The Civil Rights Movement vs. The Black Liberation Movement
On The Duty of Civil Disobedience, written by Henry David Thoreau, explains that civil disobedience is the act of standing for your beliefs even though they are against the law. Thoreau goes on to say that the government (because it is ruled by the majority) is not always right for everyone especially the individual and the minority. Over the course of American history, there have been many different groups formed for the purpose of civil disobedience. The two that I am going to focus on are the activists of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers of the Black Liberation Movement. The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 with the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education. It was basically lead by Martin Luther King Jr. whose teachings were of peaceful protesting and boycotting in order to achieve the goals of integration and equality for Black Americans (Small). The Black Liberation Movement started a few years later in 1960 and was later taken over and popularized by the Black Panthers in 1966. The basis of this movement was not just black equality but also black independence by any and every means necessary. The Panthers wanted blacks to be in control of their own neighborhoods (Acoli). These two protest movements had similar but at the same time very different platforms. The difference their effectiveness was caused by the difference in the techniques.
The similarities in the two programs would be the things that they did for the community. Even though the Panthers were more violent in their ways they still had a positive message to send out. Both the Civil Rights movement and the Black Liberation
movement were meant to uplift the black people in America. They were both very community based, but they just felt differently about the techniques needed to help their people (Burroughs).
The Civil Rights Movement was a much more peaceful protest than the Black Liberation Movement because people like Martin Luther King were at the fore front in the fight for black civil rights. The purpose if this movement was to gain equality for
Black Americans. The activists of the Civil Rights Movement were protesting for things like the integration of schools and other public places, and equal rights under the law. Martin Luther King was striving for his people to be seen and treated as equals to their white counterparts. The protest would mostly consist of sit-ins, marching, and boycotting. The activists of this movement preached non-violence and peaceful protest. For example, during many sit-ins the police would get involved. Usually this meant violence, but not by the civil rights activists who were taught not to retaliate. The protestors would take brutal beatings and do nothing in return (Small).
On the other hand is the Black Liberation movement, which was headed by the Black Panthers. This movement leaned more towards black separation in order to form their own equal communities. The Panthers believed that Black Americans would never be equals in a “white world” and therefore they must form their own. Not only did the Black Liberation Movement believe in separation, they also believed that aggression was needed to reach this goal. In the official Black Panther Party Platform and Program the Second Amendment, which is the right to bear arms, is used to justify why the Panther Party always carried guns. The Platform even used the preamble to the Declaration of
Independence as part of their argument. The end their official Platform with, “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, …” (Oberlin.edu). This was the Black Panthers’ main goal, to separate from White Americans, and did not feel that passive behavior was effective. The Panthers thought that if violence was used to try and stop their cause than violence was needed to keep their cause going. Some of the major beliefs and techniques of the Panther party were self-defense, which for them meant being heavily armed at all times; mass organization, which meant serving the people; and using propaganda, which meant spreading their message through newspapers, posters, leaflets, rallies, etc. For this movement the simple belief was that blacks have the right to
defend themselves and will do so against anyone, including the police. Not all of the violence used by the Panthers was in self-defense. In fact the Panthers were known to attack police officers upon sight. The Black Panthers were not afraid of the police and would often get into shootouts with them. That is why the Black Liberation Movement was a lot more violent than the Civil Rights Movement (Acoli).
The non-violent techniques of the Civil Rights activists helped in getting their issues taken seriously and seen for what they were. It made the movement seen more dignified and concrete. Historian Kris Small says, “It was almost as though Black Americans were saying no matter what was done to them they would not fall to the level of their oppressors and retaliate with violence.” Many of the techniques used in this movement did exactly what they were meant to do. The sit-ins in restaurants basically
forced the owners to start serving blacks because they realized that they would not just go away. The boycotts of buses achieved a lot because the bus company was losing a ton of
money and customers so they had to change their rules. This type of protest brought a bout a whole lot of changes in America, the most significant probably being the Civil Rights Acts (Small).
The Black Liberation Movement of armed revolution did not prove as effective as its predecessor. Even though they did some good for the people of the black community, it was usually quickly forgotten. They would run things that they call survival programs which included things like food giveaways, free health clinics and free breakfast programs for children (Burroughs). The Black Panthers believed that violence had to be fought with violence and that belief became their biggest problem and their eventual downfall. At one point the Black Panthers were labeled “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” This meant that he government saw them as a threat and would treat them as such. The U.S. government formed a special unit against the Panthers in 1967 called the Cointelpro, short for counterintelligence program. In a memorandum written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover he says: “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate-type organizations … (The FBI’s War). The police were also out to ruin the Black Panther Party. In 1968 in California, four Panther leaders were shot and killed by police for no apparent reason. And in 1969 the LAPD’s “metro squad”, the Panther unit, killed the captain of the local Black Panther organization. No matter how much good they did, the violence that always seemed to
follow the Panthers would overshadow it. The group embodied their belief that black people had the right to defend themselves against racism in any way and it proved to be very detrimental to them (The FBI’s War).
Today the accomplishments of the Black Panther Party are scarcely discussed or even known. When people think about the Black Panthers they usually picture the all black clothing and violence of some type. I asked a few people what first comes to mind when they here the name Black Panthers and many of them said, “They will kick your ass over any thing.” Most others just said that they were a dangerous group. No one seems to know what the Black Panthers stood for and why they were formed. But if one were to
ask about the Civil Rights Movement all that would be said is positive things. Everyone knows that the civil rights activists were fighting for equality for Black Americans. And black people today are reaping the benefits of their accomplishments with the Civil Rights Acts.
Acoli, Sundiata. A Brief History of the Black Panther Party and Its Place In the Black
Liberation Movement, http://www.cs.oberlin.edu/students/pjaques/etest/acoli-
hist bpp.html (November 20. 2001).
Burroughs, Todd and Olive Vassel. Panthers, http://www.afroam.org/history/Panthers/
Panther-lead.html (December 10, 2001).
Small, Kris. Evolvement of the Civil Rights Movement, http://www.sdle8.ca/wdls/
reports.html (November 20. 2001).
Black Panther Party and Platform, http://www.cs.oberlin.edu/students/pjaques/etext/bpp-
program.html (December 10, 2001).