Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reflection 50 Years After Sit-Ins: The Civil Rights Movement vs. The Black Power Movement

The lunch counter sit-in campaign (although called a movement) began on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina by the end of March 1960 the movement had spread to more than 55 cities in 13 states. The 1960 documentary Integration Report set down on film the mood of the country and the courage of the activists who had set out to put an end to Jim Crow segregation.

People were beaten, imprisoned, and killed in this struggle to bring an end to segregation but despite great sacrifices and hardship achieved this goal via non-violent means. The end of segregation and the passage of the 1965 National Voting Rights Act were achieved through non-violent means, and were the high water mark for the Civil Rights movement.

Unfortunately the unfounded belief that violence could achieve more led to the emergence of the Black Power movement, the black panthers, and the sidelining of the non-violent movement for the sterile and impotent riots that would destroy inner cities and wreak economic havoc.

Diane Nash, a great pioneer of nonviolence from the sit-ins to the Selma march, rejected nonviolence and took up with the siren call of Black Power. Nash described her reasoning:
"If we've done all this through nonviolence, think what we could do if we were just willing to be urban guerrillas and knock over a few banks. [...] "Of course, ten years later I looked up and I hadn't knocked over any banks and I hadn't been a guerilla. I hadn't even been to the rifle range. But I had withdrawn from this painful, creative engagement with nonviolence and democracy behind a big smokescreen of noise."
In addition to deactivating serious activists the lure of violence and urban guerrilla warfare would exact a terrible cost. According to Virginia Postrel, from 1964 to 1971, there were more than 750 riots, killing 228 people and injuring 12,741 others. After more than 15,000 separate incidents of arson, many black urban neighborhoods were in ruins. The end results were ruined neighborhoods; an explosion in crime; and increased poverty.

Malcolm X, one of the leaders of the black power movement, in the video above accuses Martin Luther King Jr. of being paid and subsidized by the white man to maintain African Americans defenseless. He went on to accuse Rev. King of being an "Uncle Tom." Reverend King in the video below responds to the charges laid out by Malcolm X arguing that he has confused non-resistance with non-violent resistance.

Fifty years later with an African American president in the White House thanks in large part to the legacy of the nonviolent civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. and on the other hand the legacy of riots and violence encouraged and fueled by the Malcolm X's and Stokely Carmichael's of the black power movement has left a legacy of economic and social ruin in the inner city and an explosion in crime.

Anyone suffering from injustice and oppression should take a long hard look at the fruits of these two movements and choose nonviolence. A strategic approach to nonviolence taken as seriously as so many others take violence have and could yield positive results which leads to the final video below which deals with non-violent simulations and developing a non-violent strategy.

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