Despite the tremendous leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other champions of nonviolence, as years went on, frustration among the African American community grew. Why was change taking so long?
Especially for young men in northern and western cities, the dream Dr. King articulated in 1963 seemed like a promise that would never be fulfilled. For them, leaders like Malcolm X who advocated self-reliance, separation from White America, and a readiness to use violence to protect their neighborhoods held answers that seemed more in touch with the realities of their lives.
So, despite the idealism and successes of the nonviolence protests and marches, as the 1960s progressed, violence began to increase. Was this bound to happen? Could the movement’s leaders have done anything to stop this? Could White Americans have prevented the eventual turn toward violence?
What do you think? Was violence an inevitable part of the Civil Rights Movement?
On August 11, 1965, the atmosphere in the Watts district of Los Angeles turned white hot. A police patrol stopped Marquette Frye, suspecting he was driving while intoxicated. A crowd assembled as Frye was asked to step out of his vehicle. When the arresting officer drew his gun, the crowd erupted in a spontaneous burst of anger.
Too many times the African-American residents of Watts had seen the White officers of the Los Angeles Police Department use excessive force. They were tired of being turned down for jobs in Watts by White employers who lived in wealthier neighborhoods. They were troubled by the overcrowded living conditions in rundown apartments. The Frye incident was the match that lit their fire. His arrest prompted five days of rioting, looting, and burning. The governor of California ordered the National Guard to maintain order. When the smoke cleared, 34 people were killed and property damage estimates approached $40 million.
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Police stand guard across from a burned out building during the 1967 Detroit Riots. A truck of National Guardsman rolls by.
The urban uprising of the late-1960s, part of what has often been called The Long, Hot Summer, had actually begun in 1964. When a White policeman in Harlem shot a African American teenager, a similar disturbance flared up, although on a lesser scale than the Watt’s riots. In 1967, there were riots in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tampa, Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, and Rochester. The most serious riots of the summer took place in July, with the riot in Newark, New Jersey and the Twelfth Street riot in Detroit, Michigan.
At the behest of President Johnson, the Kerner Commission was created to examine the causes behind the rioting. After a six-month study, the committee released its report, finding that the riots resulted from African American frustration at the lack of economic opportunity. The report berated federal and state governments for failed housing, education and social-service policies. The report also aimed some of its sharpest criticism at the mainstream media. “The press has too long basked in a White world looking out of it, if at all, with White men’s eyes and White perspective.”
The report’s most famous passage warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one White—separate and unequal.” The report was a strong indictment of White America: “What White Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, White institutions maintain it, and White society condones it.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. pronounced the report a “physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life.”
Its results suggested that one main cause of urban violence was White racism and suggested that White America bore much of the responsibility for the rioting and rebellion. It called to create new jobs, construct new housing, and put a stop to de facto segregation that had been common in northern cities in order to wipe out the destructive ghetto environment. In order to do so, the report recommended for government programs to provide needed services, to hire more diverse and sensitive police forces and, most notably, to invest billions in housing programs aimed at breaking up residential segregation.
Sadly, most of the Kerner Commission’s recommendations fell on deaf ears at all levels of government. Few White politicians were comfortable spending their reputations fighting to improve conditions in mostly African American inner cities, and in the 1960s and 1970s, few African Americans had been elected to public office.
When Malcolm Little was growing up in Lansing, Michigan, he developed a mistrust for White Americans. Ku Klux Klan terrorists burned his house, and his father was murdered, an act young Malcolm attributed to local Whites. After moving to Harlem, Malcolm turned to crime. He was arrested and sent to jail.
The prison experience was eye-opening for the young man. He began to read and educate himself. Influenced by other inmates, he joined the Nation of Islam. Upon his release, he was a changed man with a new identity. He changed his name to Malcolm X.
