A Divided Union

Growth of Black Power

Many people began to become frustrated by what they saw as slow progress towards equal civil rights. Followers of black power groups felt King’s peaceful protests were wrong and that violence is sometimes necessary to achieve their aims.

The Nation of Islam (otherwise known as the Black Muslims)
This group argued that gaining equality in a white society was impossible because white people are basically racist and would never change. It was led by Elijah Muhammad, but its most famous spokesman was Malcolm X. Muhammad Ali was also a leading member. The Nation of Islam wanted a separate black state in the USA without interference from the whites. Black people were encouraged to set-up their own businesses so that they didn’t have to rely on the whites. Their long-term aim was to go back to Africa. They believed working with whites would slow down progress so rejected the civil rights movement. At its peak had 50 000 members.
Malcolm X later changed his mind about civil rights, which lead to a split. He was later murdered. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975 his son lead a further split by accepting white Muslims.


SNCC (Student non-violent co-ordinating committee)
Was at first set-up to protest for black civil rights and had thousands of black and white members. However, a new leader Stockely Carmichael expelled white members claiming white people had no part to play in the fight for black civil rights. He said black people should be proud of their colour and roots and urged black people to set-up their own businesses. SNCC faded after he left in 1968.

Black Panthers
The most violent of the black power groups, it was set -up by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The panthers never had more that 5000 people but attracted large media attention because of their use of violence. They organised armed patrols in black areas to protect people from what they called ‘police terrorism’ they were also against capitalism. Clashes followed and in 1969, 700 Panthers were arrested including Newton, this limited their influence.

A black Panthers campaign poster