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Even with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders working for change using nonviolence, as years went on, many African Americans got tired of waiting for change. Why was change taking so long?

Especially for young men in northern and western cities, the dream Dr. King spoke about in 1963 seemed like a promise that would never be kept. For them, leaders like Malcolm X who said that African Americans should look out for themselves instead of relying on White people, and a should be ready to use violence to protect their neighborhoods held answers that seemed more in touch with their lives.

So, even with the hopefulness and success of the nonviolence protests and marches, in the 1960s, violence began to increase. Was this always going to happen? Could the movement’s leaders have done anything to stop this? Could White Americans have prevented this turn toward violence?

What do you think? Was violence always going to be part of the Civil Rights Movement?


On August 11, 1965, the Watts district of Los Angeles turned violent. Police stopped Marquette Frye, for possible drunk driving. A crowd gathered as Frye was asked to step out of his car. When the officer drew his gun, the crowd lost control of their anger.

Too many times the African American residents of Watts had seen the White officers of the Los Angeles Police Department use excessive, or too much force. They were tired of being turned down for jobs in Watts by White employers who lived in rich neighborhoods. They were upset about the overcrowded living conditions in old apartments. The Frye arrest was the match that lit their fire. His arrest started five days of rioting, looting, and burning. The governor of California ordered the National Guard to bring order. When the smoke cleared, 34 people were killed and property damage was about $40 million.

Primary Source: Photograph

Police stand guard across from a burned out building during the 1967 Detroit Riots. A truck of National Guardsman rolls by.

The rising up of people in their cities of the late-1960s, part of what has often been called The Long, Hot Summer, had actually begun in 1964. When a White policeman in Harlem in New York City shot an African American teenager, something similar but smaller than Watts happened. In 1967, there were riots in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tampa, Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, and Rochester. The most serious riots of the summer took place in July, with the riot in Newark, New Jersey and the Twelfth Street riot in Detroit, Michigan.

President Johnson created the Kerner Commission to look at the causes behind the rioting. After a six-month study, the committee found that the riots started because African Americans were upset at the lack of jobs, blaming federal and state governments for failed housing, education, and services. The report also criticized the news media. “The press has too long basked in a White world looking out of it, if at all, with White men’s eyes and White perspective.”

The report’s most famous passage warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one White—separate and unequal.” The report said that White Americans had been creating the problem for many years.

The report suggested that one main cause of urban violence was White racism and suggested that White America was mostly responsible for the rioting. It called to create new jobs, build new housing, and end de facto segregation which led to ghettos that had been common in northern cities. To do this, the report recommended the government start new programs to provide needed services, to hire more diverse and sensitive police forces and, most importantly, to invest billions of dollars in housing programs aimed at breaking up segregation.

Sadly, few listened to the Kerner Commission’s ideas. Few White politicians were comfortable spending their reputations fighting to improve conditions in mostly African American inner cities, and in the 1960s and 1970s, only a few African Americans had been elected to public office.


When Malcolm Little was growing up in Lansing, Michigan, he developed a mistrust for White Americans. Ku Klux Klan terrorists burned his house, and his father was murdered, likely by local Whites attacking middle-class Black people. After this, his mother had to take care of Malcolm and his brothers and sisters; she soon started to have mental health issues problems Malcolm and his siblings were split up to live in foster care or with other families. When Malcolm was in middle school, he was elected class president and was one of the school’s top students. But his White English teacher—with whom he had gotten along with—laughed at Malcolm’s idea of one day becoming a lawyer. While his teacher had encouraged his classmates to dream big, he shut down Malcolm’s idea and told him that as an “n-word” he needed to be realistic. Then, after moving to Harlem in New York, after Malcolm worked in jobs on the railroad and exciting jazz clubs, he turned to crime. He was arrested and sent to jail.

The prison experience was eye-opening for the young man. He read more and worked on his education, often studying for fifteen hours a day. He learned how history had been told by the White man to erase the rich history of Black people, and how Whites often used their Christian religion to act “like a devil in virtually every contact he had with the world’s collective non-white man” as he later wrote in his autobiography. Other inmates, including Elijah Muhammad, convinced Malcolm to join the Nation of Islam. Upon his release, he was a changed man with a new identity. He changed his name to Malcolm X.

He changed his last name to X; X for the true African family name that he never could know. X replaced the last name Little, which the White people who enslaved his family forced them to use as their own.