Not only had Malcolm X given up the name his ancestors were given during the time of slavery, he had also given up Christianity, a religion they learned while slaves as well. Islam, Malcolm’s new faith, is one of the world’s great monotheistic religions, but for many African Americans, Islam had added meaning. When Wallace Fard founded the Nation of Islam in the 1930s, he declared that Christianity was a White man’s faith. Although it had been founded by an Arab, Islam was closer to African roots and identity said Fard. Like Muslims everywhere, members of the Nation of Islam read the Koran, worshiped Allah as their God, and accepted Mohammed as their chief prophet. However, in America, Fard’s followers mixed the religious tenets of Islam with black nationalism. Fard’s followers became known as Black Muslims. When Fard mysteriously disappeared, Elijah Muhammad became the leader of the movement.
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Malcolm X was, and continues to be, an influential figure in the African American community. Unlike Dr. King, Malcolm X changed his opinions on racial integration and violence during his lifetime, leaving a complex legacy and a worldview that is hard to pin down.
The Nation of Islam attracted many followers, especially in prisons, where African Americans who had struggled in society looked for guidance. They preached adherence to a strict moral code and reliance on other African Americans. Integration was not a goal. Rather, the Nation of Islam wanted African Americans to set up their own schools, churches, and support networks. When Malcolm X made his personal conversion, Elijah Muhammad recognized his talents and made him a leading spokesperson for the movement.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his gospel of peaceful change and integration in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Malcolm X delivered a different message. Whites were not to be trusted. He called on African Americans to be proud of their heritage and to set up strong communities without the help of White Americans. He promoted the establishment of a separate state for African Americans in which they could rely on themselves to provide solutions to their own problems. Violence was not the only answer, but violence was justified in self-defense. African Americans should achieve what was rightfully theirs “by any means necessary.”
Malcolm X electrified urban audiences with his eloquent prose and inspirational style. However, in 1963, he split with the Nation of Islam after publicly clashing with Elijah Muhammad. In 1964 he made the pilgrimage to Mecca and afterward showed signs of softening his stance on the need for racial division. What direction he might have ultimately taken is lost to a history. As Malcolm X led a mass rally in Harlem on February 21, 1965, rival Black Muslims gunned him down. Although his life was ended, the ideas he preached lived on in the Black Power Movement.
In 1966, Stokely Carmichael of SNCC told a group of marchers, “What we need is black power.” Crowds chanted the phrase as a slogan, and a new side of the civil rights movement began to emerge.
Carmichael and other young African American leaders were heavily influenced by the words of Malcolm X, and rejected racial integration. Carmichael believed that African Americans needed to feel a sense of racial pride and self-respect before any meaningful gains could be achieved. Like Malcolm X, he encouraged the strengthening of African American communities without the help of Whites.
Chapters of SNCC and CORE, both integrated organizations, began to reject White membership as Carmichael abandoned peaceful resistance. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP denounced black power, but black power was a powerful message in the streets of urban America, where resentment boiled and tempers flared. For many young African Americans, racism was everywhere. They lived under the constant threat of violence from White police officers and the rules White America had established were clearly designed to keep African Americans in poverty. Dr. King’s message of love, nonviolence, and integration into White society simply did not resonate with the youth of the ghetto.
African American students began to celebrate African American culture boldly and publicly. Colleges teemed with young African American teenagers wearing traditional African colors and clothes. Soul singer James Brown had his audience chanting “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.” Young African Americans proclaimed, “Black Is Beautiful!”
The Black Power movement turned popular fashion and aesthetics on end. In the 1930s, skin lighteners and hair straighteners were used by fashionable African American women in an effort to look Whiter. By the end of the 1960s, being proud of the African heritage dictated that afros and dark skin were desirable.
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The black power salute at the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos captivated the nation. Some felt that it was disrespectful to the flag, while others celebrated it as a powerful message of resistance to racism. It was the first, but not the last time African American athletes would use the opportunity they had as televised celebrities to send a political message.
