Black Power: 1968 and Beyond

Shari€ Wright WI Contributing Writer | 3/30/2009, 2:39 p.m.

The Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture presented a two day symposium, Mon. March 30 and Tue. Mar. 31, to highlight, honor, and discuss the Black Power Movement. €1968 and Beyond: A Symposium on the Impact of the Black Power Movement on America,€ was held at the Smithsonian€s American Art Museum and Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, since the NMAAHC has yet to be built. €While our building doesn€t exist yet, we still sponsor programs and hold them in different museums,€ said LaFleur Paysour, publicist for NMAAHC.

Poets and playwrights, professors and organization leaders all took the stage at Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium to speak on their stories and their moments amidst the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Some of the featured speakers included Johnnetta B. Cole, director of the Smithsonian€s National Museum of African Art, democratic strategist Ron Walters, writer and one of the founders of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem, Amiri Baraka, Peniel Joseph, associate professor of African and Afro-American studies at Brandeis University and Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, professor in the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and director of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committees Washington office.

Each panel was to detail their viewpoints on various topics such as, €People Get Ready, There€s a Change A€Comin: Civil Rights and Black Power€"Rediscovering Their Distinctions and Intersections,€ Nationalism and Pan-Africanism€ and €RESPECT!: Engendering Black Power€"Black Women and Politics of Black Liberation.€ €We€ve been talking about power from the beginning, essentially political power. There is a lengthy history in black power,€ said Charles Cobb, Jr., a professor of Africana studies at Brown University and former field secretary for the SNCC. Cobb, along with Baraka, spoke on the Black Power Movement€s fuel, sincerity and seriousness and said it belonged to the need for liberation, equal rights and the pressing issue of self-determination. €People heard Black Power and thought it was rhetoric. No. We were talking about true liberation through this movement,€ said Askia Muhammed Toure, activist, educator, poet, and former member of SNCC, whom was also on this particular panel, €We had total dedication of our lives to the advancement of our people,€ added Toure.

Donna Murch, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, spoke on the €Black works for a Black audience,€ and led the panel discussion for €To Be Young, Gifted and Black: the Black Arts, Black Consciousness, and the New Black Aesthetic.€

This particular panel focused on the strength that the arts afforded the movement. The panel€"which included Sonia Sanchez, acclaimed writer and activist, Woodie King, Jr., award-winning theater director and producer and Frank Smith, esteemed painter and member of the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists, all revealed and confirmed the essential nature of literature, visual art, dance and music to America. They concurred that Black art was enormous during these times, as it €influenced everything; black arts influenced everything, everyone, Black and White,€ exclaimed Sanchez.

The symposium featured artists and scholars that told their stories and analysis through real accounts of moments in their lives during 1968 and on. King recounted his guerrilla tactics of fundraising for his productions, while Thelwell remembered €68 as €the year of horrors,€ and Sanchez paused with emotion when talking about the possibility of Black studies programs, that followed the death of Malcolm X. €I held the letter and laughed. I laughed at the Black studies program. I thought about Malcolm and said €anything called Black would be destroyed€€ recalled Sanchez. Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, a panelist from Tuesday€s topic €Say It Loud: Campus, Curriculum, and Consciousness,€ described what people intended for black studies programs to provide, €We had to ask ourselves, how do we, as black people, define ourselves, how do we define our goals and perspectives.€

The symposium dealt with the theme of the Black Power Movement and how it has shaped the now of the Black community. It showed that a collective effort of ideas and works can weigh on present and future times. €Your life has to be about making arrangements€for other people,€ Sanchez. In the same feeling Baraka added, €It€s not just about rights, but the right to control our community.€