Not only had Malcolm X given up his old name, but he had also given up Christianity, a religion they were forced to learn as slaves as well. Islam, Malcolm’s new faith, is one of the world’s largest religions, but for many African Americans, Islam had added meaning. When Wallace Fard founded the Nation of Islam in the 1930s, he said that Christianity was a White man’s faith. Although it had been founded by an Arab, Islam was practiced by many Africans and was a part of the African identity, said Fard. Like Muslims everywhere, members of the Nation of Islam read the Koran, believed in Allah as their God, and accepted Mohammed as their lead prophet. However, in America, Fard’s followers mixed the religious ideas of Islam with black nationalism. Fard’s followers became known as Black Muslims. When Fard mysteriously disappeared, Elijah Muhammad became the leader of the movement.

Primary Source: Photograph

Malcolm X was, and continues to be, an influential figure in the African American community. Dr. King preached civil disobedience and non-violence, but Malcolm X has a complex legacy, meaning he changed his opinions on racial integration and violence during his lifetime.

The Nation of Islam attracted many followers, especially in prisons, where African Americans who had suffered in a White society looked for guidance. The Nation of Islam preached sticking to a strict moral code and reliance on other African Americans. Integration was not a goal. Rather, the Nation of Islam wanted African Americans to set up their own schools, churches, and support networks. When Malcolm X converted to Islam, Elijah Muhammad saw his talents and made him a leader for the movement.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his ideas about peaceful change and joining of Whites and Blacks together in society in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Malcolm X delivered a different message. Whites were not to be trusted. He called on African Americans to be proud of their past and to set up strong communities without the help of White Americans. He thought there should be a separate place for African Americans in which they could rely on themselves to provide solutions to their own problems. He believed strongly in the idea of self-defense. African Americans should be able to have justice and equality and it did not matter how they got it, even if they used violence.

Malcolm X was exciting to people in cities with his smart words and style. However, in 1963, he split with the Nation of Islam after he fell out with Elijah Muhammad. In 1964 he made the religious trip to Mecca and afterward showed signs of changing his ideas on the need for racial division. He began to change to see that the problem was racism and the racism in American society, not just White people who society had taught to be racist. How things might have turned out is lost to a history. As Malcolm X led a meeting in Harlem, New York City on February 21, 1965, rival Black Muslims shot him. There remains a lot of mystery about his killing since the police and FBI saw him as dangerous and did not try to protect him. Although his life ended, the ideas he shared lived on in the Black Power Movement.


In 1966, Stokely Carmichael of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) told a group of marchers, “What we need is black power.” The people responded, “Black Power” and a new side of the civil rights movement began.

Carmichael and other young African American leaders liked the ideas of Malcolm X, and did not think that Whites and African Americans needed to live together. Carmichael believed that African Americans needed to have pride and self-respect first. Like Malcolm X, he wanted African American communities to get stronger without the help of Whites.

Chapters of SNCC and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) stopped letting Whites join as Carmichael gave up the idea of nonviolence. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP spoke against the idea of black power, but black power was a powerful message in the streets of American cities. For many young African Americans, racism was everywhere. They were always afraid of White police officers and White America had created rules to keep African Americans poor. Dr. King’s message of love, nonviolence, and integration into White society did not make sense to these young people.

African American students began to celebrate African American culture boldly and publicly. Young African American teenagers wearing traditional African colors and clothes at their colleges. Soul singer James Brown had his audience saying, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.” Young African Americans yelled, “Black Is Beautiful!”

The Black Power movement turned popular fashion upside down. In the 1930s, skin lighteners and hair straighteners were used by popular African American women trying to look whiter. By the end of the 1960s, being proud of the African heritage meant that afros and dark skin were popular.

Primary Source: Photograph

The black power salute at the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos got the nation’s attention. Some felt that it was disrespectful to the flag, while others celebrated it as a powerful message of resistance to racism. It was the first, but not the last time African American athletes would use the opportunity they had as televised celebrities to send a political message.

That same year, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale took Carmichael’s idea a step further and formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Openly carrying guns, the Panthers decided to take control of their own neighborhoods to push back against the police. Some activities led by the Panthers also including serving breakfast to over children, food program for families, helping schools, legal aid offices, clothing distribution, and health clinics. As the Black Panthers became more popular and spread to more cities, White leaders began to worry. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover spied on the Panthers and White leaders called them terrorists.

