The Civil Rights Movement Blacks Define Themselves, and the First Black Southern Mayor

In 1965, Bayard Rustin called for a shift from protesting to political action.

  • Nonviolent protests during the Civil Rights Movement had left some activists, such as SNCC's Stokely Carmichael, frustrated over white resistance and slow reforms.
  • Carmichael advocated for economic power and racial separatism, reflecting the the origin of black power ideology.
  • Civil rights alone would not ensure equality, particularly, for those living in severe poverty.
  • Some activists, therefore, began to question the significance of legal equality when white citizens regarded minorities as inferior, and continued to dominate the political sphere.

Black Power stems from black nationalism, a broad term that promoted self-determination, black pride, tradition, and sometimes, separatism.

  • In 1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), motivated by Carmichael, promoted self-reliance under Black Power.
  • Black Power activists believed that black Americans should focus on creating economic and political power in their own communities.
  • They addressed poverty and social injustice among black neighborhoods and towns.

The Black Power Movement brought out the cultural roots of African Americans, as well as addressed social inequality.

  • Black Power activists joined President Johnson's War on Poverty, and established day-care centers, job training facilities, and worked on improving housing and healthcare access.
  • Black workers had been discriminated by white employers throughout history, particularly among jobs in police and fire departments, construction, and transportation. Black Power activists sought to open jobs in these sectors.
  • Furthermore, the Black Power Movement encouraged black Americans to appreciate their historical roots. They began to wear African-style clothing, natural hairstyles, and learned about black history, art, and literature.
  • The Black Arts Movement flourished with poet Amiri Baraka, author Nikki Giovanni, and soul singer James Brown.

Unfortunately, frustration over the nonviolent protests during the Civil Rights Movement influenced race riots, reaching their zenith in 1967.

The Detroit Riot of 1967
  • During 1967, twenty-two cities from July to August experienced riots.
  • In Detroit of 1967, 43 black citizens were killed, with $50 million in property destroyed.
  • President Johnson called the National Guard and soldiers returning from Vietnam to maintain order.
  • In 1968, the Kerner Commission Report described the two societies in America: one black, the other white, each being separate and unequal.
"...I am personally convinced that America is going to eventually be one country, extremists of both races, notwithstanding. This country was founded on one simple principle: Freedom. The America we had started building after 1954 was the road to the reason we came here initially. Well, that's not exactly true: Whites caught the boat excitedly and we were brought to the boat kicking and screaming. But now that we've tried it, we like it..." -Berkeley G. Burrell, Letter to the Editor: The Convention at Gary.
  • In Burrell's letter to the Washington Post, he is expressing his supportive views over the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power. He is confident that some day, the United States will be a united nation, rather than being divided by prejudice and politics.
  • Burrell describes the ideal of freedom, and how the Civil Rights Movement, which began around 1954, was an attempt to achieve this ideal, as freedom was not applicable to black Americans in the beginning. African Americans were forcibly sent to America in slave ships, while white people willingly immigrated.
  • Burrell's purpose is to show that Black Power is a movement for black Americans to gain more independence, and to embrace their culture and history without the restrictions of white resistance. After getting a taste of freedom, black citizens want to continue to spread black pride and work towards economic, political, and social equality.
"...We have the strength now. The black vote more than ever represents the strategic balance of power. If black leaders... can consolidate that vote, they will succeed in forcing the Democratic and Republican parties into a deeper sense of commitment and social justice..."-Editorial: Gary and Beyond
  • This excerpt is referring to the National Black Political Convention in 1972, in Gary, Indiana.
  • The main point of the excerpt is to encourage black Americans to use their newfound political power and vote, as their political representation could influence the power of white political power.
  • During the Civil Rights Movement, in cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, and Cleveland, nearly 50 percent of their residents were black. If more black citizens voted, they would hold a greater amount of power at the ballot.
  • As a result, the Democratic and Republican parties would respect black Americans' fight for social equality, as this would give either party an advantage over the other.

As political power expanded from the Black Power Movement, the first black mayor of a prominent Southern city was elected in 1973.

Maynard Jackson
  • The Black Power Movement had encouraged black pride and political power. During this time, in numerous cities, including Atlanta, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., had a black population of nearly 50 percent.
  • Black Power beliefs of political freedom and self-determination had proven successful with the first black Southern mayor, Maynard Jackson.
  • In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination inspired Jackson to enter the white-dominated world of politics. Although he lost a seat in the Senate to white supremacist Herman Tallmadge, he was elected mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1973.

Maynard Jackson transformed the political sphere of Atlanta.

  • Jackson confronted gender and racial workforce discrimination. He hired minorities and women to public office, and worked to end discriminatory business practices.
  • One of Jackson's goals was to award city contracts more fairly towards businesses owned by minorities. During his term, the amount of contracts awarded to minority businesses increased from one percent to more than 39 percent within five years of his election.

Jackson addressed a civil rights issue that had plagued the nation: police discrimination and crime rates.

  • Similar to the Black Power Movement, Jackson wanted to reduce police discrimination towards black Americans, and also help them gain positions within the police department.
  • Between 1978 and 1979, there was a 69 percent increase in homicides in Atlanta. To address the issue, Jackson requested Governor George Busbee to call in Georgia State Patrol troopers. Later, during the Atlanta Child Murders from 1979 to 1981, Jackson worked tirelessly to keep citizens calm until the murderer, Wayne Williams, was convicted.

Yet Jackson is also known for the construction of an international airport.

  • Jackson hired a black woman, Emma Darnell, to overview affirmative action practices on the building of the terminal. Twenty percent of the workers were minorities.
  • Despite criticism from white business owners arguing reverse discrimination, the project continues, and on September 21, 1980, Hartsfield International Airport was complete.
  • Although Jackson faced skeptical citizens arguing that the airport would cost over the budget, it was built on time, and actually, under the budget.
"...Should Jackson and the black City Council candidates win their runoffs, blacks would dominate the city government and their power would come to the finest flowering since Reconstruction. There would be dancing and singing on the streets of Atlanta -- the largest city east of the Mississippi, in the South..." - Editorial: Atlanta Mayoral Race; The Chicago Defender, October 13, 1973
  • After the Civil War, the Ex-Confederate states underwent a period of recovery and reconciliation into the Union, known as Reconstruction.
  • Newly-freed black Americans became citizens with the 14th Amendment, while the 15th Amendment granted men universal suffrage.
  • This excerpt is comparing the experience and emotions of slaves being freed and becoming citizens, to the prospect of a black, Southern mayor.
  • It signifies the momentous outcomes of victory, with black citizens gaining a little more political influence over the white-dominated political institutions.
"...Atlanta is a city made up today of substantial white and black populations. The election returns seem to indicate that white and black voters alike are capable of going beyond racial considerations alone to try and vote for the best candidates. That's progress."-Editorial: After the Vote; The Atlanta Constitution, October 18, 1973
  • This excerpt, supportive of civil rights, discusses the progress made by the movement.
  • Throughout history, black citizens had faced political discrimination, from poll taxes to literacy tests. After the 24th Amendment banned poll taxes, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned literacy tests, black Americans were able to vote without restrictions.
  • The excerpt acknowledges the social development of white and black, southern citizens attempting to push aside racial prejudices, and voting for an honest candidate over one they prefer based on their ethnicity.
  • Jackson winning the election for mayor in 1973 marked a political turning point for black citizens. The idea of holding a prominent position in office no longer seemed as unrealistic as before.

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