Different Historical Interpretations of Black Power
The interpretation and definition of Black Power has been debated over and scrutinized ever since Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase on June 16, 1966. A disconnect of interpretation exists between those with a bottom-up perspective, and those with a top-down perspective. The conflicting interpretations of Adam Fairclough and Hasan Jeffries, as well as others, provides exceptionally significant insight as to why this is, and also helps narrate some of the broader interpretations we see even today.
First it’s important to view the fundamental differences of a top-down interpretation and a bottom-up interpretation. Adam Fairclough conveys an example of a top-down interpretation. Fairclough begins to examine Black Power through Stokely Carmichael’s involvement in the Meredith March in Mississippi. At this point Martin Luther King and SCLC had gotten involved as well and the two groups struggled again to move forward in cooperation. While King wasn’t around, (being as busy as he was) Carmichael’s enthusiasm and radical sounding “Black Power” slogan quickly filled the void of publicity King’s departure created. Within a very short period of time, the press had taken this slogan ran with it. Fairclough states, “Time labeled it “the new racism,” and likened it to the “wild-eyed doctrines of the Black Muslims.””
Fairclough also says of King, “He immediately identified the slogan-and, more important, its surrounding rhetoric-as a profound threat to the civil rights movement… Yet he also recognized the emotional appeal of the slogan. The words expressed a ‘cry of disappointment,’ he wrote; they encapsulate the pain and despair produced by unrelenting poverty, brutality, discrimination, and broken promises.” It appears that, at this point, Fairclough has begun to interpret Black Power as more of an emotional response than strategic action. This aligns with King’s and the press’s initial reaction to...