Study Guide

Civil Rights Movement: "Black Power" Era People

  • Ralph Abernathy

    Ralph Abernathy (1926–1990) was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a close friend to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

    After King's death, Abernathy assumed leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and remained committed to carrying through King's plans to fight poverty.

    In May 1968, Reverend Ralph Abernathy led the Poor People's March on Washington, a protest that his friend and colleague Martin Luther King, Jr. had planned before his death.

  • Elaine Brown

    Elaine Brown (1943–) is a writer, singer, and political activist who served as Chairperson of the Black Panther Party from 1974 to 1977.

    In 1974, Elaine Brown became the second-ranking member of the Central Committee, the core leadership of the Black Panther Party, second only to the Party's founder, Huey Newton. 

    "I have control over all the guns and all the money of this party," she announced upon accepting the position. "There will be no external or internal opposition I will not resist and put down. [...] So, if you don't like the fact that I am a woman, if you don't like what we're going to do, here is your chance to leave. You'd better leave because you won't be tolerated!" (Source)

  • Stokely Carmichael

    Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998) was a civil rights activist and national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1966 and 1967. He is credited with popularizing the term "Black Power."

    In May 1966, SNCC elected Stokely Carmichael its national chairman. Accepting the position, Carmichael announced that the organization would no longer send white organizers into Black communities, and would move away from nonviolent strategies. One month later, Carmichael gave a speech in Greenwood, Mississippi in which he coined the term "Black Power," emphasizing race pride and Black autonomy over integration with white society.

  • James Chaney

    James Chaney (1943–1964) was an African-American volunteer in the "Freedom Summer" voter registration drives. 

    In August 1964, Chaney and two white volunteers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were discovered murdered in Mississippi.

    On June 21st, 1964, "Freedom Summer" volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner disappeared while registering voters in Mississippi. Two months later, their bodies were found in an earthen dam on a farm near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Several white men, including Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen, were suspected of murder. Only Killen was ultimately convicted, 41 years after the crimes were committed.

  • Kathleen Cleaver

    Kathleen Cleaver (1945–) was a secretary for the New York branch of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She left the organization in 1967 after meeting Eldridge Cleaver, the Minister of Information for the Black Panthers, who inspired Kathleen to join the Party.

    Kathleen, like many of the women involved in the Civil Rights Movement, sought an equal partnership alongside her male peers. 

    Although she found more freedom as a woman in the Black Panthers, she discovered that sexism remained a problem. Kathleen noted that ideas offered by men were immediately implemented, while the same ideas when posed by women were ignored. "The suggestion itself," she explained, "was never viewed objectively. The fact that the suggestion came from a woman gave it lesser value."

  • Fannie Lou Hamer

    Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) was a sharecropper who, in 1964, became the key delegate for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

    In early August 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party held its state convention and selected Hamer as one of five delegates who would travel to Atlantic City to unseat the Dixiecrats at the Democratic National Convention. 

    She testified before the Democratic Party's Credentials Committee, proclaiming, "If the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave...?" (Source)

  • Bobby Hutton

    Bobby Hutton (1950–1968) was a mere 16 years old when he became the first person recruited to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

    In April 1968, 17-year-old Hutton was killed in a shootout between Oakland police and members of the Black Panther Party. His death was the first for the Party and confirmed for many members the urgency of their fight against the abuse of white power.

  • Maynard Jackson

    Maynard Jackson (1938–2003) was the first African American to be elected mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, and the first Black mayor of any major southern city.

    Elected mayor in 1973, Maynard Jackson worked to reduce unemployment and utilize affirmative action policies to improve the socioeconomic status of Atlanta's Black communities.

  • Lyndon B. Johnson

    Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) was the 36th president of the United States, assuming the office after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. 

    Prior to serving as Kennedy's vice president, Johnson had long represented Texas in the United States Senate.

    In his first address before Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for the immediate passage of civil rights legislation. "No memorial or eulogy," he said, "could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought." (Source)

    Between January 1964 and April 1968, President Johnson pushed through more civil rights legislation than all presidents before and after him. In his four years in the White House, he authorized the kind of sweeping reforms only matched by the revolutionary—and nation-dividing—work of the radical Reconstruction governments during the 1860s and 1870s.

  • John F. Kennedy

    John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) was the 35th president of the United States. 

    Elected in 1960 at the age of 43, he became the youngest person ever to be voted into the White House. Kennedy served from 1961 until his assassination in November of 1963. To this day, many Americans remember Kennedy as an idealistic champion of freedom at home and abroad, despite the fact that his policies on civil rights, Vietnam, and Cuba sometimes failed to live up to his soaring rhetoric.

    On November 22nd, 1963, Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade through Dallas, Texas. 

    Vice President Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency and in his first address before Congress, he called for the immediate passage of civil rights legislation. "No memorial or eulogy," he said, "could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought." (Source)

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) was the young pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama who rose to prominence in the movement for civil rights. He remains to this day a symbol of the nonviolent struggle against segregation.

