The fight for Black America

Characterising Black Power as the civil rights movement's 'evil twin' masks its considerable achievements over the past 50 years, argues Peter Ling...

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medalists in the 200-metre run at the 1968 Olympic Games, engage in a victory stand protest against unfair treatment of blacks in the United States. They refuse to recognise the American flag and national anthem. (Getty Images)

This article was first published in the Christmas 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine 

By the time two African American sprinters raised their black gloved fists in salute from the medal rostrum at the 1968 Olympics, Black Power had established itself as the clarion call of black America. From the beginning it had been a movement shaped by the media, and arguably, systematically misrepresented. Cameras had captured the moment when lone protester James Meredith was felled by a shotgun blast early in his ‘March Against Fear’ along the highways of Mississippi in June 1966. As Meredith lay in hospital, national civil rights leaders, and even more journalists, had then continued the march, despite threats. Later that month, after being released by local police, the youngest leader, Stokely Carmichael, addressed a crowd of marchers near Greenwood. Visibly angry, he declared that: “The only way we gonna stop them white men from whupping us is to take over. We been saying ‘Freedom’ for six years and we ain’t got nothin.”

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