Monday, November 5, 2012

Black Power Forum of 1967

Throughout the 1960s, Greensboro served as a key site for the civil rights movement. After the Sit Ins and protests of the early 1960s, the middle of the decade saw the ideals of black self-determination and pride being spread throughout Greensboro and the nation. The term “Black Power” first entered the national consciousness through Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader Stokely Carmichael’s speech at the March Against Fear in 1966. Black Power soon became known as a movement for solidarity within the black community and the fight for racial independence.

Agenda for November 1, 1967,
the first day of the Black Power Forum
While students at North Carolina A&T University stood as leaders in the movement, discussions were not limited to the area’s historically black colleges and universities. On November 1-3, 1967, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro played host to a controversial Black Power Forum, organized in large part by the UNCG Student Government Association to “inform students and faculty members of this movement and its actions and to give us a chance to discuss Black Power, its history, its political and social implications for us and the nation.” 

The forum was organized around three topics: “Black Power past and present,” “the ghetto,” and “Black Power and the self-image of the Negro.” Speakers from across the country were brought in for presentations and discussions held in Cone Ballroom. Attendance the first day was judged “poor” with fewer than 75 attendees at the initial session, but by Thursday evening attendance had grown to 800. A UNCG report summarizing activities after the conclusion of the Forum noted “that off-campus people outnumbered UNCG students and faculty, that they were primarily Negroes and males, that a considerable number of them seemed to be sympathetic toward the concepts of Black Power, and that they often expressed their feelings with applause or cheers.”

The Forum did not occur without controversy. Editorials and essays declared that the University had been “used” by activists with a specific agenda. Rumors abounded that Ku Klux Klan members planned to attend the Forum, and UNCG Chancellor James Ferguson was forced to ask police officers with the City of Greensboro to attend each of the scheduled sessions to “guard against possible trouble.”

Black Power Forum participants, 1967
Additionally, administrators expressed concern that the sessions “did not produce a detached, objective examination of the ideas of Black Power but were given over to vigorous exhortations in support and advocacy of the movement.” But they could not deny that the Forum provided students with a learning opportunity. As stated in the UNCG report, “today’s students, today’s citizenry in general must learn all they can about the nature of Black Power and the forces that brought it into being. They need to be aware of the task before them. Above all, they should not wait until a crisis develops – until there is a riot in the streets – to gain knowledge of this troublesome subject.”

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