That same year, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale took Carmichael’s advice a step further and formed the Black Panther Party. Openly brandishing weapons, the Panthers decided to take control of their own neighborhoods to aid their communities and to resist police brutality. Soon the Panthers spread across the nation. The Black Panther Party borrowed many tenets from socialist movements, including Mao Zedong’s famous creed “Political power comes through the barrel of a gun.” The Panthers and the police exchanged gunshots on American streets as White Americans viewed the growing militancy with alarm.
For African Americans, the hypocrisy was thick. Whites proudly proclaimed their Second Amendment right to own guns and Ku Klux Klansmen in the South shot African Americans with impunity. However, the moment Black Panthers carried guns and announced that they would defend themselves, they were branded terrorists.
For many Americans, the Black Power movement arrived in their living rooms while watching the 1968 Olympics. During their medal ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the The Star-Spangled Banner. While on the podium, Smith and Carlos, who had won gold and bronze medals respectively in the 200-meter running event, turned to face the American flag and then kept their hands raised until the anthem had finished. It was one of the most overtly political acts at the Olympic Games, and the first of many political statements African American athletes would make at televised sporting events.
THE DEATH OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
The peaceful Civil Rights Movement was dealt a severe blow in the spring of 1968. On the morning of April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down as he stepped out of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. King had come to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers.
Ironically, the night before, King had talked about the threats of violence he faced both then and throughout his activist life. Toward the end of the speech, King foreshadowed his impending death, but reaffirmed that he was not afraid to die saying, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now… But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
As news of King’s murder spread, rioting erupted in urban areas across the country as mourners unleashed their rage. For most African Americans, the murder of Dr. King, a man who embodied understanding and peace, felt like the ultimate betrayal. In fact, with King’s death also died much of the energy for the protests and marches of the Civil Rights Movement. Although his followers continued to pursue racial justice, the nature of the movement changed and the momentum on the streets of the South, the courtrooms, and the halls of power dissipated.
Dr. King is remembered as one of the nation’s greatest citizens. Time magazine had named him “Man of the Year” in 1963. In 1964, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and was described as “the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.” In 1977, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian American can earn. In 1983, his birthday became a national holiday, creating an annual opportunity for Americans to reflect on the values he dedicated his life to advancing.
NIXON’S SOUTHERN STRATEGY
The violent urban protests, which had first broken out in the summer of 1965, and recurred occasionally for the rest of the decade, sparked a conservative backlash in public opinion. A majority of fearful White Americans began to prioritize “law and order” over the advancements of civil rights. In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon decided to run for president and promised a return to law and order. Nixon had been vice president in the 1950s, and had lost one of the closest presidential elections in 1960 to John F. Kennedy. However, in 1968 he saw an opportunity to return to the national stage.
Nixon also courted northern, blue-collar workers, whom he called the silent majority, to acknowledge their belief that their voices were seldom heard. These voters feared the social changes taking place in the country. Some felt left behind, as the government seemed to be focused on the problems of African Americans. Nixon’s promises of stability and his emphasis on law and order appealed to them. He portrayed himself as a fervent patriot who would take a strong stand against civil unrest.
Nixon also employed a Southern Strategy in 1968. Denouncing segregation and the denial of the vote to African Americans, he nevertheless maintained that southern states be allowed to pursue racial equality at their own pace and criticized forced integration. Nixon thus garnered the support of South Carolina’s senior senator and avid segregationist Strom Thurmond, which helped him win the Republican nomination. Nixon went on to defeat Hubert Humphry and win the presidential election easily.
Since the end of the Civil War, the vast majority of White Southerners had voted for democrats. Lincoln, of course, had been a Republican. However, the 1968 election saw a major realignment of the national parties as White Southerners switched their allegiance to the Republicans under Nixon and African Americans cemented their support for Democrats.
BUSSING AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
Once elected, Nixon did not prioritize civil rights to the extent of the previous Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Public support for civil rights had peaked in the mid-1960s, galvanized by Martin Luther King’s leadership and media coverage of overt repression in the South. With King gone, and Black Power on the rise, Nixon did not feel the same pressure to act that his predecessors had.
