Black nationalism is not a new phenomenon in the USA. It had had a long history in the United States, dating back to the eighteenth century. And while Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, an early 20th century nationalist organization which championed black pride and black solidarity, achieved tho largest grass roots membership of any Black nationalist organization in the history of the United Statues, it was the decade of the 1960s in which virious expressions of black nationalism had their greatest impact on the black community.
The beginning of the second half of the twentieth century marked a crucial juncture in the history of black people in the United States. It was around this time that the oppression of the black people in America was first recognized as a social problem worthy of consideration. This concern resulted, in no small part, from changing world conditions, especially the political independence of former European colonies in Africa and Asia. Since colonialized peoples throughout the world were demanding freedom and self determination, it would not be long, it was argued, before the millions of black people in America's internal colony would demand that their status be altered.
Radicals as well as liberals shared a commitment to integration. The political sentiments of the Popular Front were also overwhelmingly integrationist. Although liberals and radicals differed on many things, and the politics of the late 1940s and early 1950s tended to pull them apart, the need to create a genuinely integrated society was not one of them. If the era If McCarthyism drove a wedge between liberal and radical alternatives on civil rights, by the end of the 1950s there was a new convergence. As the Communist left became increasingly moribund and irrelevant, old leftists with a special commitment for civil rights often joined non-Communist organizations, pushing the liberal civil rights consensus, as Joshua Freeman has demonstrated. By 1960 old sectarian differences were not exactly forgotten, but for those who wished to move on, it was now far easier to do so.
In the 1930s and 1940s several judicial decisionsand administrative rulings favorable to black people foreshadowed the Brown vs Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court in 1954. This decision was hailed by black leaders and white liberals as proof that the stated American ideals of freedom and equality were intended to apply to all citizens black and white.
By the mid-1960s, it was evident to many black people that the methods and goals of the civil rights movement were such that they would not liberate black people from the oppression under which they lived in the United States. It was at this time that two of the major civil rights organizations, the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which later became the Student National Coordinating Committee, adopted positions in support of black nationalism by embracing the philosophy of black power. Membership in organizations which embrace an ideology which may be broadly defined as nationalist is but one manifestation of black nationalism. At any point in time, an organization's influcence was likely to extend far beyond its membership.
Expressions of black nationalism were found throughout the United States in a varietyof forms.Few individuals and families in the black community eluded the influence of black nationalism. And some measure of the scope of this phenomenon was reflected in the proliferation of national and local black nationalist groups, organizations and caucauses. They were found among college and high school students; in police departments; among athletes, poets and playwrights; and in virtually all professional organizations which had black members. On the individual level, black nationalism was manifested in styles of dress, standards of physical beauty, name changes, music, the dance, food habits, and many other aspects of culture.
Organizations and groups which may be described as nationalist covered a wide spectrum of ideology and practices, ranging anywhere from those which were primarily religious or economic to those in which well-defined black nationalist ideology encompassed all aspects of the lives of their members. Fundamental to all black nationalist ideology, regardless of organization, were three characteristics: black solidarity (or black consciousness), pride in cultural heritage, and self-determination. There was a proliferation of groups and organizations in the black community which, although differtent in many ways, embraced this ideology.
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