In the rich landscape of historical scholarship, the past two decades have witnessed a profound resurgence in the exploration of the intricate tapestry of the Black Power movement. This collective scholarly endeavor transcends traditional narratives, unveiling the movement’s multifaceted origins, grassroots mobilization, contributions of African American women, far-reaching political impacts, and global resonance. This report spotlights the conference’s emerging research in American and European historiography, breathing new life into the narrative. While some papers reexamined familiar paths that have aroused the curiosity of Black Power historians, illuminating African American women's narratives, education, and global impact, others ventured into uncharted territory, exploring the interplay of religion and alliances with the LGBTQ movement.
The conference aimed to provide a comprehensive exploration of the movement’s chronicles, recognition of seminal works, and probing global dimensions. With its focus on women’s roles, case studies, education, religion, cooperation, and LGBTQ intersections, this event was an insightful confluence of ideas. Within this conference, a palpable synergy united early-career scholars and established historians, collectively forging a path towards a more nuanced understanding of Black Power’s legacy.
GLORIA FEARS-HEINZEL (Frankfurt am Main) examined the confluence of Black Power and LGBTQ movements, referencing Huey Newton’s insights on “Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements.” Exploring intersectionality, solidarity, and oppression, Fears-Heinzel drew from McCammon, Moon, Hobson, Stewart-Winter, Farmer, and Spencer. Focusing on the Black Panther Party’s 1973 shift to electoral politics in Oakland’s elections, including collaboration with the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, they speculated on cooperative potential and challenges. Amid the late 1960s’ civil unrest, their study bridged gaps in research on cooperative efforts between these movements, shedding light on shared goals and challenges.
DANIELA VALDES (New Brunswick) explored the martial arts style developed by incarcerated men in the 1960s and 1970s for self-defense. Mother Dear, an influential figure, fused boxing, Asian martial arts, and dance into her fighting style, aligning it with Black Power and LGBTQ history. Valdes employed oral history and archival research to illuminate this transformative era, highlighting the impact of Mother Dear’s teachings on individuals like Grace Detrevarah, a transgender woman. The paper unveiled a compelling narrative of empowerment, resistance, and intersectionality amid increased criminalization and societal change.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, Black Power studies have explored the connections between African American radicals and Global South revolutionaries. Transnational perspectives have highlighted cross-border interactions in the movement’s growth, with a focus on decolonization’s significance, especially in the Caribbean. However, disciplinary divisions have sidelined this aspect. DEBBY ESMÉE DE VLUGT (Utrecht) addressed this gap and delved into decolonization’s role in Black Power, examining its presence in Bermuda, the Caribbean, and the Black Pacific. By bridging disciplinary divides and analyzing case studies, the paper aimed to enhance our understanding of transnational Black Power and its transformative impact in varied contexts.
MATTI STEINITZ (Bielefeld) described how the Cuban Revolution deeply influenced the Black Power movement, serving as a model of socialism challenging racial discrimination. Cuba’s support for African American activists like Robert Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Assata Shakur highlighted its Third World alliances against U.S. hegemony. Steinitz explored Cuba’s contradiction between international solidarity and state repression towards critiques of racism under socialism. The presentation illuminated the complex interplay of solidarity and censorship, focusing on Afro-Cuban activists and African American exiles. Steinitz bridged African American and Latin American Studies, revealing how the Cuban Revolution’s impact on Black Power movement intersected with issues of race, identity, and global struggle. Notable moments, like Stokely Carmichael’s speech at OLAS Havana, Fidel Castro’s meetings with Malcolm X, and the experiences of Robert Williams and Eldridge Cleaver in Cuba, underscored the intricate dynamics between revolutionary ideals and racial realities.
SASKIA PAPADAKIS (Manchester) discussed the Imperial Typewriters Strike in the UK of 1974. The Leicester strike, led by Ugandan Asian workers and supported by Black activists, challenged racism within British trade unions. Papadakis highlighted the strike’s importance in the Black workers’ struggle, its framing by Black Power and political Blackness, and its relevance for contemporary anti-racist organizing. The strike’s context, including Ugandan Asian migration, the National Front’s rise, and solidarity between Black and Asian workers, showcased its broader significance in confronting racism and inspiring activism.
ASHLEY FARMER (Austin) delivered the keynote in which she shed light on the overlooked figure of Audley Moore, a pivotal influence in Black Power history. Moore’s UNIA affiliation, Black nationalist identity, and Garveyism played significant roles. Despite her activism flourishing in her seventies and eighties, her work lacks a comprehensive archive. Farmer questioned the absence of Moore’s research in the Black Power archive and explored the potential of her legacy to reshape archival concepts. Moore’s connection to the Communist Party, her role in the Modern Reparations Movement, and her impact on African liberation underscored her multifaceted contributions. The keynote urged nuanced understandings of Black nationalism and archiving practices, advocating for a more inclusive approach to historical narratives. During the discussion, topics ranged from Moore’s relationship with Uganda to her religious and feminist perspectives, highlighting the complexities of her identity and legacy. The discourse underscored the need for a diverse and ethical approach to Black Power archiving.
