The Black Power movement grew out of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT that had steadily gained momentum through the 1950s and 1960s. Although not a formal movement, the Black Power movement marked a turning point in black-white relations in the United States and also in how blacks saw themselves. The movement was hailed by some as a positive and proactive force aimed at helping blacks achieve full equality with whites, but it was reviled by others as a militant, sometimes violent faction whose primary goal was to drive a wedge between whites and blacks. In truth, the Black Power movement was a complex event that took place at a time when society and culture was being transformed throughout the United States, and its legacy reflects that complexity.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE (SCLC) worked with blacks and whites to create a desegregated society and eliminate RACIAL DISCRIMINATION. Their efforts generated positive responses from a broad spectrum of people across the country. Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., who headed the SCLC, made significant headway with his adherence to nonviolent tactics. In 1964, President LYNDON B. JOHNSON signed the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT and a year later he signed the VOTING RIGHTS ACT.
CIVIL RIGHTS legislation was an earnest and effective step toward eliminating inequality between blacks and whites. Even with the obvious progress, however, the reality was that prejudice could not be legislated away. Blacks still faced lower wages than whites, higher crime rates in their neighborhoods, and unspoken but palpable racial discrimination. Young blacks in particular saw the civil rights movement as too mainstream to generate real social change. What they wanted was something that would accelerate the process and give blacks the same opportunities as whites, not just socially but also economically and politically. Perhaps more important, they felt that the civil rights movement was based more on white perceptions of civil rights than black perceptions.
Not all blacks had been equally impressed with the civil rights movement. MALCOLM X and the NATION OF ISLAM, for example, felt that racial self-determination was a critical and neglected element of true equality. By the mid-1960s, dissatisfaction with the pace of change was growing among blacks. The term...