    In 1965, King launched a voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, a city where only 355 of 15,000 Black residents had managed to register to vote. 

    The following year, he moved his family north to Chicago to focus his energies on discrimination in housing and employment in northern cities. Still, by the mid-1960s, many younger Black activists, such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, found the nonviolent leader to be out of touch with the plight of Blacks living in the inner city.

    King's murder in April of 1968 confirmed for activists both radical and moderate that nonviolence failed to change white society.

    For more on Martin Luther King, Jr., head over to our Historical Texts learning guides for "I Have a Dream" and "I've Been to the Mountaintop."

  • Viola Liuzzo

    Viola Liuzzo (1925–1965) was a white civil rights activist from Detroit, Michigan. A wife and a mother of five, Liuzzo was murdered by Klansmen after the 1965 voting rights march in Selma, Alabama.

    On March 25th, 1965, a group of Ku Klu Klan members shot and killed Viola Liuzzo as she was driving marchers from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama.

  • Malcolm X

    Malcolm X (1925–1965) was a Black leader who, as a key spokesman for the Nation of Islam, epitomized the "Black Power" philosophy. 

    By the early 1960s, he had grown frustrated with the nonviolent, integrated struggle for civil rights and worried that Blacks would ultimately lose control of their own movement. In February 1965, he was killed by members of the Nation of Islam—he'd recently left the organization. 

    But even in death, his teachings lived on in the rhetoric of other Black Power organizations including the Black Panther Party.

    As a young man, Malcolm Little, later renamed Malcolm X, drifted between Boston and New York City, cultivating his image as "Detroit Red," a dapper pimp and a dangerous hustler. While in prison for robbery, he educated himself and converted to the Muslim faith. Upon release, Malcolm became active in the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organization committed to Black uplift. He quickly rose to the rank of National Minister, speaking on behalf of the organization in cities across the country.

  • Thurgood Marshall

    Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993) was a student of Charles Houston, special counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

    He followed in his mentor's footsteps and began working for the NAACP in 1938. Marshall became a key prosecuting attorney in several school segregation cases argued before the Supreme Court, including the 1954 landmark case Brown v. Board of Education

    In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson successfully nominated him for a seat on the Court, making Marshall the first African American to hold a position on the highest court in the land.

  • James Meredith

    James Meredith (1933–) was a student at the all-Black Jackson State College who became the first Black student to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi.

    In September 1962, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) pressured President Kennedy into federalizing Mississippi troops to enforce a federal court ruling to allow Meredith to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi. White students at the University rioted in protest, leaving two people dead.

  • Bob Moses

    Bob Moses (1935– ) was a Harlem-born member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960s.

    Moses spent four years working on voter registration in Mississippi and played a crucial role in organizing the 1964 "Freedom Summer" campaign, in which dozens of white and Black volunteers traveled into the South to help Blacks demand their right to vote.

  • Huey P. Newton

    Huey P. Newton (1942–1989) was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

    Newton was the child of Black migrants who had left the Jim Crow South in the early 1950s in search of a better life in California. 

    He grew up in Oakland, in a hardworking, disciplined, religious household, which stressed education and dignity. While attending Oakland City College in the early 1960s, Newton read the works of radical, nationalist leaders such as Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, and Malcolm X. 

    In 1966, with friend Bobby Seale, Newton formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in response to police brutality and economic strife in the Black community.

  • Richard M. Nixon

    Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) was a Republican senator from California and the 37th President of the United States. Prior to his presidency, he also served as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president from 1953 to 1961. 

    Some civil rights historians claim that the reelection of Nixon in 1972 signaled the death of the movement. Ultimately, his presidency ended in disgrace, with Nixon's 1974 resignation in the midst of the Watergate scandal.

    In August 1969, President Nixon issued Executive Order 11478, which required all federal agencies to adopt "affirmative programs for equal employment opportunity." These programs were meant to increase access to education and employment for historically underrepresented minorities, including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, and disabled people.

  • Bobby Seale

    Bobby Seale (1937–) is one of the founders of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

    In the early 1960s, Bobby Seale attended Oakland's Merritt College, where he studied engineering and politics. Like Huey Newton, he had become especially interested in Black liberation struggles in Africa and espoused the Black power philosophy of Malcolm X. 

    After hearing the militant Black leader speak, he decided he would become a soldier in the struggle against inequality. In 1966, he and Newton formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in response to police brutality and economic strife in the Black community.

  • George C. Wallace

    George C. Wallace (1919–1998) was a pro-segregation Democrat elected governor of Alabama in 1962, 1970, 1974, and 1982. He also ran for President of the United States as a Democratic candidate in 1964, 1972, and 1976, and as an American Independent Party candidate in 1968.

    In March 1965, under pressure from civil rights leaders, President Lyndon Johnson commanded Governor Wallace to mobilize Alabama's National Guard units to protect Selma marchers. Wallace refused, claiming the state was "financially unable" to do so. Wallace became perhaps the most prominent national icon of segregationist resistance to the Civil Rights Movement.