For African Americans, the hypocrisy was thick. Whites proudly talked about their Second Amendment right to own guns and Ku Klux Klansmen in the South shot African Americans and got away with it. However, the moment Black Panthers carried guns and said that they would defend themselves, they were called terrorists.

For many Americans, the Black Power movement arrived in their living rooms while watching the 1968 Olympics. During their medal ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a fist during the playing of the The Star-Spangled Banner. They turned to face the American flag and then kept their hands raised until the song had finished. It was one of the clearest political acts at the Olympic Games, and the first of many times African American athletes would use their moment on television to share their ideas about race in America.


The peaceful Civil Rights Movement was hurt in the spring of 1968. On the morning of April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at his hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. King had come to Memphis to support garbage workers who were on strike.

The night before, King had talked about the threats he had heard both then and throughout his life. At the end of the speech, King talked about his coming death, but said that he was not afraid to die. He said, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now… But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

As news of King’s murder spread, rioting broke out in cities across the country as people let out their anger. For most African Americans, the murder of Dr. King, a man of understanding and peace, was the worst kind of attack. In fact, with King’s death also died much of the energy for the protests and marches of the Civil Rights Movement. Although his followers continued to work for racial justice, the movement changed and the energy on the streets of the South, the courts, and the centers of political power began to disappear.

Dr. King is remembered as one of the nation’s greatest people. Time magazine had named him “Man of the Year” in 1963. In 1964, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and was called as “the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.” In 1977, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom after he died, the highest award a civilian American can earn. In 1983, his birthday became a national holiday, giving people a chance once each year to think about the ideas he spent his life to working for.


The violent protests in cities that first started in the summer of 1965 and happened often in the 1960s, led to a reaction from White Americans. Most fearful White Americans began to think about “law and order” more than civil rights. In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon decided to run for president and promised a return to law and order. Nixon had been vice president in the 1950s and had lost one of the closest elections in 1960 to John F. Kennedy. However, in 1968 he saw an opportunity to return to government.

Nixon also spoke to northern, blue-collar workers, whom he called the silent majority, to talk to them about their voices were not being heard. These voters were afraid of the social changes taking place in the country. Some felt left behind, as the government seemed to be focused on the problems of African Americans. Nixon promised law and order which they liked.

Nixon also used the Southern Strategy in 1968. Nixon’s team knew the fear that White people had and used code words to talk about ways Nixon could win the votes of racists, without sounding racist. While Nixon was against segregation and did not want to stop African Americans from voting, he still said that southern states should be allowed to change at their own pace and spoke out against forcing Whites and Blacks to integrate. This is how Nixon won the support of South Carolina’s senator and segregationist Strom Thurmond, which helped him win the Republican nomination and the election.

Since the end of the Civil War, most White Southerners had voted for Democrats. Abraham Lincoln had been a Republican. However, the 1968 election saw a major switch of the national parties as White Southerners switched to voting for Republicans under Nixon and African Americans started to vote for Democrats.


Once Nixon became President, he did not prioritize civil rights as much as Kennedy and Johnson. Support for civil rights was highest in the mid-1960s, when Martin Luther King’s was leading marches, and the news was reporting about things in the South. With King gone, and Black Power on the rise, Nixon did not feel the same pressure to act like other presidents had.

Since most students attended neighborhood schools. Because Whites and African Americans mostly lived in separate neighborhoods, schools also were mostly divided. To stop this, busses would transport students across town to create racially mixed schools. Nixon wanted a middle way between segregationists and liberal Democrats who liked integration. He supported integration, but he was against the use of bussing to force integration.

Nixon wanted to keep the support of southern conservatives, many of whom had voted Republican for the first time in 1968. These southern voters did not like the Democratic Party because of Kennedy and Johnson’s support for civil rights laws.

Nixon, however, was not a Southerner, and still wanted to make the lives of African Americans better. While civil rights progress slowed during his time as president, he did not try to stop the civil rights movement. In fact, Nixon created the first major federal affirmative action program. The program made it a rule that companies that did work for the government had to hire minority workers. This was a successful way to fight discrimination in the workplace. Although the program had been started many years before, Nixon made it much larger. Affirmative action was later used to other areas of American life, including college admissions.


As Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, crime in the United States was reaching an all-time high. While there were different reasons for the rise in crime, the most important one was about numbers of people. Most criminals were males between 16 and 36, and there were a lot of them because of the Baby Boomer generation. But most politicians thought that a new, cheap drug sold illegally on city streets was the main problem.