The Nixon years witnessed the first large-scale integration of public schools in the South. Nixon sought a middle way between segregationists and liberal Democrats who supported integration. He supported integration in principle, but he was opposed to the use of bussing to force integration. Bussing was a controversial effort to integrate school in cities where neighborhoods were racially segregated. Since most students attended neighborhood schools and were therefore racially segregated simply because of housing patterns, busses would transport students across town to create racially mixed student populations.
Nixon’s goals were partly political. He hoped to retain the support of southern conservatives, many of whom had voted Republican for the first time in 1968. These southern voters had been alienated from the Democratic party by Kennedy and Johnson’s civil rights legislation.
Nixon, however was not a Southerner, and was not entirely opposed to improving the lives of African Americans or pursuing racial justice. Although he oversaw a slowing of civil rights progress, he did not try to stop the civil rights movement. In fact, Nixon implemented the first significant federal affirmative action program. The program required government contractors to hire minority workers and was a successful way to combat discrimination that prevented equitable hiring of African Americans. Although the program had been started many years before, Nixon is credited with greatly expanding it and making it official government policy. Affirmative action was subsequently applied to other areas of American life, including college admissions.
THE WAR ON DRUGS AND MASS INCARCERATION
As Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, violent crime in the United States was reaching an all-time high. While there were different reasons for the spike, the most important one was demographic. The primary category of offenders, males between the ages of 16 and 36, reached an all-time peak as the Baby Boomer Generation came of age. But the phenomenon that most politicians honed in on as a cause for violent crime was the abuse of a new, cheap drug dealt illegally on city streets.
Crack cocaine, a smokable type of cocaine popular with poorer addicts, was hitting the streets in the 1980s, frightening middle-class Americans. Reagan and other conservatives led a campaign to “get tough on crime” and promised the nation a war on drugs. Initiatives like the “Just Say No” campaign led by First Lady Nancy Reagan implied that drug use and drug-related crime reflected personal morality rather than addiction or broader social ills such as chronic poverty.
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The rate of incarceration skyrocketed in America due to the War on Drugs. Many of those who were convicted were African American, and the effect on some neighborhoods has been catastrophic.
Nixon had first used the term in 1971, but in the 1980s, the war on drugs took on an ominous dimension, as politicians enacted harsher sentences for drug offenders so they could market themselves as tough on crime. State after state switched from variable to mandatory minimum sentences that were long and particularly harsh for crimes related to the sale of illegal drugs. There was a racial aspect to this new focus on street drugs rather than crimes such as fraud or money laundering since the drug trade was carried out primarily by minorities. The federal government supported the trend with federal sentencing guidelines and additional funds for local law enforcement agencies. This law-and-order movement peaked in the 1990s, when California introduced a three strikes law that mandated life imprisonment without parole for any third felony conviction, even nonviolent ones. As a result, prisons became crowded with drug offenders, and states went deep into debt to build more.
By the end of the century, the war began to die down as the public lost interest in the problem, the costs of the punishment binge became politically burdensome, and scholars and politicians began to advocate the decriminalization of drug use. But the damage was already done. Hundreds of thousands of people had been incarcerated for drug offenses and the total number of prisoners in the nation had grown four-fold. Particularly glaring were the racial inequities of the new age of mass incarceration, with African Americans being seven times more likely to be in prison. The effects on communities were devastating. The traditional social fabric in some neighborhoods disintegrated as large numbers of young men were incarcerated and were unable to work, support families and serve as parents.
RODNEY KING AND THE LA RIOTS
On the evening of March 3, 1991, Rodney King and two passengers were driving west on the Foothill Freeway through the Lake View Terrace neighborhood of Los Angeles. The California Highway Patrol attempted to initiate a traffic stop. A high-speed pursuit ensued. When King finally stopped, the two officers arrested him and his passengers.
