The Switch from a Non-Violent Direct Action Movement to a more Militant One (By Maria Martinez)

The Switch from a Non-Violent Direct Action Movement to a more Militant One


  • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
  • Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
  • Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.


This lesson plan aims to broaden the understanding of the Black Power Movement, particularly the some of its leaders. By focusing on Stokely Carmichael’s famous Black Power speech at UC Berkeley that occurred April 1966, this lesson plans aims to demonstrate how this movement shaped the switch between nonviolence towards a more militant approach.

Trough some activities one will be able to provide students with knowledge of the origins of the Black Panther Party through analysis of Stokely Carmichael’s speech and the departure of reformist movements such as those from SNCC.


The curriculum is designed for the class to be able to conduct a critical discussion on a particular section of the black civil rights movement, which is the Black Power movement. In order to achieve such discussion, students should use primary sources and other resources in order to better understand the social and political conditions that incentivized many black Americans to move towards a more militarized movement and join such parties like the Black Panther Party. By participating in these activities students will gain a historically accurate understanding of the movement. The lesson plan should be completed ideally in the span of the three one-hour classes.

Considering this lesson plan is aimed for students in their second or third year of high school, the students should hopefully be aware of the Black civil rights movement of the 1960s. This lesson plan is not meant for students whose first time hearing about the movement would be during this time. The first day and the first half of the second day are meant to be reserved for the students to refresh their knowledge through lecture. The instructor is free to choose their method of presentation be that be powerpoints, a simple lecture, or anything else as long as the students can take meaningful notes. These days should prepare the students for the rest of the time. The second part of the second day and all of the third day will be dedicated for the main activity. In this time, students should develop critical thinking skills by the discussion they have with each other. The instructor should serve as a moderator in the beginning but eventually should let the students take the lead and only intervene when needed.

Essential Understanding

The overreaching understanding we hope to foster through this lesson plan is the emergence of Black Power, the different meanings it had amongst races and how it challenged MLK’s ideology of nonviolent direct action.

Essential Questions

  1. Through Carmichael’s rhetoric used in his speech, what can be conveyed about urgency of a more aggressive movement?
  2. What exactly does Black Power entail and how does it differ from Martin Luther King Jr,.’s and his followers views?
  3. Why did people feel parties like the Black Panther Party were needed in the latter part of the 1960s? How did the party come to be and who where the people behind the movement
  4. What can one say about the realities of the lives of black Americans 10 years after the bus boycott?


Black Nationalism: a racialized form of group or national identity which advocated a separate nation status for blacks.
Black Power: emerging ideology in the middle to latter part of the 1960s that stressed the need for black racial pride, solidarity and independence from white society in the United States. Popularized by Stokely Carmichael
Nonviolent Direct Action: Any form of direct action that does not rely on violent tactics, as opposed to principled nonviolence, which is a positive force in its own right and involves active concern for the well being of the opponent even while resisting the latter’s actions. Does not always imply an ideological commitment to pacifism. In 1963, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. described the goal of NVDA in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.


Today in modern times we experience a great magnitude of racial inequality. It is disheartening to acknowledge this type of second-class citizen treatment has been going on for centuries in the United States. It is important to learn the history of all this and how even though issues of racial inequality are more openly talked about and laws have been implemented to prevent such treatment, there seems to be a deep rooted sense of institutionalized racism that does not go away. In the next three days we will go deeper into the civil rights movement and the importance it has even to this day. We will focus on the emergence of a militant approach to the oppression suffered by Black citizens.

