Radcliffe Fellow Reflects on Black Power Movement's Legacy

Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo
Harvard Crimson
February 26, 2016
By Rebecca C. Sadock

Today’s civil institutions reflect the legacy of the Black Power movement, argued Joyce M. Bell in her lecture, “Race and Resistance: The Lasting Legacy of the Black Power Movement” at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on Wednesday.

The Black Power movement allowed black people dissatisfied with the limited progress made by more moderate civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., in the early 1960s to demand further racial equality, according to Bell, who is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and a 2015-2016 fellow at the Radcliffe Institute.

“Black Power gave voice to a generation of black people who wanted more, more than the Civil Rights movement was asking for, and certainly more than the establishment was willing to give,” she said.

Bell emphasized that the Black Power movement prioritized “radical social change” through its focus on strengthening the black community, while simultaneously rejecting white cultural norms and values.

“Black power rejected the peaceful, nonviolent approach of the Civil Rights Movement, claiming instead that Black Liberation was an immediate emergency matter of survival,” Bell said. “The Black Power movement threw off the decorum of someone like King and chose to speak plainly, forcefully, and without regard for white feelings.”

Bell also discussed the impact of black professional organizations in supporting and encouraging efforts to consciously resist assimilation.

“These organizations were formed and served as the vehicle for protests within the professions,” Bell said.

Bell concluded her lecture by noting the Black Power movement’s resonance with young people, particularly those who are leading the Black Lives Matter and the New Black Student movements on college campuses. She said she hoped attendees would reflect upon the movement’s lasting legacy, but also upon society’s enduring racial inequalities.

“Knowing that so many black people see 2016 as so similar to 1966 should raise many more curiosities, and quite frankly, should give us all pause,” Bell said.

Jackie D. Bass, who attended the event, said she was impressed by the lecture, mentioning that she left with more appreciation for the Black Power movement’s impact on society.

“We don’t appreciate how impactful the Black Power movement was, that it wasn’t just this limited movement that went away, that it had a long lasting legacy,” Bass said.

Christopher Massenburg, the Nasir Jones Fellow at the Hip Hop Archive and Research Institute at Harvard commended Bell’s account of her new book, currently titled "Black Power Lawyers: Unique and Unorthodox Methods," that she is writing while at Radcliffe.

The book focuses on the organizational history of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and the impact of the Black Power movement on the organizations and its lawyers.

“I admired the attorneys’ response to the necessity for legal representation by folks who were black,” Massenburg said. “Dr. Bell did a great job of guiding us through her thinking and tying everything together in a really good way.”

Bell’s lecture is part of the 2015-2016 Fellows’ Presentation Series at Radcliffe.


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