Crack cocaine, a smokable type of cocaine popular with poor addicts, was hitting the streets in the 1980s, scaring middle-class Americans. Reagan and other conservatives led a campaign to “get tough on crime” and promised the nation a war on drugs. Programs like the “Just Say No” campaign led by First Lady Nancy Reagan gave people the idea that drug use and drug-related crime were because of people’s poor choices rather than addiction as a disease or bigger social problems such as poverty.

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The rate of incarceration skyrocketed in America due to the War on Drugs. Many of those who were convicted were African American, and the effect on some neighborhoods has been catastrophic.

Nixon had first used the words “war on drugs” in 1971, but in the 1980s, the war on drugs took on a dark meaning, as politicians set tough punishments for drug offenders so they could be seen as tough on crime. State after state switched to mandatory minimum sentences that were long and especially harsh for crimes related to the sale of drugs. Part of this was racist as the new focus was on street drugs rather than crimes such as fraud or money laundering since the drug trade was carried out mostly by minorities. The federal government supported the new move with more money for local police departments. This law-and-order movement peaked in the 1990s, when California introduced a three-strikes law, like baseball, that required life in prison for any third felony conviction, even nonviolent ones. As a result, prisons became crowded with drug offenders, and states went into debt to build more.

By the end of the century, the war began to die down as the public lost interest in the problem, spending tax money on prisons made politicians unpopular, and scholars and politicians began to about change the laws about drug use. But the damage was already done. Hundreds of thousands of people had been put in prison for drug offenses and the total number of prisoners in the nation had grown 400%. The War on Drugs had been very hard for African Americans who were seven times more likely to be in prison. The effects on communities were terrible. Large numbers of young Black men were in prison and could not work, support families, or be parents.


On the evening of March 3, 1991, Rodney King and two passengers were driving west on the Foothill Freeway through the Lake View Terrace neighborhood of Los Angeles. The California Highway Patrol tried to make a traffic stop. A high-speed chase began. When King finally stopped, the two officers arrested him and his passengers.

After the two passengers were placed in the patrol car, five White Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers surrounded King, who came out of the car last. They tased him, beat with their batons, and tackled him to the ground before handcuffing him. Unknown to the police and King, the whole thing was recorded from a nearby apartment.

Primary Source: Video Still

The video of Rodney King being beaten by LAPD officers was shocking, not because the beating happened because African Americans knew such events were common, but because it was captured by a bystander on his video camera. In the days before cell phones, such video evidence was almost unheard of.

The video of King being beaten by police became the focus of media attention and a call to action in Los Angeles and around the United States. There was a lot of news attention during the first two weeks after the attack. The Los Angeles Times published 43 articles about it, The New York Times published 17 articles, and the Chicago Tribune published 11 articles. Eight stories appeared on ABC News, including a one-hour special on Primetime Live. In the days before the Internet and social media, this news story stayed popular, mostly because there was a video, which in the days before cell phone cameras, almost never happened.

Before the release of the Rodney King video, minority leaders in Los Angeles had often complained about LAPD officers attacking African Americans and other minorities. It was a problem that had been noticed by the Kerner Commission 26 years before but had never been fixed. In 1991, however, the Rodney King tape was the first time there was video to prove that what they were saying was true.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged four police officers with assault and use of excessive force. The jury in the trial was composed of nine White members, one bi-racial man, one Hispanic, and one Asian American. On April 29, 1992, after seven days, the jury decided that all four police officers were not guilty of assault and acquitted three of the four of using excessive force.

Rioting began the day the decision were announced, and got worse over the next two days. Many of the rioting was in South Central Los Angeles, where the population was mostly African American and Hispanic. A total of 63 people died during the riots and more than 2,000 people were reported injured. Approximately 3,600 fires were set, burning 1,100 buildings. There was a lot of looting also.

During the riots, Rodney King went on television and begged the police and rioters to stop. He said, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all just get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?… It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. Well, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here.”

Rioters also attacked stores owned by Koreans and other ethnic Asians that were mixed into the mostly African American neighborhoods where the riots happened. Many Korean Americans in Los Angeles call to the event Sa-I-Gu, meaning “four-two-nine” in Korean, in reference to April 29, 1992, the day the riots started. The week of riots is important to Korean Americans in Los Angeles.

