The 1960s and 1970s were a turbulent period in the History and Culture of the United States, yet these years saw the rise of a counter-cultural movement which brought about important societal changes. Nonconformist ideological and artistic movements made up this counter culture which protested against the political leadership and the traditional American values.
A very important part of the counter-culture was the Movement of the African American population for Civil Rights. The slow process of becoming citizens from slaves lasted one century and its long-awaited final meant street protests inspired by charismatic leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. This was the hardest moment of the African American evolution, because they had to actually fight against segregation and racism.
Yet, the solidarity between the African American organisations was a good idea only in theory. Although it was vital for the final success of the Civil Rights Movement, the majority of the African American organizations turned out to be rivals in the end. Thus, instead of fighting together for the common purpose, some of these organizations kept only the appearance of a political party. In reality, they were involved in criminal activities, drug trafficking and armed conflicts with rival organisations.
The Black Panther Party
This party was the most important, numerous and radical political group which fought for the rights of the African American community at the end of 1960s in the US. Its members were no strangers to the criminal activities which took place inside the party or with its support.
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale established the party in 1966 with the initial purpose of protecting the African American communities against the abuses of the police. The original ideology of the party was an eclectic mix of elements from Marxism, Socialism and Black Nationalism. This was reflected into the party’s 10 point political platform which invoked the White Man’s persecutions against the Black Man and legitimized the equality between the Whites and Blacks. The platform also claimed that the White population of the US was completely responsible for the persecutions the African Americans suffered throughout their history. Moreover, it exaggerated by claiming that African American people should be given lands and that they should also be excused from military service.
However, this ideology would change in time. The principle of revolutionary action and equal rights for everybody would take the place of Black Nationalism. Thus, the party managed to create the Rainbow Coalition-an alliance of similar organisations which fought for the rights of the Hispanic and homosexual minorities as well as with White leftist groups. At the same time, the Black Panthers acknowledged the Feminist ideology and became supporters of gender equality. The political group reached its pinnacle at the beginning of the 1970s when it became a far-left revolutionary party. The Black Panthers had branches in every big American city and at the same time, it reached a membership of 10 000. Also, the party’s activities became even more diverse:besides the usual protests, it was involved in helping the poorer population of the ghettos. The Party and the local Churches created canteens which underscored the disinterest of the American authorities in the African American population. Thus, the children and the youth were groomed as members of the party by exposing them to the far left ideology which lessened the chances of them being involved into criminal activities.
However, the Party’s power would swiftly dwindle, because of numerous reasons. The main cause was the conflict between the party’s leaders which caused tensions and fractures among its members. This gave way to the establishment of two rival groups:Huey Newton’s movement which wanted to take the party to the local political stage and Elridge Cleaver’s followers which desired to keep up with the violent revolutionary actions, especially against the police. Cleaver’s group would create its own distinct party – The Black Liberation Army.
The conflict between Newton’s party and Cleaver’s group would end with four political assassinations of their own members. The Party enjoyed a not so good reputation for its violence against the police which resulted in numerous deaths on both sides. Thus, the FBI labelled the party an extremist organization which had to be decapitated. Leaders of the party such as Huey Newton and Elaine Brown were found guilty of numerous crimes and violations against their own members as well as people outside the Black Panthers. These transgressions and the connections with other African-American criminal organisations altered the party’s image for the worst. The membership dwindled gradually until 1982 when it was finally dissolved.
The FBI Attempted to Stop the African American Fight for Equality
In the context of the Cold War, the Government decided to act against the domestic problems caused by the African American community’s ever growing number of protests, which were considered “Communist” phenomena.
To this end, the FBI launched a series of actions entitled COINTELPRO. Usually, these actions were illegal and immoral and were aimed at weakening the “Communist”, “Marxist” or “terrorist” organisations. People such as Martin Luther King Jr or Malcolm X were on the lists of the COINTELPRO’s program.
Since these FBI operations were illegal and reprehensible, they were kept secret and outside of the public eye. The FBI’s purpose was to weaken the groups by creating rivalries between or inside them. Thus, misunderstandings between the members and details of the leaders’ personal lives were made public through the FBI. These operations – later condemned by the American public-caused the death of many deaths in the name of public security.
The main target of the COINTELPRO was the Party of the Black Panthers which had already been labelled as the “biggest threat to the domestic security of the US”. Their actions went beyond the exploitation of the conflicts with other criminal organisations such as the Blackstone Rangers. The FBI banned their social programs as a means of recruiting young members and ways of dissemination Black Nationalist propaganda. The FBI used threats to intimidate the organizers and the donors and thus, the Black Panthers’ social programs were brought to a halt.
In 1971, COINTELPRO was revealed to the public after the members of a leftist organization managed to steal over 1.000 secret documents from the FBI headquarters in Pennsylvania
The Effects of These Events on Today’s American Society
Despite the various misunderstandings, tensions and fractures, these organizations which fought for the rights of the African Americans, nevertheless, achieved their aims. Segregation has been officially eliminated and the racist spirit further dwindled. Therefore, one cannot ignore the influence of these political groups on the Civil Rights Movement.
Although the racist feeling weakened after the 1960s and 1970s, it can still be found in the today’s American society. Yet, we hope that racial hatred would become a rare occurrence in the years to come.