During the initial part of the movement, non-violence was the key to success. Martin Luther King Jr,. preached for nonviolent direct action and in his famous letter Letter From Birmingham Jail said, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored”. 1964 was a pivotal year where the Civil Rights act, four years before MLK’s assassination. Although the act had successfully passed, racism was still a big issue and many blacks recognized this. This was not the ideal society they had fought for. They had been nonviolent for so long as they watched so many of their own died in the arms of whites. They were fed up. One indicator of this was Stokely Carmichael’s speech in 1966. At the time he was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and for most of his life had followed MLK’s nonviolence ideology. During this speech, one can very easily see his transition to a more militant approach towards the discrimination experienced by blacks. It almost foreshadows the rest of his life. It is during this speech, that he famously introduces the phrase “Black Power” to the movement. For the next few days we will learn and analyze more about this speech and other speeches with different ideologies that help us see how the movement transitioned from one approach to basically a completely opposite approach. After this you should have a better understanding of what Black Power entails and the importance it had during the late 1960s.

Black Power was meant to encourage independence amongst Blacks and as little dependency from whites. Different than movements before, black power sought to have no interaction with whiteness. As expected this was frightening to the white community. As you will see in his speech, Carmichael makes it clear that blacks do not need anything from whites considering they are no one to give someone else their freedom especially since everyone is born free. When studying his speech it is beneficial to take into account not only what he is saying, but also to whom he is saying it to. Although ultimately, almost all organizations had the ultimate goal of freedom and independence, many had different approaches on achieving this goal. Through this lesson plan you will be able to discuss the differences (especially the cons and pros) of each approach.



This lesson plan can take more time that advised, but the following assumes this should take 3 class lengths. It is also assumed that the student has some knowledge of the civil rights movement. Day one, students should have come to class already read Martin Luther King Jr,.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and come to class with annotations. The first ten minutes of class should be dedicated to discussing the letter with a peer. After that the instructor should provide a lecture talking about the movement. This should not serve as the students first interaction with these terms, but instead of a refresher and some new knowledge. Towards the ends of class, students should get a new peer to discuss both the lecture and MLK’s speech. For homework, students will be assigned to read Malcolm X’s speech The Ballot or the Bullet .

On Day 2, class should be split amongst four groups. Two groups will be assigned the Black Panther Manifesto and the other two will be assigned SNCC Founding Statement. Each group should have a brief discussion about X’s speech and come up with at least one analytical question per group. Teacher should write the four questions on the board or somewhere visible by the whole class. Now the students will read their new assigned reading amongst their groups and based on each reading either create a advertisement for SNCC or Black Panther (depending on their reading). Once the posters are done, they should be hung up and as a class, the students should discuss the differences in advertisements. If this event goes as planned, the advertisements for SNCC should me more passive as oppose to those for the Black Panthers. The students should also answer the analytical questions that were posted earlier by connecting them to the new readings and the newly created advertisements. For the remainder of class, the instructor should continue the lecture of the previous day and give more insight to the students while focusing on the differences between the ideologies of the SNCC and the Black Panther movements. The assigned reading for the day should be Stokely Carmichael’s famous speech at UC Berkeley about Black Power.

The final day will be focused on the reading that the students did for homework. Carmichael’s speech centers on the idea of Black Power. By now the students should be somewhat familiar with the term, but today they should dig deeper on the idea of what Black Power entails during this time period. Class should begin with a short lecture on the biography of Stokely Carmichael. This should emphasize how Stokely Carmichael was mentored and highly admired Martin Luther King. He went to become leader of the SNCC and believed non-violence was the way to go. During his speech he was still leader of SNCC, but already had doubts about the effectiveness of the non-violence movement. After learning more about his life, everyone as a class should engage in a class discussion. The instructor will moderate in the beginning to get the class speaking, but ultimately it should be the students taking the lead. The discussion should be about the speech and tying everything they have learned in the last three days. Instructor can start the conversation by asking what rhetoric Carmichael used to successfully demonstrate that he was tired with nonviolent direct action and that a more militant approach was not just expected, but needed.

Additional Sources

  • King, Martin. “The Power of Non-violence | Teaching American History.” The Power of NonViolence. June 4, 1957. Accessed May 2, 2015.
  • Hurston, Zora Neale. “Court Order Can’t Make Races Mix.” The Orlando Sentinel, August 1, 1955.
  • Johnson, Lyndon. “We Shall Overcome.” Speech,, Washington DC., March 15, 1965.

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