Over 2,300 mom-and-pop shops run by Korean Americans were damaged. There was also a lot of emotion damage from. the riots for Korean American. In response, they started to work together to improve their lives in Los Angeles. A week after the riots, in the largest Asian American protest ever held in a city, about 30,000 Korean Americans walked the streets of the Los Angeles Koreatown, calling for peace and speaking out against police violence. They wanted to protect their political rights and identity. New leaders were found within the community, and second-generation children spoke on behalf of the community. Korean Americans began to have different goals, from storeowners to political leaders.

Even though they tried, most of the local stores affected by the riots were never rebuilt. Store owners had a hard time getting loans. Ideas about the city, or at least certain neighborhoods of it, started that kept money from being invested in the area, and stopped the creation of jobs and the return of some success in the South Los Angeles community.

Primary Source: Magazine Covers

Both Newsweek and Time Magazines used OJ Simpson’s mug shot on their covers. However, Time darkened the image, leading to accusations that they were perpetuating the stereotype that darker skin should be equated with criminality and violence.


On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her boyfriend Ron Goldman were found killed outside her condo in Los Angeles. Nicole Brown Simpson’s ex-husband was the football star OJ Simpson and police thought right away that he probably did it. Simpson did not turn himself in, and on June 17 police chased him in a white 1993 Ford Bronco. TV stations stopped showing the 1994 NBA Finals to show live footage of the chase taken from news helicopters. About a million Americans watched as OJ ran from the police. The chase and OJ’s trial were among the most watched events in American history.

OJ’s trial is sometimes called the Trial of the Century because it is so famous, was shown on live cable television. Many people watched the trial like a daytime soap opera. When the trial ended after eleven months on October 3, 1995, 100 million people watched or listened as the jury gave a verdict of not guilty for the two murders.

The verdict showed just how divided America still were after all the work of the Civil Rights Movement. According to a 2016 poll, 83% of White Americans and 57% of African Americans believe Simpson was guilty. Many people thought that it was wrong that OJ was found not guilty. For many White Americans, a murderer went free because of mistakes by the police and prosecutors and because Simpson had the money to hire the nation’s best lawyers. However, for many African Americans, the OJ Simpson verdict was a cause for celebration as one of their own had finally beaten the White man’s criminal justice system.


The Kerner Commission pointed out the source of African American frustration, although anyone who lived in the ghettos of America’s great cities could have explained the causes of the violence that marked the later part of the Civil Rights Movement. Lack of jobs, abuse by police, discrimination, and being ignored by the government were problems that Dr. King and other leaders tried to fix. However, for the young African American men and women of the late-1960s and in the years that followed, nonviolence was simply too slow or didn’t work. And being human, sometimes anger turned into violence before those with enough influence had time to help calm that anger.

Should Americans in the early 1960s have seen that the Civil Rights Movement would take this turn? Should those who held up Dr. King as the model of a good protester have known that his influence would not reach to every corner of every city? Should we, as people, know ourselves better?

What do you think? Was violence an inevitable part of the Civil Rights Movement?



BIG IDEA: In the later 1960s African Americans grew impatient with the slow pace of change and riots and violent confrontations became more common. With the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 the Civil Rights Movement lost much of its energy. Events in the 1980s and 1990s showed just how much work was still left undone.

African Americans in northern and western cities had suffered for decades. Their neighborhoods were poor and they had few job opportunities. Although they did not live in the South, their children attended poor schools and they faced discrimination when looking for jobs. Frustration boiled over in the 1960s and there were riots in cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, and Newark.

A government commission studied the riots to understand what caused them and to make recommendations to prevent future riots. In the end, however, elected leaders did not implement the commission’s recommendations.

Malcolm X was a leader of the Nation of Islam, an organization of African American Muslims. He believed that African Americans and Whites could not live together and that the best way to improve their lives was to become self-reliant. After he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and left the Nation of Islam, he began preaching a more inclusive message, but was killed by members of the Nation of Islam.

Some African Americans started to advocate Black Power in the later 1960s. They wanted African Americans to become self-reliant and to be proud. Some rejected nonviolence. One group, the Black Panthers, carried guns and promised to defend their neighborhoods from White police officers. The Black Power movement scared many Whites.

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Riots broke out in many cities as the news spread. King is remembered as one of America’s greatest leaders.