After the two passengers were placed in the patrol car, five White Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers surrounded King, who came out of the car last. They tased him, beat him dozens of times with their batons, and tackled him to the ground before handcuffing him. Unknown to the police and King, the incident was captured on a camcorder by local civilian George Holliday from his nearby apartment.
Primary Source: Video Still
The video of Rodney King being beaten by LAPD officers was shocking, not because the beating happened because African Americans knew such events were common, but because it was captured by a bystander on his video camera. In the days before cell phones, such video evidence was almost unheard of.
The footage of King being beaten by police became an instant focus of media attention and a rallying point for activists in Los Angeles and around the United States. Coverage was extensive during the first two weeks after the incident. The Los Angeles Times published 43 articles about it, The New York Times published 17 articles, and the Chicago Tribune published 11 articles. Eight stories appeared on ABC News, including a one-hour special on Primetime Live. In the days before the Internet and social media, it was an incredibly persistent news story, driven in part by the existence of the video, which in the days before cell phone cameras, was almost unheard of.
Before the release of the Rodney King tape, minority community leaders in Los Angeles had repeatedly complained about harassment and excessive use of force by LAPD officers. It was a complaint that had been noticed by the Kerner Commission 26 years before but had never been addressed. In 1991, however, the Rodney King tape was the first time video evidence existed to support the community’s accusations of excessive force.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged four police officers with assault and use of excessive force. The jury in the subsequent trial was composed of nine White members, one bi-racial man, one Hispanic, and one Asian American. On April 29, 1992, after seven days of deliberations, the jury acquitted all four officers of assault and acquitted three of the four of using excessive force.
Rioting began the day the verdicts were announced, and peaked in intensity over the next two days. Many of the disturbances were concentrated in South Central Los Angeles, where the population was majority African-American and Hispanic. A total of 63 people died during the riots and more than 2,000 people were reported injured. Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points. Widespread looting also occurred.
During the riots, Rodney King went on television and summed up the frustration of many. Pleading with the police and rioters, he said, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all just get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?… It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here.”
Rioters also targeted stores owned by Koreans and other ethnic Asians that were mixed into the predominantly African American neighborhoods where the rioting took place. Many Korean Americans in Los Angeles refer to the event as Sa-I-Gu, meaning “four-two-nine” in Korean, in reference to April 29, 1992, the day the riots started. The week of riots is considered a major turning point for the development of a distinct Korean American identity and community in Los Angeles.
Over 2,300 mom-and-pop shops run by Korean business owners were damaged. Korean Americans not only faced physical damage to their stores and community surroundings, but they also suffered emotional, psychological, and economic despair. In reaction, many Korean Americans worked to create political and social empowerment. A week after the riots, in the largest Asian American protest ever held in a city, about 30,000 Korean American marchers walked the streets of the Los Angeles Koreatown, calling for peace and denouncing police violence. This cultural movement was devoted to the protection of Koreans’ political rights, ethnic heritage, and political representation. New leaders arose within the community, and second-generation children spoke on behalf of the community. Korean Americans began to have different occupation goals, from storeowners to political leaders.
Despite efforts from the community and government, the majority of the local stores affected by the riots were never rebuilt. Store owners had difficulty getting loans. Myths about the city, or at least certain neighborhoods of it, arose that discouraged investment and preventing growth of employment. Few of the rebuilding plans were implemented, and business investors and some community members rejected South Los Angeles.
Primary Source: Magazine Covers
Both Newsweek and Time Magazines used OJ Simpson’s mug shot on their covers. However, Time darkened the image, leading to accusations that they were perpetuating the stereotype that darker skin should be equated with criminality and violence.
