How accurate is it to say that the growth of Black Power was the most important factor in the weakening of the civil rights movement in the 1960s? Essay

The growth of Black Power was one of the most important factors in strengthening the civil rights movement. Though it may have weakened it to a certain extent, other factors played a greater role in any weakening that may have occurred.

The Black Panther Party were one of the greatest groups to rise up against racist America, acting with the law and bearing arms for self-defence. They believed in Marxism and argued that a capitalist America would never be free and freedom “could only be gained through revolution led by the working class”. Whilst the Black Panthers were often criticised for bearing arms, they used the defence that the US constitution gave them the right to do so. When the police complained over the Black Panthers carrying arms, the Panthers pointed out that the police carried arms and used them to install fear, particularly amongst the black community, only highlighting how hypocritical the police are. The Panthers highlighted their aims in The Black Panthers Ten Point Program, which included “we want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black community”The Panthers protested against the police brutality (in a campaign named ‘Patrol the Pigs’), and would often observe them as they made arrests, something the police argued against.

This war against the police brought attention to the racism and abuse the police exhibited, which the media would often catch on film and broadcast. The Panthers strengthened the movement even more with their community help; they provided free medical care for those who needed it and brought awareness to the medical condition concerning sickle cell anaemia, something largely ignored by the government at the time. By 1974, over 200 free clinics had been set up around America, and the National Sickle Cell Anaemia Control Act was set up in 1972, using government money to research the disease. The Panthers worked to help African Americans living in Northern ghettos, setting up the Free Breakfast for School Children Programme in 1968 and free liberation schools. This Black Power did not weaken the civil rights movement; it strengthened it, and greatly helped bring unity to black communities.

However, whilst the Panthers embraced publicity and support, some organisations didn’t. The NSCC, for example, disbanded all white members.

This would have looked extremely bad: a group fighting for racial equality was displaying racism. They argued that black and white society’s should be segregated, but that black communities needed better conditions. Malcolm X worked closely with Carmichael of the SNCC, and it can be argued that Black Power originated on a march from the two. Malcolm X was militant and used self defense against white aggression. He rejected integration, which may have reflected badly on Black Power, and argued that people like Martin Luther King weren’t standing up for their rights and weren’t extreme enough. X argued that integration would bring about new forms of slavery. His ‘extremist’ views weren’t well met by the middle and upper class.

However, in 1964, X talked about voting for black politicians and began working with CORE and seemed to come to the belief that integration may bring harmony. Whilst many thought X was extreme, he was fighting from the point of view of the black working class as opposed to the black middle class willing to compromise their rights to fit those in power. This may have been seen to weaken the civil rights movement somewhat, but in turn it also strengthened it through showing people that one shouldn’t settle for less, just because it’s more than they are accustomed to.

Racial awareness organisations weren’t the only factors surrounding civil rights.The Vietnam War was the main reason for a lack of input from Johnson concerning the civil rights movement. Johnson increased funding into the war, taking it out of the The Great Society program, and his participation in the ‘war on poverty’ lacked. When the president of the country is seemingly detached and unconcerned about a situation, many citizens follow suit, so the attitudes towards racial equality deteriorated. Furthermore, King spoke out against the war in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, saying the USA were “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” which hindered relations between Johnson and King, ultimately affecting Johnson’s participation in the civil rights movement even more. This ‘fall out’ meant Johnson put in even less of an effort to help racial equality, despite previously making great changes. Johnson was too focused on winning the Vietnam war to bother about the civil rights movement.

Whilst the war took up a lot of time and money, and some individuals and groups may have reflected badly upon communities, overall the civil rights movement wasn’t weakened by Black Power. Black Power was essential is making sure each individual knew that they weren’t any less of a person because of their skin colour or social background. Before Black Power, the fight was for voting rights and better treatment through the law, but it didn’t stop the prejudice against black people and the belief in some others that they were better because their skin happened to be lighter. Black Power, highlighted through The Black Panther Party, fought for everyday justice and without it America, and the rest of the world, would still embody a lot more racial inequality than it does today. Therefore, the civil rights movement wasn’t weakened. And any aspects that were weakened were primarily done so because of Johnson’s obsession with the Vietnam War and not due to Black Power.