President Richard Nixon won election in 1968 by promising Whites in the South that he would not use the power of the federal government to promote civil rights. This was different from Democrats Kennedy and Johnson who had promoted new civil rights laws and had used the courts and National Guard to enforce civil rights. Nixon was not totally opposed to civil rights. He opposed bussing but promoted affirmative action.

In the 1980s, drug use increased and politicians promised to crack down. They past strict laws and people arrested for selling and possessing drugs ended up in jail with long sentences. These laws affected African American neighborhoods much more so than Whites.

In 1991, Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police when he was arrested. The attack was captured on video, however, the police officers were acquitted when they were put on trial. When the verdict was announced, a long riot broke out.

In 1995, football star OJ Simpson was put on trial in Los Angeles for murder. He was also acquitted. The OJ Trial was a media obsession. Many African Americans celebrated the outcome even though they believed he was guilty since is seemed like the first time one of their own could win in the justice system that had been biased toward Whites for so long.



Kerner Commission: Government commission appointed by President Johnson to study the urban riots of the late-1960. They found racism, lack of job opportunities, and poor education and social services as the root cause, but little was done to resolve the issues.

Malcolm X: Civil rights leader and spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He advocated African American self-reliance and was assassinated in 1965.

Nation of Islam: Organization of African American Muslims in the United States. It was led by Elijah Muhammad.

Black Muslims: Members of the Nation of Islam.

Elijah Muhammad: Leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934-1975. He and Malcolm X disagreed openly, leading to Malcolm X leaving the Nation of Islam.

Stokely Carmichael: Leader of SNCC who advocated for Black Power.

James Brown: African American soul singer and founder of funk music. His famous song “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” was a hit during the Black Power era.

Huey Newton: Along with Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party.

Bobby Seale: Along with Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party.

Black Panther Party: African American political organization founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in the late 1960s. They carried guns in an effort to protect African Americans from police and government violence.

Richard Nixon: Republican president elected in 1968. He gained the support of White Southerners by promising to reduce the involvement of the federal government in implementing civil rights laws in the South.

Rodney King: African American man beaten by Los Angeles police officers during an arrest in 1991. The beating was filmed and when the officers were found not guilty, the LA Riots ensued. He is famous for saying, “Can we all just get along?”

OJ Simpson: Heisman Trophy winning running back who was accused and found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend in 1995. His trial showed how racially divided the nation remained after the Civil Rights Movement.


Black is Beautiful: Phrase that captured the self-pride element of the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Black Power: Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s which emphasized African American self-reliance. It deemphasized the nonviolent protests led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and was embraced by more militant, younger activists such as members of the Black Panther Party.

Southern Strategy: President Nixon’s strategy to gain the support of White southern voters by promising to limit the use of federal power to implement civil rights changes. Because of this, White Southerners have mostly supported Republicans, while African Americans have mostly supported Democrats.


I’ve Been to the Mountaintop: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. In it he seemed to predict his own death.

Can we all just get along?: Famous question posed by Rodney King during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.


The Long, Hot Summer: Nickname for a series of urban riots that took place in African American neighborhoods of major northern and western cities between 1964 and 1968. The cause of the riots was studied by the Kerner Commission.

Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics: Famous political statement made by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African American runners, who raised closed fists during the National Anthem after winning medals the 1968 Olympics.

Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Killing of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by rioting in most major cities.

1968 Presidential Election: Watershed election in American history in which the coalitions that supported each party shifted. Due to Nixon’s Southern Strategy, White Southerners switched to the Republican Party and African Americans switched to the Democratic Party.

War on Drugs: Nickname for a collection of programs and laws passed in the 1980s to fight the spread of crime related to the use and sale of drugs. It especially was known for the passage of strict sentencing laws that resulted in overcrowding of jails.

1992 Los Angeles Riots: Urban riots that followed the not guilty verdict in the beating of Rodney King by officers of the LAPD.

Trial of the Century: The highly publicized trial of OJ Simpson in 1995 for the murder of his ex-wife and her boyfriend. He was found not guilty. The trial revealed how racially divided the nation remained.


Bussing: Government policy of transporting students from one area of a town to another to attend school in order to create integrated school populations when neighborhoods were mostly segregated.

Affirmative Action: Government program in which certain numbers of minorities are hired in order to match the racial makeup of the surrounding population.

Three Strikes Laws: Nickname for state laws passed during the 1980s and 1990s that called for lifetime sentences for drug offenders convicted for their third time. It resulted in jails filling up with non-violent criminals and the social destruction of some neighborhoods.

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