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A New Civil Rights Perspective
on July 5, 2010
"Dark Days and Bright Nights" gave me a new perspective on the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's. I always viewed the efforts of Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Jessie Jackson, et.al as a unified civil action with multiple facets (NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, etc.) and that the more militant aspect evolved from this base. I was also under the impression that Malcolm X and Stokley Carmichael were, at least in the beginning, on the fringe of the movement until the Black community became frustrated and impatient with lack of progress of the "main stream" civil rights organizations and began to accept a more militant and violent agenda. I was wrong.
After reading this book I realized that my perspective was simplistic and uninformed. Dr. Joseph points out that the militant dimension of the Black Power of the Civil Rights Movement did not evolve from the more mainstream civil rights organizations but rather developed parallel to these movements. Paraphrasing Dr. Joseph's insight, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Jessie Jackson, et. al. were putting pressure to change the system (segregation, racism, Jim Crow) from the outside whereas Black Power movement, personified in Malcolm X and Stokley Carmichael, was concentrated on the inside of the Black community by advocating positive self-identity and the importance of developing a Black power base in local communities. Both Malcolm X and Carmichael were exceptional community organizers and this ultimately constituted the basis for the development of Black Power.
Though the various Civil Rights groups involved in the Movement were directly tied to the rights of African-Americans they did not constitute a united, coordinated, effort but rather constituted a very loose conglomeration of organizations and groups based on divergent philosophies on how to accomplish a single goal--full incorporation of the Black community as full participants in American society, with the rights and privileges guaranteed under the Constitution of the U.S.
Finally, Dr. Joseph's treatment of the election of President Obama is based on the his interpretation of the events of the 60's. I found his observations insightful and interesting. He points out that the election of President Obama does not signify that our racial problems are resolved--his personal achievement does equate to the sudden realization that the racial landscape has changed in America; it has not. That his election is a positive and historic step in the right direction, there is no doubt. But as Dr. Joseph implies, we still have much more to learn from the likes of Malcolm X and Stokley Carmichael.