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The Return Of The Black Power Movement by Brad Lena

The black power movement exploded on the scene in the 1960's. In its panoramic sweep, it gathered in human expression in all its forms: art, poetry, literature, politics, culture, music, fashion and violence. Its energy was directed against the dominant culture's system of governance and not a specific political party, hence its power. This is no longer the case as black political allegiance migrated from its own community to a political party. America has a long tradition of using the labor and talent of black people to further the needs of the dominant culture without empowering blacks to meet their own needs. In recent times, part of the mechanism that sustains this inequity is single party allegiance. One of the great achievements of modern marketing is the promotion of a specific political party, in this case the Democrats, to so convincingly persuade a people that it represented their best chance for equity when the historical record doesn't support it.

The abolition of slavery, the 13th and 14th Amendments* illustrate this point. In the original 1856 Republican Party platform many of the planks called for the abolition of slavery and the granting of civil rights to African-Americans. The Democratic platform stated:

"All efforts of the abolitionists, or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences, and all such efforts have the inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people."

In 1860, the Republican platform reiterated the same anti-slavery positions. The Democratic platform declared its support for the Supreme Court's decision in the Dred Scott case that asserted African-Americans were property not people. In the election, American voters elected the Republican Lincoln and a Republican Congress. Many Southern Congressional Democrats left the next year to follow the South into secession.

In 1865, Congressed passed the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. 100% of the House Republicans voted for it. 78% of the House Democrats voted against it and 71% of the independents voted for it. In the Senate, 100% of the Republicans voted for it, 62% of the Democrats voted against it and 83% of the independents voted for it. Republicans in Congress passed a series of seven bills designed to enforce civil rights being denied to blacks in the South. The Supreme Court struck down most of these and in 1875 overturned the Republican law prohibiting segregation in Plessey v. Ferguson.

The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, was designed in ensure that African-Americans would enjoy all the rights and privileges granted to citizens of the State or the Nation. State Legislatures in the South, mostly controlled by Democrats, refused to ratify either amendment. When the ratification vote for the 14th Amendment did finally come, 96% of the Republicans in the House voted for it. 100% of the House Democrats voted against it. 91% of the third party House members voted for it. In the Senate, 94% of the Republicans voted for it. 100% of the Democrats voted against it. 50% of the third party Senators voted for it. Southern Democratic opposition to black civil rights continued and worked with the KKK in trying to prevent blacks from voting as documented in hearings held by Congress in 1868. The Republican Party, after taking the moral high ground early on in issues so critical to civil rights for American Blacks, drifted away, lost interest or no longer cared, except to defeat Democratic opposition to civil rights legislation in the 1960's. Considering this history and the black experience with both major parties, why should either party be routinely rewarded with the black vote?

The underlying issue is that as a system of governance matures, the political ruling class learns to manipulate the system for their own benefit. Their constituencies become secondary to their real objective, which is the acquisition of power and wealth. Politicians sell access and legislative influence. Political power takes time to acquire. The contacts they develop, so crucial to lucrative post-incumbency lobbying careers, do not mature quickly. Remaining in office is job # 1 in achieving this objective. Since the uniform voting of the black constituency can often determine the outcome of an election, it should be used to further the black agenda and not the interests of either major party.

A black power movement of the 21st Century, no longer restrained by single party allegiance, will change this paradigm. It will take new black leadership at the grassroots level. It doesn't have to be a new political party just function like one. Third parties grow until their issues are co-opted by the dominant political parties so as to extend their power and blunt the new party. This movement, instead, co-opts the political parties through their voting block discipline. As a way of demonstrating a new "black power," fire a warning shot across the bow by ending the career of a big-time Democrat politician or two by withholding or redirecting the black vote. This will serve to alert other politicians banking on reelection and those in charge of delivering the black vote that the power equation has changed. It also entices Republicans to be more responsive with the carrot that they might receive the black vote. This is hardball politics. There is no other kind. Can you think of two political parties that deserve it more?

This would send a shock wave through the system. What could the political ruling class do about it? Deny the vote to black people, tell them they can't use their vote in this way? Not likely. The ruling parties have put forth a great deal of effort to divide the populace into small and then smaller groups whose energies are monopolized by inter-group competition promoted and manipulated by the very same political ruling class. Divide and conquer, as a tool of political control, has never lost its effectiveness. The black community, as in all communities, is comprised of the entire spectrum of human capabilities, interests and values. It differs from white community at the voting booth. The white vote is much more fractured among the Democrats, Republicans and various third parties. Not so the black vote.

The black voting block is the most formidable weapon of change within the black arsenal. The question is: How to develop it and keep it community focused and not allow it to be usurped by the managers of race or corrupted by those who will lose power and prestige? Is this even possible? I for one, do not doubt the ability of a people who survived slavery, discrimination, injustice and fraud to, through their voting block power, intimidate politicians into actually doing the "people's business." I also know that there are committed energetic, moral and disciplined black people who cannot be bought, who love their people and expect, no they demand, that America lives up to its ideals. The black voting block is the Black Power Movement of the 21st Century if the community chooses to reclaim it from single party allegiance. If this happens, it will shake the very ground.

Brad Lena is a regular contributor to Mr. Lena is based in Asheville, NC and can be reached at

*Mr. Lena would like to acknowledge the historical research of David Barton of WallBuilders.

Brad Lena

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

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