Urban Unrest and Militant Protest
When Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968, a new wave of riots spread across the country. A report by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson, identified more than 150 riots between 1965 and 1968. In 1967 alone, 83 people were killed (most of them black), 1,800 were injured, and property valued at more than $100 million was destroyed.
The growing black-consciousness movement and the aggressive civil rights activism of the late 1960s resulted in what some have termed the white backlash. White supporters of moderate black organizations and activities declined. Harassment of some activists - especially the Black Panther party and Black Muslims, or Nation of Islam - became common. Federal programs beneficial to poor ghetto youth were cut back, and the direction taken by the Supreme Court weakened the base for progress set under Chief Justice Earl Warren. Evidence began to leak out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had sought to discredit and destroy Martin Luther King, Jr., as a leader and had participated in efforts to reduce the effectiveness of some African American organizations.
Black Pride. The riots, the white backlash, and new developments within the black community during the late 1960s brought to an end one phase of the civil rights movement. The chief characteristic of the black experience in the 1970s and early 1980s was the development of African American consciousness and black pride. These values found renewed vigor as increasing numbers of African Americans came to believe that the key to dealing with problems of race in the United States was the way they felt about themselves as individuals and as a group.
The concept of black pride had been earlier articulated in such slogans as "black is beautiful" and "black power." The latter, introduced (1966) by Stokely Carmichael, the chairman at that time of SNCC, became the rallying cry for the more radical civil rights activists of the latter half of the 1960s. It found organizational expression in the Black Panther party, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the Black Muslims, and other groups. Leading spokespersons of the concept of racial pride included Malcolm X, Imamu Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones), Ron Karenga, and Huey Newton. This concept frightened some whites who perceived it as racism.
Fuller Participation. Beginning in the 1960s many African Americans focused on political activity as a means of obtaining justice, equality of opportunity, and full political participation. During this Second Reconstruction, as the period has been called, a rapid increase occurred in the number of black registered voters, particularly in the South, followed by a marked increase in the number of black elected officials. Even before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, black voters were influential in some Northern states, as in the election to the presidency of Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. In the presidential election of 1976 widespread African American support for the Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter produced critical parts of his majorities in several Northern and Southern states.
In 1984 the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist in the 1960s, first campaigned in the primaries for the Democratic party presidential nomination. He won over 3 million primary votes (and about 75% of the black vote) but fell far short of winning enough convention delegates to gain the nomination. In 1988 his second failure to win the nomination was a history-making event - he ran second in the primary season, winning 6.6 million votes and about 30% of the delegates to become the first "serious" African American contender for the presidency. Jackson attracted 92% of the black vote and 12% of the white. He addressed issues of interest to a wide public, did much to register new voters, and secured himself a prominent place in national politics. In 1992, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, the first elected African American governor in the United States, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination.
A steady increase in African American elected officials has taken place at all levels of government since the 1960s. In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first black Supreme Court justice (succeeded by Clarence Thomas in 1991). Also in 1967, Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts became the first black member of the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction. In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first black woman U.S. senator. In the mid-1970s, 17 African Americans served in the House of Representatives, among them, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, and Andrew Young; by 2001 the number was 37.
From the mid-1960s through 2001, African American mayors of major cities included Carl Stokes and Michael R. White in Cleveland, Ohio; Tom Bradley in Los Angeles; Willie L. Brown, Jr. in San Francisco; Kenneth Gibson and Sharpe James in Newark, N.J.; Richard Hatcher in Gary, Ind.; Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, and Bill Campbell in Atlanta, Ga.; Ernest Morial in New Orleans, La.; Walter Washington, Marion Barry, Jr., Sharon Pratt Kelly, and Anthony A. Williams in Washington, D.C.; Coleman Young and Dennis W. Archer in Detroit; Harold Washington in Chicago; Willie Herenton in Memphis, Tenn.; Kurt Schmoke in Baltimore, Md.; Wilson Goode and John Street in Philadelphia; and David Dinkins in New York.
African Americans began to fill major appointive positions in force in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, when Patricia Roberts Harris became the first African American woman cabinet member as secretary of housing and urban development.