Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
• In the South, CORE’s nonviolent direct action campaigns opposed “Jim Crow” segregation and job discrimination, and fought for voting rights. Outside the South, CORE focused on discrimination in employment and housing, and also in de facto school segregation.
• Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) – On January 10, 1957, following the Montgomery Bus Boycott victory, Dr. King invited about 60 Black ministers and leaders to Ebenezer Church in Atlanta.
The goal was to form an organization to coordinate and support nonviolent direct action as a method of desegregating bus systems across the South.
Initially called the “Negro Leaders Conference on Nonviolent Integration,” then “Southern Negro Leaders Conference,” the group eventually chose “Southern Christian Leadership Conference” (SCLC) as its name, and expanded its focus beyond busses to ending all forms of segregation.
SCLC was governed by an elected Board, and established as an organization of affiliates, most of which were either individual churches or community organizations such as the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR).
During its early years, SCLC struggled to gain footholds in Black churches and communities across the South.
Social activism in favor of racial equality faced fierce repression from police, White Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan.
Only a few churches had the courage to defy the white-dominated statusquo by affiliating with SCLC, and those that did risked economic retaliation against pastors and other church leaders, arson, and bombings.
SCLC’s advocacy of boycotts and other forms of nonviolent protest was controversial among both whites and Blacks.
Many Black community leaders believed that segregation should be challenged in the courts and that direct action excited White resistance, hostility, and violence.
Traditionally, leadership in Black communities came from the educated elite—ministers, professionals, teachers, etc.— who spoke for and on behalf of the laborers, maids, farm-hands, and working poor who made up the bulk of the Black population.
Many of these traditional leaders were uneasy at involving ordinary Blacks in mass activity such as boycotts and marches.
SCLC’s belief that churches should be involved in political activism against social ills was also deeply controversial.
Many ministers and religious leaders—both Black and White—thought that the role of the church was to focus on the spiritual needs of the congregation and perform charitable works to aid the needy.
To some of them, the social- political activity of Dr. King and SCLC amounted to dangerous radicalism which they strongly opposed.
• Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) – SNCC was one of the most important organizations of the Civil Rights Movement that emerged from a student meeting organized by Ella Baker held at Shaw University in April 1960.
SNCC grew into a large organization with many supporters in the North who helped raise funds to support SNCC’s work in the South, allowing full-time SNCC workers to have a $10 per week salary. Many unpaid volunteers also worked with SNCC on projects in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Maryland.
SNCC played a major role in the sit-ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party over the next few years. SNCC’s major contribution was in its field work, organizing voter registration drives all over the South, especially in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
A final SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept Black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever.
It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.
In the later 1960s, led by fiery leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, SNCC focused on Black Power, and then protesting against the Vietnam War.
As early as 1965, organization leader James Forman said he did not know “how much longer we can stay nonviolent.”
• Black Panther Party (BPP) – BPP, a Black revolutionary socialist organization, founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, achieved national and international notoriety through its involvement in the Black Power movement and U.S. politics of the 1960s.
Like the Nation of Islam, it didn’t believe in the anti-violence approach to Black freedom and independence.
Gaining national prominence, the Black Panther Party became an icon of the counterculture of the 1960s.
Although the Party emerged from Black Nationalist movements, ultimately, the Panthers condemned Black Nationalism as “Black racism” and became more ideologically focused on socialist revolution without racial exclusivity.
They instituted a variety of community social programs designed to alleviate poverty, improve health among inner city Black communities, and soften the Party’s public image.
The Black Panther Party’s most widely known programs were its armed citizens’ patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers and their Free Breakfast for Children program.
• Black Liberation Army (BLA) – BLA was an underground, Black Nationalist militant organization that operated in the United States from 1970 to 1981.
Composed largely of former Black Panthers, the organization’s program was one of “armed struggle”, and its stated goal was to “take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of Black people in the United States.
It is reported that the BLA carried out a series of violent activities to promote its objectives. The BLA believed that “the character of reformism” is based on the following principles:
1. That we are anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, antiracist, and anti-sexist.
2. That we must of necessity strive for the abolishment of these systems and for the institution of Socialistic relationships in which Black people have total and absolute control over their own destiny as a people.
3. That in order to abolish our systems of oppression, we must utilize the science of class struggle, develop this science as it relates to our unique national condition
In addition to the numerous organizations that help fuel the movement, there were literally hundreds of civil rights leaders (i.e. pastors, civic leaders, athletes, entertainers, lawyers, etc.) around the country that fought on behalf of Black people throughout the country. People like:
• Rev. Leon Sullivan not only challenged corporate America to do more for the Black community, but was the architect for the dismantling of South African Apartheid. Rev. Sullivan, a Baptist minister, focused primarily on economic development and the creation of job training opportunities for Blacks.
• Dorothy Height an American administrator and educator, was a civil rights and women’s rights activist specifically focused on the issues of Black women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness.
An active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority where she developed leadership training and education programs as its president from 1946 thru 1957, she would subsequently be named president of the National Council of Negro Women which she served for nearly 40 years.
• Dick Gregory is an American comedian, social activist, social critic, writer, entrepreneur, and entertainer. Gregory, an influential American comedian, used his performance skills to convey to both white and Black audiences his political message on civil rights.
His social satire helped change the way white Americans perceived Black American comedians since he first performed in public.
Dick Gregory was one of the first Black comedians to gain widespread acclaim performing for white audiences and opened the door for Blacks on TV. Dick Gregory used his fame and fortune to fight on behalf of Black people.
• Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was an American politician and pastor who represented Harlem, New York City, in the United States House of Representatives (1945–71).
He was the first Black person from New York to be elected to Congress, and he became a powerful national politician.