THE OJ SIMPSON TRIAL
On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her boyfriend Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her condo in Los Angeles. Nicole Brown Simpson’s ex-husband was the football hall of fame legend OJ Simpson and was suspected immediately by police. Simpson did not turn himself in, and on June 17 he became the object of a low-speed pursuit as he fled police in a white 1993 Ford Bronco. TV stations interrupted coverage of the 1994 NBA Finals to broadcast live footage of the chase taken from news helicopters. An estimated million Americans watched as OJ ran from the police. The pursuit, eventual arrest, and subsequent trial were among the most widely publicized events in American history.
OJ’s trial that followed, often characterized as the Trial of the Century because of its international publicity was televised live on cable television. Many people watched the proceedings as if they were a soap opera. When the trial culminated after eleven months on October 3, 1995, 100 million people watched or listened as the jury rendered a verdict of not guilty for the two murders.
The verdict showed just how divided America remained after all the work of the Civil Rights Movement. According to a 2016 poll, 83% of White Americans and 57% of African Americans believe Simpson was guilty. In the view of many, the trial was a clear miscarriage of justice. In the eyes of many White Americans, a murderer went free because of mistakes by the police and prosecutors and because Simpson had the money to hire the nation’s best lawyers. However, for many in the African American community, the OJ Simpson verdict was a cause for celebration as one of their own had finally beaten the White man’s criminal justice system.
The Kerner Commission pointed out the source of African American frustration, although anyone who lived in the ghettos of America’s great cities could have explained the causes of the violence that marked the later part of the Civil Rights Movement. Lack of employment, police brutality, discrimination, and government neglect were obstacles that Dr. King and the champions of nonviolence tried to tackle. However, for the young African American men and women of the late-1960s and in the decades that followed, nonviolence was simply too slow or too ineffective. And being human, sometimes anger boiled over into violence before those with sufficient moral influence had time to reign in pent up anger.
Should Americans in the early 1960s have predicted that the Civil Rights Movement would take this turn? Should those who held up Dr. King as the model of a good protester have known that his influence would not extend to every corner of every city? Should we, as people, know ourselves better?
What do you think? Was violence an inevitable part of the Civil Rights Movement?
BIG IDEA: In the later 1960s African Americans grew impatient with the slow pace of change and riots and violent confrontations became more common. With the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 the Civil Rights Movement lost much of its energy. Events in the 1980s and 1990s showed just how much work was still left undone.
African Americans in northern and western cities had suffered for decades. Their neighborhoods were poor and they had few job opportunities. Although they did not live in the South, their children attended poor schools and they faced discrimination when looking for jobs. Frustration boiled over in the 1960s and there were riots in cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, and Newark.
A government commission studied the riots to understand what caused them and to make recommendations to prevent future riots. In the end, however, elected leaders did not implement the commission’s recommendations.
Malcolm X was a leader of the Nation of Islam, an organization of African American Muslims. He believed that African Americans and Whites could not live together and that the best way to improve their lives was to become self-reliant. After he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and left the Nation of Islam, he began preaching a more inclusive message, but was killed by members of the Nation of Islam.
Some African Americans started to advocate Black Power in the later 1960s. They wanted African Americans to become self-reliant and to be proud. Some rejected nonviolence. One group, the Black Panthers, carried guns and promised to defend their neighborhoods from White police officers. The Black Power movement scared many Whites.
In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Riots broke out in many cities as the news spread. King is remembered as one of America’s greatest leaders.
President Richard Nixon won election in 1968 by promising Whites in the South that he would not use the power of the federal government to promote civil rights. This was different from Democrats Kennedy and Johnson who had promoted new civil rights laws and had used the courts and National Guard to enforce civil rights. Nixon was not totally opposed to civil rights. He opposed bussing but promoted affirmative action.
In the 1980s, drug use increased and politicians promised to crack down. They passed strict laws and people arrested for selling and possessing drugs ended up in jail with long sentences. These laws affected African American neighborhoods much more so than Whites.
In 1991, Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police when he was arrested. The attack was captured on video, however, the police officers were acquitted when they were put on trial. When the verdict was announced, a long riot broke out.
