SEIZE THE POWER! An Evaluation of the Black Radicalist Approach to the Civil Rights Movement (Altricia Wilson)

OVERVIEW:

The goal is to examine, evaluate, and understand the ideologies of black radicalism and determine how these ideologies have shaped and changed black politics.

Students will understand how black radicalism affected the outcome of the Civil Rights movement.

FRAMEWORK:

Students must receive a sufficient background on the Civil Rights Movement and black radicalism that has evolved from the movement. Students must understand the reasoning behind this divergence from the non-violent tactics of Martin Luther King Jr., to the violence of the Black Panther Party. Once the reasoning behind the advancement towards violent action has been established, students must then be educated in the many aspects of black radicalism, from the teachings of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, including the ideologies that may have influenced them, including Marxism and the Islamic religion.

Students are then allowed to form their own opinions on the success of this radicalism, and are allowed to present their ideas on how these radicalist approaches could have been ratified to evoke more positive change. Students may then present their own ideas of “blackness,” and present their evidence and reasoning behind these opinions. The lesson then enables students to creatively publish what they’ve learned about the main leaders of black radicalism through PowerPoint slideshow, vocal presentation, or any other visual presentation.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING:

Evolving from the non-violent approach of the Civil Rights Movement, black radicalism is the desperate and “last-minute” attempt to bring change towards a legal system so deeply flawed, that change could not have transpired without the action that many view as violent.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  1. What were Malcolm X’s opinions (if any) on the African American identity or civil rights in the United States?
  2. What defines “Blackness”? (your opinion)
  3. What impact did this nationalism and radicalism have on black politics?
  4. What impact did it have on other movements? (e.g. Chicano/Native-American/Asian-American)
  5. How did it affect African-American identity?
  6. How did Carmichael’s Black Nationalism differ from the Black Panther Party’s Black Nationalism?

GLOSSARY:

Civil Rights: The rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.

Islam: The religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

Marxism: Marxism is a particular political philosophy, economic and sociological worldview based upon a materialist interpretation of history, a Marxist analysis of capitalism, a theory of social change, and a view of human liberation derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Nationalism: An extreme form of this, esp. marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.

Radicalism: the political orientation of those who favor revolutionary change in government and society.

INTRODUCTION:

To exact change is to exact action, and while there are many injustices in the United States that have plagued our history; the Civil Rights movement is one of the most monumental movements of our time. This movement redefined the definition of being black, and the idea of “blackness”. The topic of blackness cannot truly be stated in the form of a question, but can be answered in the form of an opinion. This idea of “blackness” is subjective and can vary from person to person in interpretations. One of your goals is to define this “blackness” according to the history of the civil rights movement. Some may argue that blackness is based off of the color of your skin. Others may base blackness on the amount of oppression that one experiences from society. During the Civil Rights movement, a call for action amongst African-Americans forcefully challenged African-Americans to choose a side. The side of action vs. the side of non-action. The Civil Rights Movement started as series of boycotts that started in the 1950’s as a result of segregation in various facilities in the South. Black men, women, and children were not allowed to use the same facilities as their white counterparts. There were segregated bathrooms, water fountains, and even restaurants. The Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education[1], outlawed segregation in public schools, but brought the rise of racial tension in areas such as Alabama. Starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott[2], led by Martin Luther King Jr., demonstrations for equality advanced with various sit-ins, marches, and other boycotts.  Some activists turned to carrying weapons in light of the violence directed at black activists and the lack of government intervention.

Other activists sought more direct action and as a result, turned to violence. With figures such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, the term Black Power[3] emerged.  Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 to his father, a Baptist minister, and his mother, an at home mom. In 1929, his home was burned down, and his father murdered, as a result of his father’s civil rights activism. [4]Growing up, he bagan to study the teachings of Elijah Muhammed and was eventually appointed as national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. During this time, his hatred for whites and his religion grew, as he was taught that white society worked towards keeping African-Americans from achieving success.  He was assassinated in 1965.

Some advocates of Black Power became suspicious of white involvement in the black liberation struggle and sought separation instead of the integrationist tendencies that so many blacks have already fought hard to achieve.

MATERIALS:

  1. Short YouTube video on the Black Panther Party http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h36wbRHInhs
  2. Song by James Brown, called “Say It Loud” Say It Loud
  3. A link leading to the biography of Stokely Carmichael http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/freedomriders/people/stokely-carmichael
  4. A Link on Malcolm X and Islam http://www.colostate.edu/orgs/MSA/find_more/m_x.html
  5. Biography of Huey P. Newton http://www.africawithin.com/bios/huey_newton.htm
  6. Small shoebox

ACTIVITIES:

  1. Start class by calling attention to the differences in our genders, skin tones, and appearances. Have student acknowledge the diversity in the class (if there is any).Introduce their project with “Say It Loud”, by James Brown.  Have students reflect on the usage of the song and how it may have been used in the 60’s.  Play short introduction video on the Black Power movement, and have students reflect on the video with the person closest to them. Pass out copies of the introduction to get students familiar with the material they are going to research. Have students read up for next class.
  2. At the start of the next class, divide students in groups of 5, and with the links to that are provided, students must to conduct research, and create short, but concise PowerPoint presentations on one of these topics: Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton, Marxism, the Black Panther Party, or Islam. Powerpoints should be no longer than 15 slides.
  3. Next class, students must present their presentations and identify two aspects of their presentation that they may want to research further. For e.g., a group may want to focus on the effects that Malcolm X’s childhood may have had on his future in radicalism, or Stokely Carmichael’s split with the Black Panther Party.
  4. For homework, students identity those aspects and conduct further research to bring back for next class.
  5. The next part of the project involves creating your own “museum exhibit” for the two aspects that you’ve researched. Using a shoebox, you may cut out photos and paste it into your shoebox for display. Include names of people of significance, events of significance, photos of significance, and anything that may relate to your topic.
  • How are these photos related to your topic?
  • What do these words/names symbolize?
  • What can we learn from your topic?

6. Students are then expected to present their shoe boxes to the class, and also present how their views of “blackness” may or may not have changes from the start of their research to their presentation.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:

Seale, Bobby. Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton. N.p.: Black Classic Press, 1996.

Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. N.p.: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

X, Malcolm, Alex Haley, and Attallah Shabazz. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. N.p.: Ballantine Books, 1987.

Carmichael, Stokely. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael. N.p.: Scribner, 2005.

 

STANDARDS:

  1. Understands various influences that events may have had on radicalism.
  2. Uses comparisons to evaluate present day events with past events.
  3. Recognizes the development of civil rights and injustices in the United States.
  4. Analyzes key events that affected the leaders of black radicalism.
  5. Students develop at more diverse and multi-dimensional view of the struggle for black freedom.

[1] “Early Civil Rights Struggles: Brown v. Board of Education.” http://www.watson.org. http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/early-civilrights/brown.html

[2] “Montgomery Bus Boycott — History.com Articles, Video, Pictures and Facts.” History.com — History Made Every Day — American & World History. http://www.history.com/topics/montgomery-bus-boycott

[4] Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, (Ballantine Books, 1987), 38.

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