In 1961, after sixteen years in the House, Powell became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, the most powerful position held by an African American in Congress.
As Chairman, he supported the passage of important social legislation under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
• Whitney Young, Jr., an American civil rights leader, spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the United States and turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity for the historically disenfranchised. In that position, he helped get Black workers into jobs previously reserved for whites. Under his leadership, the chapter tripled its numbers and his leadership formed many of the economic strategies of the 60’s.
• Medgar Evers was a civil rights leader and activist from Mississippi that was directly involved overturning segregation at the University of Mississippi.
After returning from overseas military service in World War II and completing his secondary education, he became active in the civil rights movement. He became a field secretary for the NAACP.
Evers helped organize a number of boycotts against facilities that denied Blacks use of the stations’ restrooms.
Because of his leadership and the success he achieved, he became a target of the racist white supremacists with several assassination attempts made on his life.
In the early morning of June 12, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s speech on national television in support of civil rights, Evers was violently assassinated with a shot to his heart.
His assassination significantly propelled the civil rights movement in the 60’s.
• James Chaney, after going missing, was one of three American civil rights workers who were murdered during Freedom Summer by members of the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964. The others, two white men, were Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, both from New York City. Chaney participated in several nonviolent demonstrations and as a member of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), organized voter education classes, introduced CORE workers to local church leaders, and helped CORE workers get around the counties. Police arrested Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner for an alleged traffic violation and ultimately the three were released and were found 44 days later murdered. The two White men were shot once in the heart but Chaney was bitten by iron chains until every bone in his body was broken and then shot to death. Their disappearance and their deaths became a major national story and significantly elevated the civil rights movement.
Emmett Till, James Meredith, Bill Cosby, Cecil B. Moore, Bill Russell, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, James Baldwin, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Langston Hughes, A. Phillip Randolph, Ida Wells, and so many others sacrificed their lives, fame, fortune, and their dignity for survival of Black people.
WE’RE ALL ACCOUNTABLE TO THE MOVEMENT.
When we start to examine the economic and social state of the Black community in America, we’re the first to come up with idea after idea on how to we should be doing this or we should be doing that?
But guess what? Nothing is happening and nothing of any meaningful way is getting done.
In fact, over the past 50 years, at our pinnacle in this country representing the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, we’ve lost significant ground.
In addition to The Emancipation Proclamation, Brown versus the Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960’s, there haven’t been any real legal challenges or gains in the path of more freedom for the Black community in America.
Or maybe we’ve come to believe that we’re equal??? Recently, we did see a organized response led by the NAACP to challenge a national agenda to suppress the Black and brown vote which would had seriously threatened Barak Obama’s re-election in 2012.
If they had been successful, it is my humble opinion, that we would have another person representing the office of US president.
While most of the State courts reacted positively, we still having a major challenge brewing that could roll back our voting rights.
It’s not winning the office that represents our power; it’s the vote and the process that gives us our real power.
The voting engagement allows us to keep the political pump primed and to use it to advance our socioeconomic agenda.
It also becomes the foundation for any legal challenge as well.
If we are to make the progress that we must have to change the trajectory of our people, we will need to have as much control of the political process that is legally allowed. On the federal level, we still need Black senators, and the optimal amount of Black representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
We must also maintain and/or retain the control of Black minority/majority cities of both the Mayor’s office and the City Council seats.
We need local municipal judges, federal judges, state Supreme Court judges, etc.
We will need to constantly address education, social, housing, economic development and civil rights programs.
Never has been there been one single voice for the Black people.
How do you think things get done? How did we get here? Let’s examine what happened during our captivity – from approximately 1500 – 1865.
We challenged America to live up to its own creed and in doing so we became an example to the whole world.
America’s luster while always great became greater because America had a very dirty, dirty secret (the enslavement of the African’s).
Our ancestors, whenever they had the opportunity would SPEAK OUT against the injustices facing our people.
While this might seem like not a whole lot, it was extremely dangerous for Blacks during the entire period of chattel slavery to speak out because they were threatened with their very lives (many of our heroes mysteriously and/ or publicly were tortured, murdered, and incarcerated for life).
There were numerous individuals who wrote and spoke on freedom for Black people. This helped begin to create public opinion and the formation of the Abolitionist movement.
In addition to challenging what’s wrong (and nothing was more wrong than the institution of slavery), when you have the heart and courage to SPEAK OUT, your message and your courage is rewarded because you find out that not everyone agrees with and/ or believes in the injustices perpetuated against the Black man and woman in America.
Also, the more public opinion began to shift the more people could speak out without being punished.
While nearly everyone with means in America was a direct or indirect beneficiary of the institution of slavery, slowly people began to distance themselves from direct involvement; this is the power of public opinion.
With the combination of legal challenges, shifting of public opinion on the legitimacy of slavery, the abolitionist movement grew.
Also during this same period we had a number of Black freedom fighters who took action and resisted slavery and used their capacities to CHANGE THINGS WITH THEIR HANDS.
Whether one spoke out, or attempted to change things with their hands, both should be viewed as actions that must be taken to change and/or right the wrongs being perpetuated against our people – it’s the ACTION, it’s the MOVEMENT, it’s the CIVIC ENGAGEMENT that I’m calling your attention to.
If this wasn’t done, America would look a lot different today for Black people.
This didn’t happen overnight; these efforts created a climate for change in America and ultimately forced the domestic battle over the American institution of slavery which ultimately resulted in the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation.
This is why politics is so important; this is why voting is so critical, but it cannot stand-alone. It only works when you have a collective agenda and you’re able to leverage and align your agenda with others that might not necessarily support you but share your agenda.