism.”[47] The impact of the Black Power movement in generating discussion about ethnic identity and black consciousness supported the appearance and expansion of academic fields of American studies, Black Studies, and African studies,[42] and the founding of several museums devoted to African-American history and culture in this period.[48] In these ways the Black Power movement led to greater respect for and attention accorded to African Americans’ history and culture.