Why Non-Violence Waned and Black Power Gained Popularity after 1965

by James Graham

Non-violence was the dominant form of black protest between the end of world war two and 1965. After the apparent moderate success of the strategy in 1965 it began to lose widespread support to the more militant black power approach. After this date it became increasingly obvious to blacks that continued advancement was dependent on a black show of force.

The end of 1965 saw the non-violent civil rights movement achieve its immediate goals. Civil Rights Acts were passed in 1964 and 1965 to end segregation and the denial of voting rights respectively. Lyndon Johnson even adopted some of King's rhetoric using in one of his speeches the famous slogan "And we shall overcome." The acts had an immediate effect with the number of Mississippi blacks registered to vote increasing from seven percent in 1964 to fifty nine percent by 1968.

The non-violent movement had other important effects on black America. It proved that protest action could succeed, awoke black consciousness and raised hope for a better future. When these expectations were not fulfilled blacks began to challenge the underlying conditions that kept them socially and economically oppressed. Veteran activist Anne Moody in her autobiography expressed this new sense of cynicism best. "We shall overcome… I WONDER. I really WONDER." Rapidly they found their white liberal supporters had disappeared isolating and radicalising black activists. The Vietnam War and prominent blacks including King's opposition to it further sapped federal support and funds for black socio-economic improvement.

It became increasingly obvious to blacks that continued advancement was dependent on a black show of force. Northern blacks expressed years of anger and disillusionment by rioting in more than two hundred cities. Militant young blacks hardened by years of white brutality were the product of a time where revaluating and questioning American society was the norm. Participants in the riots were not exclusively the young radicals however but came instead from a broad cross section of urban black society. The riots were thus urban black's way to vent their anger over racist police forces and continued discrimination in housing, and employment. Black power filled the ideological vacuum created by the failure of non-violent protest to cause real change in America's power structure.

Non-violence and black power had similar long-term goals. The means each took to achieve them varied markedly as did their supporters. After 1965 blacks became increasingly disillusioned with a system that continued to marginalize them and allowed them only limited victories. In this environment black power's philosophy of black pride and self-determination of black affairs could only increase in popularity.

American Civil Rights Series

Philosophies & Strategies of the Non-Violence & Black Power Movements
American Civil Rights Bibliography