In 1995, football star OJ Simpson was put on trial in Los Angeles for murder. He was also acquitted. The OJ Trial was a media obsession. Many African Americans celebrated the outcome even though they believed he was guilty since is seemed like the first time one of their own could win in the justice system that had been biased toward Whites for so long.
PEOPLE AND GROUPS
Kerner Commission: Government commission appointed by President Johnson to study the urban riots of the late-1960. They found racism, lack of job opportunities, and poor education and social services as the root cause, but little was done to resolve the issues.
Malcolm X: Civil rights leader and spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He advocated African American self-reliance and was assassinated in 1965.
Nation of Islam: Organization of African American Muslims in the United States. It was led by Elijah Muhammad.
Black Muslims: Members of the Nation of Islam.
Elijah Muhammad: Leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934-1975. He and Malcolm X disagreed openly, leading to Malcolm X leaving the Nation of Islam.
Stokely Carmichael: Leader of SNCC who advocated for Black Power.
James Brown: African American soul singer and founder of funk music. His famous song “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” was a hit during the Black Power era.
Huey Newton: Along with Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party.
Bobby Seale: Along with Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party.
Black Panther Party: African American political organization founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in the late 1960s. They carried guns in an effort to protect African Americans from police and government violence.
Richard Nixon: Republican president elected in 1968. He gained the support of White Southerners by promising to reduce the involvement of the federal government in implementing civil rights laws in the South.
Rodney King: African American man beaten by Los Angeles police officers during an arrest in 1991. The beating was filmed and when the officers were found not guilty, the LA Riots ensued. He is famous for saying, “Can we all just get along?”
OJ Simpson: Heisman Trophy winning running back who was accused and found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend in 1995. His trial showed how racially divided the nation remained after the Civil Rights Movement.
Black is Beautiful: Phrase that captured the self-pride element of the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Black Power: Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s which emphasized African American self-reliance. It deemphasized the nonviolent protests led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and was embraced by more militant, younger activists such as members of the Black Panther Party.
Southern Strategy: President Nixon’s strategy to gain the support of White southern voters by promising to limit the use of federal power to implement civil rights changes. Because of this, White Southerners have mostly supported Republicans, while African Americans have mostly supported Democrats.
I’ve Been to the Mountaintop: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. In it he seemed to predict his own death.
Can we all just get along?: Famous question posed by Rodney King during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
The Long, Hot Summer: Nickname for a series of urban riots that took place in African American neighborhoods of major northern and western cities between 1964 and 1968. The cause of the riots was studied by the Kerner Commission.
Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics: Famous political statement made by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African American runners, who raised closed fists during the National Anthem after winning medals the 1968 Olympics.
Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by rioting in most major cities.
1968 Presidential Election: Watershed election in American history in which the coalitions that supported each party shifted. Due to Nixon’s Southern Strategy, White Southerners switched to the Republican Party and African Americans switched to the Democratic Party.
War on Drugs: Nickname for a collection of programs and laws passed in the 1980s to fight the spread of crime related to the use and sale of drugs. It especially was known for the passage of strict sentencing laws that resulted in overcrowding of jails.
1992 Los Angeles Riots: Urban riots that followed the not guilty verdict in the beating of Rodney King by officers of the LAPD.
Trial of the Century: The highly publicized trial of OJ Simpson in 1995 for the murder of his ex-wife and her boyfriend. He was found not guilty. The trial revealed how racially divided the nation remained.
LAWS & GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS
Bussing: Government policy of transporting students from one area of a town to another to attend school in order to create integrated school populations when neighborhoods were mostly segregated.
Affirmative Action: Government program in which certain numbers of minorities are hired in order to match the racial makeup of the surrounding population.
Three Strikes Laws: Nickname for state laws passed during the 1980s and 1990s that called for lifetime sentences for drug offenders convicted for their third time. It resulted in jails filling up with non-violent criminals and the social destruction of some neighborhoods.