VENUS BENDER (Frankfurt am Main) investigated how Black Power of the late 1960s impacted church members’ perception of the Bible and Black liberation. Black Power ideologies reshaped theologians’ Christology, most prominently seen in Albert Cleage, visualizing Jesus as a Black messiah, thus fueling resistance within churches and literature. Despite apparent opposition between Black Power and the Black Church, the study highlighted writings and art that reinterpreted the Bible through a Black Power lens, inspiring the radicalized pursuit of social justice. This reimagined Christ image served as a driving force for both Black Christian activists and artists, bridging ideological gaps.
TEJAI BEULAH HOWARD (Ohio) addressed the underexplored connection between Black Power and the Black Church. Focusing on Tom Skinner, a Black evangelical preacher, the paper highlighted how Skinner integrated Black Power concepts to depict Jesus Christ as a revolutionary figure similar to John Shaft. Despite being overlooked due to his conservatism, Skinner’s writings and speeches spread his gospel message, emphasizing Jesus’s role in combating racism and poverty. The presentation explored the convergence of Black Power and Christianity in Skinner’s work and its contemporary relevance in addressing racial issues, especially during the Trump era.
MAURICE D. GIPSON (Columbia) explored the influence of Black Power in Arkansas, an often overlooked aspect of the movement. Gipson examined the intersection of Black Power and college campuses, focusing on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He highlighted the transformation of activism and rhetoric among Black students, demonstrating their demand for change within the educational system and society. The presentation emphasized the local context, the impact of Black students’ efforts, and the complexities of their activism, providing insight into Arkansas’ unique role in the Black Power movement. The commentary and discussion delved into methodological and historiographical considerations, the role of women and class analysis, as well as the broader socio-political context of Arkansas.
SHANLEIGH CORRALLO (New York) examined local Black Power movements through the lens of FIGHT and BUILD, focusing on the FIGHTON Factory in Rochester, New York. She analyzed the structures, ideologies, and outcomes of these groups. FIGHTON Factory’s blend of Black capitalist and socialist ideals led to a successful and impactful endeavor that challenged corporate norms. Corrallo suggested reassessing success, embracing contradictions, and exploring innovative methodologies to understand Black Power’s complex dynamics. Commentary explored refusal, economic dimensions, women’s roles, and the interplay of capitalism and socialism.
CONSTANTIN BERLIN (Frankfurt am Main) explored the role of James Boggs as both an architect and critic of Black Power in Detroit. Boggs, a Chrysler auto worker and organic intellectual, played a significant role in shaping and critiquing Black Power in Detroit. The presentation examined his left-wing interpretation of Black Power, his critiques of the movement’s mainstream and radical strands, and his engagement with other activists. Commentary delved into Boggs’ critical stance, methodological approaches, and his connections to broader movements like the Black Panther Party and socialist initiatives.
SARAELLEN STRONGMAN (Haven Hall) delved into the realm of Black lesbian poets in 1973, notably Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, shedding light on their engagement with Black Power politics, their place within the Black Arts movement, and their challenges in a gendered and often heteronormative environment. Strongman explored Lorde’s spiritual connection to the Black Power movement, her literary contributions as a lesbian poet, and Parker’s impactful poems. Highlighting their responses to politics and the intersectionality of their identities, the paper examined how their work persisted over time and contributed to a deeper understanding of revolution beyond just “male chauvinism.”
JASMIN YOUNG (Riverside) analyzed the historical practice and theoretical conceptions of armed resistance by Black women throughout history, highlighting figures like Ida B. Wells, Linda Berman, Assata Shakur, and others. Young emphasized the significance of understanding armed resistance as a philosophy encompassing various terms like uprisings and armed self-defense. The paper showcased how Black women’s upbringing, family experiences, and community environments contributed to their perspectives on self-defense and activism. The presentation engaged in discussions about childhood lessons, the importance of self-defense, and the factors driving women to join movements. The absence of archives, particularly regarding the Third World Woman’s Alliance, was also addressed in the discussion.
VIOLA HUANG (Middlebury) presented on the role of Black Power in education through case studies like the Sidney Jones Parents Association of PS125, Manhattan, 1967, highlighting demands from the community, boycotts, and the beginnings of the West Harlem Liberation School. These schools fostered critical thinking, activism, and solidarity, embodying Black Power’s values of justice and education, highlighting education’s role in the movement for social justice. Comments by Donna Murch emphasized the historiography of Black Power, gender dynamics, the role of figures like Preston Wilcox, and addressed the relevance of the Black Panther Party in Harlem, considering gender roles and religious aspects within community organizations.
