for Discussion: Did the
succeed in improving race relations in
the United States?
Reading: Carmichael "Black
Power" (web); Malcolm X
"God's Judgement of White America" (web); FBI
Assassination of Fred Hampton (web)
Eyes on the Prize II: A Nation of Laws?,
Making Sense of the Sixties: Picking up the Pieces
The Rise of the Black Power
The Black Panthers and the
1. Malcolm X and the Rise
2. The Black Panthers and
1. Why does Malcolm X believe that all
Blacks share a common enemy--the white man?
2. Why does Malcolm X believe that Blacks
should exclude whites from their meetings and their struggle to
gain civil rights?
3. Why is Malcolm X opposed to a non-violent
strategy for Blacks to win their civil rights?
4. Based on this essay, how do you think Malcolm
X feels about Martin Luther King as the leader of the Black civil
5. Why does Bayard Rustin believe the passage
of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act do not
mean "the automatic integration of the Negro into all aspects
of American life"?
6. According to Rustin, what must Blacks now
do to achieve full equality and full participation in American society?
7. Why is Rustin opposed to Malcolm X's confrontational
strategy for Blacks to fight for their full civil rights?
8. Why does Rustin believe that only by developing
a "coalition strategy" can Blacks win their full rights
Today, we looked at Eyes on the
Prize II: A Nation of Laws?, which includes a case-study of
the FBI's political assassination of Fred Hampton, the leader of
the Chicago Black Panthers. This case-study illustrates more than
I could ever do in class myself the extent to which the FBI in the
1960s and 1970s violated the basic civil rights of Americans. Not
only did they bug phones, open mail, follow people, harass and intimidate,
and attempt to neutralize groups' political activities, they even
assassinated Americans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the FBI
and local police assassinated 20 to 30 members of the Black Panthers
across the country. The Fred Hampton case demonstrates the viciousness
and criminality of the government in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
See the Black
Panther Home Page, where the following brief history is taken:
Armed with sincerity, the words of
revolutionaries such as Mao
Tse-Tung and Malcolm X, law books, and rifles, The Black Panther
Party fed the hungry, protected the weak from racist police, and
presented a new paradigm of Black political and social activism.
Founded in October 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in Oakland,
Ca., the Party grew to at least 5,000 members nationwide, with chapters
in more than half of America and an international branch in Algeria.
Its "survival programs"-such as food giveaways, free health
clinics and free breakfast programs for children-were popular fixtures
in Black neighborhoods in the early 1970s, but for the white power
structure and the vast majority of the white public, the Panthers
represented only anti-government militancy; a view which engendered
the wrath of the police and FBI and led to the murder of several
Party members by law enforcement. Some were little more than teens
when they were killed, like 20-year-old Illinois state leader Fred
Hampton, who was gunned down with fellow Panther Mark Clarke, in
an early morning raid of the group's Chicago headquarters on Dec.
4, 1969. The attack, aided by the
help of an infiltrator, was masterminded by the city's police force
and the FBI powerful counterintelligence program (COINTEL-PRO).
For those not killed, the threat of
incarceration was ever present. Some, like Panther Minister of Information
Eldridge Cleaver, would be arrested, on what often seemed little
more than engineered charges. Despite government hostility, the
organization flourished for a while, sweeping across Black America
and attracting some of the most articulate young Blacks on the revolutionary
scene of the 60's. Among them were H. Rap Brown and Stokeley Carmichael,
both former presidents of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee,
and activist Angela Davis. But it was divisions within the Party
itself, along with a focus on winning local political campaigns
in Oakland, which led
to its decline by the mid-1970s. Decades later, however, the legacy
of the Panthers remains vivid in the minds of many; for it is a
powerful illustration of the ability of individuals to rise up and
join together to fight oppression.
For additional information about the
FBI informant, William O'Neal, and the FBI infiltration of the Black
Panthers. Shelly Waxman talks about the FBI's attempt
to cover up its role in the killing of Fred Hampton. In the late
1980s, distraught and depressed, William O'Neal, committed suicide.
After he did the Eyes on the Prize interview that we saw
in class, O'Neal said:
'In the film he said he felt very bad
about his role in infiltrating the Panthers...He felt remorse about
the deaths...But he felt the Panthers were a threat. He seems to
have thought about himself as a law enforcement person,' said a
member of the series production staff.
'There was always some risk to him going on camera and doing this,'
the staff member said. 'He was very cautious about the interview...He
said he had to be careful.'
Clearly, O'Neal was troubled about his role in the FBI killing of
Fred Hampton the rest of his life, and this may have led to his
In order to understand the rise of
the Black Power movement, see the discussion in the SNCC-
Basis of Black Power site. By the
late 1960s and early 1970s, with the death of Malcolm X in 1965
and Martin Luther King in 1968 and the FBI's war against the Black
Panthers and other Black Power groups, many young Blacks concluded
that White America and the government were unwilling to accept continued
movement for black equality. To many young Blacks, it appeared as
if there was an ongoing white racist backlash against the gains
of the civil rights movement. It seemed that the government was
now telling Blacks that they better stay in their place or face
government repression. It was in this environment that many young
Blacks concluded that if White America would not let them become
full citizens of American society, then they would form their own
Blacks communities and societies that would protect and support
American Blacks. Many young Blacks were increasingly angry, cynical,
and suspicious about the motives and intentions of the government
and white society.
With the rise of the Black Power movement
and increasing anger and cynicism among young Blacks, many working-
and middle-class Whites themselves became angry and suspicious,
charging that Blacks had already made too many gains at White's
expense. These worried Whites are what President Nixon referred
to as "the Silent Majority" of Americans who supported
"law and order." For Nixon and many of these White Americans,
who were worried about their economic prospects and their own future,
law and order meant using the power of the government to keep Blacks
in their place; they had already achieved too much, and now must
accept their second-class status in American society.
From the 1970s on, conservatives, Republicans,
and White Southern politicians have used code words about about
welfare, law and order, affirmative action, drugs and crime, teenage
pregnancy, and the breakdown of the family to attract concerned
Whites, who feel that Blacks are responsible for their own problems,
not the government, not the society, not racist whites. This conservative
effort to shift the focus from the civil rights of Blacks to law
and order and the rights of Whites has helped shaped a White backlash
against civil rights and further gains for Blacks' civil rights
since the 1970s. And, tragically, this White backlash has only made
young Blacks more angry, cynical, and suspicious about the government
and White Society.
The larger tragedy facing both White
and Black America since the 1970s is that race has been used to
successfully divide Americans. Whites have blamed blacks for their
economic slide since the 1970s, and Blacks have blamed White racism
for deteriorating conditions in the Black community. Race has become
a scapegoat for larger economic and political problems that neither
White or Black Americans fully understand. While many White Americans
today would blame their deteriorating standard of living on Blacks
and affirmative action, the real cause of the decline in the standard
of living is the movement of American corporations and American
jobs overseas, often with the government's support and encouragement.
America has lost millions and millions of high-paying industrial
jobs since the 1970s, and the competition for the remaining high-paying
jobs is fierce. If Americans could go beyond their obsession with
race as the cause of their problems, they might find that both the
government and global corporations have been undermining American's
standard of living. But Americans, White and Black, can't join together
to collectively improve their standard of living as long as they
are divided by racial animosity and mistrust. These racial divisions
are the result and the tragic legacy of the 1960s. We still haven't
overcome the wounds and divisions created by the 1960s and the struggle
over civil rights in America