BLACK POWER The concept of "black power" was one of the most controversial, debated and least understood of the many precepts which emerged during the black civil rights "revolution" of the 1950's and 1960's. First coined by Stokely Carmichael, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the slogan "black power" was popularized during the June 1966 march through Mississippi begun by James Meredith to demonstrate the necessity of black voter registration.
Almost immediately, white Americans cringed at the thought of a violent black revolution aimed at the destruction of the white power structure and the establishment of black political control over the United States. Most whites and a fair proportion of moderate black civil rights leaders such as Roy Wilkins (NAACP) and Martin Luther King (SCLC) equated "black power" with "black racism" or with a quest for "black supremacy." Wilkins, for example, defined black power as meaning "antiwhite power," while King lamented that "a doctrine of Black Supremacy is as evil as White Supremacy." It is now relatively clear, however, that these initial reactions to the term "black power" were premature.
Aside from being an expression calculated to inspire racial pride, integrity and solidarity among African Americans, black power was and is based on the assumption that blacks should wield
political control (i.e., power) where they constitute a majority of the population (e.g., inner cities) as well as proportionate political influence in other areas where blacks live but do not constitute the majority. In this respect, according to black political scientist Charles V. Hamilton, black power is a "clear alternative to acts of expressive or instrumental violence, because it means the legitimate involvement of masses of black people in activities and institutions which affect their lives. Black Power is not only interested in an equitable distribution of goods and services, it is also vitally concerned with an equitable distribution of decision-making powers."
Similarly, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) adopted a resolution endorsing the concept of black power and, in the process, attempted to dispel the notion that the concept itself would ultimately lead to a white bloodbath. "Black Power is not hatred," the resolution began. "It is a means to bring the Black Americans into the covenant of Brotherhood. Black Power is not Black Supremacy; it is a unified Black Voice reflecting racial pride in the tradition of our heterogeneous nation." Echoing the moderate sentiments of CORE, black militant Julius Lester has written that "black power is not anti-white people, but is anti-anything and everything that serves to oppress. If whites align themselves on the side of oppression, then black power must be anti-white. That, however, is not the decision of black power."