The First Black March: James Meredith, Jr., Cames to Washington, D.C., June 6, 1960, Where the Black Lives Matter
The younger generation of civil rights leaders that emerged in the early 1960s had militant urgency, a strong commitment to grass-roots activism and an open espousal of Christian faith.
He was among the first Black leaders to grasp the importance of field work: moving into a community, building ties with local leaders and developing a broad-based coalition of teenagers, college students and church congregations to advance voting rights and desegregation.
Leaving behind a promising academic career, he arrived in Albany in the late summer of 1961. He was fresh off a monthlong stay in a South Carolina prison, where he and three others had been sentenced to hard labor after a lunch-counter sit-in. The four refused bail and exposed the system that punished Black people for the simple act of trying to buy a sandwich.
In the summer of 1966, America’s top civil rights leaders had descended on Mississippi for what became known as the Meredith March. They were making their way from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to carry on a solo voting rights march begun by James Meredith, the Black activist who had integrated the University of Mississippi three years earlier. He was shot by a White supremacist and was in the hospital.
When the march reached Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael, the recently named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), got permission from a local Black school to erect sleeping tents on its grounds. But as he was helping to put up the tents, he was arrested by the local White police chief, known as “Buff” Hammond, and dragged to the local jail.
“Black Power!” the crowd shouted back. Black power is what we want. Carmichael cried again, five times in all. “Black Power!” the crowd screamed back each time.
The next day, a short Associated Press story describing the scene was picked up by more than 200 newspapers across America. The Black Power movement started overnight.
For today’s Black Lives Matter activists and others, the political lesson of 1966 is to understand that defiant slogans and street protests aren’t enough to bring about lasting change. Clear messaging and policy objectives, internal unity and cross-racial alliances are also essential.
In the fall of 1966, two part-time Black community college students in Oakland, California borrowed that same striking logo to create the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Although Huey Newton and Bobby Seale drafted a sweeping list of demands they called the “Ten Point Program,” they also were focused primarily on the issue of police violence in Black communities.
When the Panthers first donned their famous leather jackets and berets and posed with rifles and handguns, it was to advertise their plan to take advantage of California’s “open carry” gun laws to create armed civilian patrols to monitor the Oakland police.
King experienced a White counterattack as vicious as anything he had seen in the South when he tried to bring his peaceful tactics to Chicago with a focus on housing. Ronald Reagan became the Governor of California in 1966 when the Whites retaliated against the Democrats by electing a rightward swing in the election.
The leaders of the group initially rejected the attempt to expel all White members but were taken aback by the fact that the retreat was rife with drug use. A few months later, a spent Carmichael stepped down as SNCC’s chairman after only one year, giving way to a successor with even more inflammatory rhetoric and far less charm named H. Rap Brown.
Another vicious cycle consumed the Black Panthers. After winning release from prison in late 1966 in the form of a book called ‘Soul on Ice’ with the support of authors that admired the jailhouse essays he would write in the book, Eldridge Cleaver went to work on persuading the Panthers to abandon their focus on local police and start talking about
A second lesson is to be prepared for fierce backlash to any temporary progress. A student of 1966 would not have been surprised to see how swiftly the momentum for police and other reforms stalled after the last moment of “racial reckoning” in 2020, in the face of a concerted campaign to demonize “wokeness” and calls to “defund the police.”
The language of the civil rights movement changed in 1966. There was also an “awakening of Black consciousness on a cultural level,” he says. “Asfros took off when people started wearing dashkias, which a lot of young blacks said they didn’t want to be called Negroes anymore.”
There was a shift away from integration. Black people should form a political party and choose their own officials. As the leader of the SNCC, he expelled the group’s white members, leading to a drop in the group’s fundraising and political clout. Ronald Reagan’s election as governor of California in 1966 and George Wallace’s campaign for president in 1968 are two examples of how this laid the groundwork for the modern conservative movement.
“Beware of the potential backlash” is a big lesson from 1966. “I was writing this book in 2020 in the midst of all the marches that summer. … I see what happened in 1966 and I understand that there is going to be a lot of punishment. A backlash is going to come from what appears to be all this progress in 2020. And sure enough, that’s what we’re living with right now.”
Whitaker is the first African American to lead a national news magazine as editor of Newsweek. His previous books include Smoketown, My Long Trip Home and the 2014 biography Cosby, which was later widely criticized for not addressing multiple allegations that superstar comic Bill Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted women. Whitaker has since acknowledged that it was a mistake to omit the allegations from his book, tweeting, “I was wrong to not deal with the sexual assault charges against Cosby and pursue them more aggressively.”
What did Dr. Carmichael and the first black African American had to say about the Great Migration, when Dr. King and his family left the South
The question was asked, was that white people weren’t interested in integrating with Blacks in the North or the South? That integration was sort of a project by middle-class Blacks for middle-class white people who might be willing to live side by side with their kind, with the Black middle class, but not necessarily with the Black poor and the Black underclass in the North.
The press portrayed Carmichael as [Martin Luther] King’s nemesis. But in fact, on a personal level, they got along quite well. They had a lot of respect for Dr. King. Dr. King didn’t agree necessarily with all of Stokely’s rhetoric, but he admired the fact that he was an activist who had put his life on the line and going out to organize in the South. But there were both sort of differences that had to do with tactics and strategy, but also with background. So one of the things that was different about the Black Power leaders was some of them had come out of the South, but a lot of them came out of the North. So they were the children of the Great Migration. The parents and grandparents moved north from the South. They had had educational opportunities that Blacks in the South didn’t necessarily have. Carmichael himself had gone to Howard University and before that to the Bronx High School of Science in New York, an elite high school. They did not have a similar tradition of deference to the older generation in the South. They were less rooted in the church than the previous civil rights generation. So they just sort of had a different attitude. They were impatient. They had seen their parents’ dreams dashed when they came north in the Great Migration.
He used his fame to raise money overseas for SNCC after he became famous. That was good for SNCC’s money but he was not a member of the organization. And so he got out of touch with this increasingly militant mood that was taking shape in 1966. The entire membership of SNCC would meet in the spring and discuss strategy, but they would also vote for the next year’s officers. And Lewis had been in Europe, giving speeches, raising money. He is going to be reelected after arriving at the religious camp badly jetlagged. He was upset with the rank and file SNCC members for being so distant, too preoccupied with all of the travel, and still being close to King, but I think the issue was more with him. And this time Stokely wins. John Lewis was crushed by it. He had been declaring this as his identity. He was a poor child and grew up in a poor household. We remember him as a beloved national figure. But the experience he had completely crushed him. It was a long time for him to recover.
On the Watts riots of 1965, when police were interacting with the locals. A group of black activists decided to ride around and see how the police behaved
After the Watts riots of 1965, a group of black activists decided that they were going to ride around and watch for situations where police, white police, and the locals were interacting with each other. Like, “We’re watching this. We will be witnesses if there is abuse of authority by the police.