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The First ‘Black Power’ Flyer?


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blackpower

Rider Joan Mulholland emailed me the exquisite document above recently:

Here’s a scan of a handbill (from Canton?) I came across in my “stuff” the other day — something I’d forgotten about over the years. I got it on the Meredith March, which I joined at Tougaloo for the last day. It had been folded to fit in the back of the little New Testament (along with a copy of my birth certificate — for identification purposes, living or dead) which I always had with me on demonstrations.

I’m thinking it must be one of the earliest “printed” (as in flyer, poster, etc.) references to Black Power.

It’s easy to see why it sure seems like the first.

The flyer was created just days after Stokely Carmichael unveiled his new phrase — “Black Power” — on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, MS. Carmichael was speaking to the protesters walking in the March Against Fear (aka, the Meredith March). He was one of several movement leaders who had rushed in to save the march when its instigator, James Meredith, was gunned down just two days into a planned solo walk from Memphis to Jackson.

Earlier that Thursday, Carmichael had been arrested and charged with trespassing after arguing with police about where the marchers, now several hundred, could set up their tents for the night. Once released from jail he went straight to the customary evening rally and spoke:

This is the twenty-seventh time that I’ve been arrested. I ain’t going to jail no more. The only way to we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What we’re going to start saying now is Black Power!

It was a contentious phrase within the movement, and a provocative one outside it. Its debut presaged a major evolutionary moment for the movement.

Eight days later — Friday, June 24 — the march reached Canton. Again there was a dispute about where the marchers could set camp for the night.

This time, however, in addition to a few arrests, authorities staged a tear-gas raid on the marchers’ evening rally, while Martin Luther King was speaking. David Garrow describes the scene in Bearing the Cross:

Suddenly, there was a loud noise and clouds billowed from a canister that had landed near the flatbed truck [on which the speakers stood]. “It’s tear gas. Everybody put a handkerchief over your face,” King bellowed. “Nobody leave. Nobody fight back. We’re going to stand our ground.” More canisters began to fall and as the tear gas welled up, King’s efforts to lead the crowd in singing “We Shall Overcome” failed. Choking and gagging, scores of marchers fled. The patrolmen advanced across the fields, swing their billyclubs at those who had not yet left.

King called the attack “one of the best expressions of a police state I have ever seen.”

Harry Benson was there and made this amazing photo.

canton1966

[Last year Benson told blogger Tim Nokes: "It was a very nasty night in Canton, Mississippi, at the height of the civil rights protests."

[The entire] march was traumatic. You didn’t know from one day to the next what the hell would happen. You would see young kids from all over America — this was where they spent their summer holidays. There was violence on every march, but the Meredith march was the biggest. It was the one that really began to galvanise the country.]

The next day the local leaders in Canton — the Madison County Movement — declared a boycott on white-owned city businesses and spread the word via the flyer above, making prominent use of the new slogan.

(1) Black Out for Black Power

(2) Work Stop for Black Power

(3) Register to Vote for Black Power

Joan Mulholland got her copy on Sunday, June 26, when the march ended with an eight-mile walk from the Tougaloo campus to the state capitol in downtown Jackson.

The March Against Fear was over, but the struggle between Carmichael’s and King’s competing visions, between “Black Power” and “Freedom Now,” had only begun.

Related posts:

  1. ‘Black Out Downtown Canton’
  2. How Stokely Carmichael Betrayed the Movement


3 Comments

Thanks for posting this on your blog, especially the picture from the night we were attacked by the Mississippi State Police, our “protectors” by direction of LBJ. One of the medical staff on the March, who was hobbled in one leg, was beaten when he went to aid a stricken marcher. I found an unconscious local child, about 7 years old, on the ground and was carrying her to get help when the FBI stopped me to ask about the welfare of a child who held dual Canadian/US citizenship, delaying my attempt to get aid for the girl in my arms. I was in the front row facing them when the police attacked. In their zeal to get into the crowd, they bypassed those of us in the front row and we mostly ended up unhurt, though chocking on the tear gas.

You may also be interested to know that when Stokely gave his speech in Greenwood on June 16, there was no unusual stirring among the crowd, though SCLC folks seemed “uncomfortable”. Everyone I could see from my vantage point toward the back of the group thought it a great idea. The next day, I learned that the nation was horrified at this radical new development. Many people who were expected to come to Tougaloo for the final rally canceled their plans.

In the immediate aftermath of the tear gassing, aids quickly hustled Dr. King out of the area. Stokely, however, was a very visible presence, telling people to go to the church (don’t remember which one). He stuck around until he was sure that everyone was cared for and/or out of harm’s way.

The tear gassing was ostensibly because the rally was being held on the grounds where the tents were supposed to be put up and people were determined to put them up there as they had done throughout the March.

Again, thanks for posting this.

Sam Carcione

Posted by Sam Carcione on 13 April 2010 @ 3pm

Thank you for posting this. You have shown me a wealth of NEW information about Black history.. I appreciate it!

Posted by M.P on 26 May 2010 @ 7pm

Thank God my father moved me out of Alabama when I was just a year old; or I’m sure I would have been a freedom rider-or dead. My grandfather, according to family legend, was killed by Bull Conner and his henchmen in Alabama. As a result my mother hated whites for much of her life and I initiallly didn’t understand her extreme hatred. As a city girl from Ohio I didn’t witness true and unfiltered racism, but I began to notice things when we’d go on visits to the South in the summer in the 60s. It was the reason I wanted to be a Black Panther when I went to college. Unfortunately I missed the Panthers as I was a little too young and by the time I got to college they had mainly been murdered. I had to find other ways to be an activist.

I have been reading a book that I missed in my Black history studies, it’s by Anne Moody one of the Freedom Riders. What courage!

Posted by taliba on 26 June 2010 @ 9pm