With SNCC’s new chairman Stokely Carmichael and his chant for “black power” the civil rights movement takes on a different tone.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s unbudging determination to work out the black man’s problem in the black man’s way has provoked a strange response from the white side of the tracks. Suddenly there are uneasy stories about an ominous “black nationalism” in the South. And when Stokely Carmichael, SNCC’s new chairman, turned down an invitation to the White House conference on civil rights, this action is suddenly judged to be a new “hard line.”
Just what does the white man want? For a century he urged the Negro to stay in his place; but now when the Negro says, all right, that’s just what I’ll do, and I’ll make it a better place to be—he is called a “black nationalist” The difference between a Negro’s “staying in his place” and ‘black nationalism” is only a degree of temper the former is servile, the latter is angry. That’s the only difference, and the whites might as well admit it. When they complain about black nationalism, they’re not complaining about anything new, but now they are tacitly admitting fear of it, and that is new
As for SNCC’s refusal to suffer more talk about civil rights action, it does not really seem so radical. The school integration decision has been the law of the land for twelve years and less than 5 per cent of the Negroes of the South are attending integrated schools, the Civil Rights Act has been on the books for two years, and Negroes are still beaten when they try to buy food in public restaurants; the Voting Rights Act has been on the books for a year, and federal registrars still have not been sent, for example, to Sen. James Eastland’s home county, despite frequent pleas for their assistance. Totting up the need for action, SNCC’s impatience with more talk may be tactically unwise, but it is surely understandable.