Social Movement Seminar Paper :
Framings of the Black Power Movement
Table of Content
Framing the message
The United States in the 1960s was the battleground of the black struggle for freedom. After hundreds of years of continued and unbereable discrimination, the black community finally rose to fight against segregation, the Jim Crow laws, and the daily suffering. Organizing their struggle, one central movement rose, the Civil Rights Movement, which marched through Washington screaming “Freedom Now !“ and following the wise and inspiring words of the great Martin Luther King Jr. preaching : “Let Freedom Ring !“
Yet, while this movement was successfully leading the black community towards official equality, many members started feeling that it wasn’t enough : equality was only a step towards true freedom. In order to be completely free and independent, the black community needed to be respected on a daily basis by every white American, not only the senator or the President who would sign on a bill for equal voting rights. Thus, we started seeing in the mid-1960s the rise of a new trend within the struggling forces : one that preached for the black man to be proud, feared, autonomous, and open to explore the American dream. This new trend, embodied by the Black Power movement, showed its fist to an American white society who was used to see the balance, and declared with force that, from now on, the new word was “Black Power“.
Most of the academic analysis of the two movements, considering their succession and their similarities, sees the Black Power movement as nothing more than the natural continuation, or development, of the Civil Rights Movement. However, this point of view seems to simplify quite excessively the uniqueness and specificities of the Black Power movement. Thus, this paper asks : how did the Black Power movement distinguish itself from the Civil Rights Movement ? The approach chosen to answer this question lies on the framing theory. Indeed, historically, it cannot be denied that the Black Power movement found the justification for its creation in the Civil Rights Movement directly. We could even claim that, probably, the Black Power movement would not have been what it became if it had not have the Civil Rights Movement as its predecessor. Therefore, it is through framing that the Black Power movement distinguished itself. Framing refers to “a conscious effort by groups of people to fashion shared understandings of the world and of themselves that legitimate and motivate collective action“ . This paper will argue that the Black Power movement genuinely succeeded in distinguishing itself through its interpretation of traumatic events the black community was experiencing, as well as of the successes achieved by the Civil Rights Movement. The Black Power movement adopted symbols to represent the movement that were willingly different, sometimes even diametrically opposed to those used by the Civil Rights Movement. And of course, the Black Power movement, through its unique justification, aimed at triggering a collective action that favoured violence and aggressivity, conversely to the Civil Rights Movement’s call for peaceful action and peace with the white community. Understanding this clear difference is essential in order to realize the complete dimension of the Black Power movement. Merging it with the Civil Rights Movement leads too easily to mix the two and undermining the uniqueness of the Black Power movement. Also, as the Black Power movement has been and still is a source of inspiration for many other social movements that were born since then, as well as an eternally source...
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