President Richard M. Nixon (1960 - 1968)

Part IX
The Black Power Movement

The �Black Power� movement was a political movement expressing a new racial consciousness among blacks in the United States in the mid-1960�s. Black Power represented both a conclusion to the decade�s civil rights movement and a reaction against the racism that persisted despite the efforts of black activists during the early 1960s. Black Power was influential mainly in the mid 1960�s.

The meaning of Black Power was debated vigorously while the movement was in progress. To some it represented blacks� insistence on racial dignity and self-reliance, which was usually interpreted as economic and political independence, as well as freedom from white authority. These themes had been advanced most forcefully in the early 1960s by Malcolm X, the articulate and controversial black Muslim leader. He argued that blacks should focus on improving their own communities, rather than striving for complete integration, and that blacks had the right to retaliate against violent assaults.

The Black Power movement grew rapidly before the election of 1964, mainly due to the fact that the civil rights movement had been all but ignored during the Cuban War and the German Border and Vietnam crises. In the autumn of 1965, just prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Power movement led by a revolutionary black nationalist by the name of Stokely Carmichael became forever associated with the paramilitary Black Panther Party for Self-Defense led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
             Malcolm X                                                 Stokely Carmichael                                     Huey Newton and Bobby Seale
By the end of 1965, Black Panther Party chapters, with their distinctive black berets and leather jackets, had spread throughout the United States. When combined with the dangerous cocktail that was race relations in the mid-1960�s, the Black Power movement was a powder keg, waiting to explode. All that was required was a single spark. That spark was found in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in March of 1966.

The Spring Storm of 1966

The riots of April, 1966, began in Detroit. The Detroit police conducted a raid on a bar in a predominantly black neighborhood. The entirely white police force was looking for drugs and prostitution. What they found was ninety-two people, apparently celebrating the return of a young black soldier from a tour as an advisor in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the police found cocaine and heroine on several people at the bar. They decided to arrest all ninety-two people.

Meanwhile, an outraged crowd had appeared outside the bar. Egged on by members of the Black Panther Party, the group grew more and more violent as the police continued to drag both men and women into the police wagons parked outside. Suddenly, from the crowd, a single shot was fired, killing one policeman. Several cops opened fired on the crowd, killing three men, including one Black Panther. During the lull in action caused by the panicked crowd fleeing the scene, the police sped away. The entire black parts of town erupted. Looting was rampant and the riots soon spread to other cities around the nation, notably: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Newark.

As the riots spread and spiraled out of control, Nixon ordered the Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, California, and New Jersey National Guards mobilized to control the rioting cities. When the National Guards moved in on the third day of rioting, they were fired upon by snipers. The jumpy young soldiers opened fire on the crowds, killing dozens. Nixon was quoted as calling the blacks, after seeing the body of a National Guardsman, �ungrateful bastards� and saying that the he would �never do a damn thing for them again.�

Nixon mobilized the regular Army to meet the threat, declaring a national emergency. By the sixth day of rioting and looting, two brigades of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were arriving in each of the five rioting cities. On the seventh day, accompanied by mechanized infantry from nearby Army installations, the American troops moved into the cities � and were greeted by gunfire, flaming roadblocks, and hurled Molotov cocktails.

Nevertheless, the regular Army units trudged forward, arresting rioters as they went. All arrested rioters were put in local sports stadiums, where they were kept under guard by National Guardsmen. By the end of April, after eleven days of rioting, Nixon declared the riots over. With five US cities occupied by US Army troops, Nixon set about processing the seventeen thousand men and women arrested during the eleven days of rioting. An initiative spearheaded by archconservative Barry M. Goldwater made the Black Panther Party illegal and belonging to it could win a person a three-year jail sentence. The final tally left 800 dead, including 575 black civilians, 150 other civilians, and 175 soldiers from the National Guard and regular Army. Five major cities had hundreds of blocks burned and the government was left to clean up the mess.
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