ROBERT P. ROBINSON (New York) delved into the legacy of the Oakland Community School, a Black Panther Party initiative, focusing on the education of Black youth through the lens of critical thinking and integrational space. The presentation argued that the OCLC served as a hub for Panther programs, extending the tradition of using educational spaces for holistic Black communal care. Comments by Donna Murch highlighted the significance of Robinson’s revisionist work, epistemological framework, and sourcing methods, discussing historical contexts such as Marcus Foster’s impact on education and the Black Panther Party, along with questions about the school’s reach and New York’s BUILD Academy.
In the roundtable discussion, the expert commentators explored the future of Black Power historiography, the challenges ahead, its legacy, and its impact beyond the 1980s, considering perspectives from various disciplines and national contexts. Questions arose regarding the role of British scholars and their limited presence, the need to center the voices of marginalized communities, the importance of global perspectives, the impact on education systems, the complexities of archival work and access, and the responsibility of scholars to engage with and support ongoing movements for social change.
As the Black Power conference concluded and its discussions unfolded, several pivotal insights emerged: 1. The multifaceted evolution of Black Power across distinct contexts, both domestic and international, underscored the complexity of its impact and resonance. 2. Delving into the semantics of terms like Black Power, self-determination, and liberation proved essential for grasping the nuanced perspectives surrounding this movement and its various manifestations. 3. Embracing interdisciplinary approaches, along with historical and sociopolitical lenses, holds immense promise for deepening our comprehension of the forces shaping the Black Power era and its legacy.
Simon Wendt (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main): Introduction
Panel 1: Black Power and Queer History
Chair: Simon Wendt (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)
Gloria Fears-Heinzel (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main): Black/Gay/Power/Liberation: Electoral Politics as Common Ground
Daniela Valdes (Rutgers University, New Brunswick): Rethinking the 52 Hand Blocks and Mother Dear: Gender Outlaws, Black Power Legacies of Self-Defense, and Urban Change in New York, 1970-1980
Commentator: Emily K. Hobson (University of Nevada, Reno)
Panel 2: The Global Dimensions of Black Power
Chair: Cedric Essi (Osnabrück University)
Debby Esmeé de Vlugt (Utrecht University): Towards a Historiography of Decolonial Black Power
Matti Steinitz (Bielefeld University): Contested Solidarities: Revolutionary Cuba and the Black Power Movement
Saskia Papadakis (University of Manchester): Black Power, Black Workers: Revisiting the 1974 Imperial Typewriters Strike
Commentator: Anne-Marie Angelo (University of Sussex)
Ashley Farmer (University of Texas-Austin): Queen Mother Audley Moore and the History of Black Power
Panel 3: Black Power and Religion
Chair: Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson (University of Augsburg)
Venus Bender (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main): Faith-Based Resistance: Examining the Impact of Black Power on Church Members and the Image of Christ
Tejai Beulah Howard (Methodist Theological School in Ohio): How Tom Skinner Created and Spread the Black Power Gospel
Commentator: Kerry Pimblott (University of Manchester)
Panel 4: Black Power in America: Case Studies
Chair: Manfred Berg (Heidelberg University)
Maurice D. Gipson (University of Missouri, Columbia): Moving the Movement Forward: Black Power and the Demand for Radical Change in Arkansas
Shanleigh Corrallo (New York): The Ebbs and Woes of Industrial Black Power: Historicizing FIGHT and BUILD in Pursuit of Local Black Power Histories
Constantin Berlin (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main): Left-Wing Critics of Black Power: James Boggs as an Architect and Critic of Black Power in Detroit
Commentator: Robyn C. Spencer (Lehman College)
Panel 5: Women and/in the Black Power Movement
Chair: Brian Behnken (Iowa State University)
SaraEllen Strongman (University of Michigan, Haven Hall): Movement In Black: Black Lesbian Poets and Black Power Politics
Jasmin Young (University of California, Riverside): Roots of Resistance: African American Women, Black Power, and Armed Resistance
Commentator: Rhonda Williams (Vanderbilt University)
Panel 6: The Black Power Movement and Education
Chair: Simon Wendt (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)
Viola Huang (Middlebury College): Black Power, Education, and Radical Social Transformation
Robert P. Robinson (John J. College of Criminal Justice, New York): A History of the Hub: The Panthers’ Oakland Community Learning Center as a Black Tradition
Commentator: Donna Murch (Rutgers University)
Roundtable Discussion: Where Do We Go from Here?
Anne-Marie Angelo (University of Sussex), Ashley Farmer (University of Texas-Austin), Donna Murch (Rutgers University), Kerry Pimblott (University of Manchester), Robyn C. Spencer (Lehman College), Rhonda Williams (Vanderbilt University)