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The Black Power Movement

Black Power! Two words that, until the mid-1960's, were seldom spoken in the same sentence. A revolutionary idea that took the racial lexicon to new heights in terms of self-identity - from colored to Negro to Black. The idea that African Americans had power, were powerful, could exert power, was a call to action and challenged the nonviolence of the 1960's civil rights movement.

So, what happened to this powerful, effective action group that while we didn't achieve everything we wanted to, did make a significant difference in Seattle? How and why did it fade away in 1968?

This was a lengthy period in the mid to late 1960's of ongoing confusion, contradictions, and mixed feelings about the term "Black Power" and its meaning. This was true at the national, as well as the local level. To put this complexity into perspective, it must be remembered this was a time of multiple simultaneous revolutions - the movement for civil rights, Black Power, Black Nationalism, peace, women, the United Farm Workers, efforts against the Vietnam War. Powerful voices from youth, both black and white saying they "weren't going to take it anymore." The civil rights movement was fractioning between nonviolent and violent strategies.

CORE, locally and nationally, was under pressure from these militant forces leading to serious questioning of our commitment to nonviolence, the negotiation process, and interracial cooperation as a way to bring about change. This contributed to turmoil in beliefs and scrutiny of tactics within our chapter and many CORE members questioned what it would take to bring about equality, nonviolence by any means necessary?

Groups like the Black Panthers and Black Muslims had power and energy, and presented persuasive examples of the advantage of all-black groups. These examples influenced a belief that only blacks could effectively produce results in the black community, and affected the direction of Seattle CORE. Almost inevitably, CORE too went in this direction, and whites drifted away.

People took jobs, moved out of the area, and became involved in other activities. It was the beginning of the end of an era focused on civil rights and integration and the dawn of an era of insistence on black identity and self-determination.

One analyst put it this way: "As is often the case in social movements, especially radical movements, one generation of activists often gives way to another. Parties or organizations change as members rethink their positions, fundamental political questions and re-strategize their approach for social change." In Seattle too, changing times required a different relevancy. CORE faded away sometime in 1968 due to lack of continuity of leadership, money, participants and also due to the powerful, changing times. Activists were attracted to new organizations that were doing things in new ways. CORE's ending marked the passing of an era and the birth of a new one.

One author observed that in the post sixties, Civil Rights activism took new forms. "Thousands of blacks were elected to office in northern cities, and an unprecedented shift occurred in the color of local and national politics. Unprecedented number of blacks served on City Councils, School Boards, local and federal courts, and as mayors. The shift in black political power may have been the most enduring consequence of the Civil Rights revolution."