‘The Defeat of Black Power,’ a Must-Read for the 2020 Election Season

As the 2020 election heats up, we are highlighting “The Defeat of Black Power,” authored by Leonard N. Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement and the George Littlefield Professor of American History.

There are lessons that can be learned from examining two critical points in American history: the National Black Political Convention of 1972 and the 2020 Presidential Election. The book illustrates how themes of equal rights, social activism and political polarization are as relevant today as they were many decades ago. Visit the LSU Press website to learn more.

For three days in 1972 in Gary, Indiana, eight thousand American civil rights activists and Black Power leaders gathered at the National Black Political Convention, hoping to end a years-long feud that divided black America into two distinct camps: integrationists and separatists. While some form of this rift existed within black politics long before the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his death—and the power vacuum it created—heightened tensions between the two groups, and convention leaders sought to merge these competing ideologies into a national, unified call to action. What followed, however, effectively crippled the Black Power movement and fundamentally altered the political strategy of civil rights proponents. An intense and revealing history, Leonard N. Moore’s The Defeat of Black Power: Civil Rights and the National Black Political Convention of 1972provides the first in-depth evaluation of this critical moment in American history.

During the brief but highly charged meeting in March 1972, attendees confronted central questions surrounding black people’s involvement in the established political system: reject or accept integration and assimilation; determine the importance or futility of working within the broader white system; and assess the perceived benefits of running for public office. These issues illuminated key differences between integrationists and separatists, yet both sides understood the need to mobilize under a unified platform of black self-determination. At the end of the convention, determined to reach a consensus, officials produced “The National Black Political Agenda,” which addressed the black constituency’s priorities. While attendees and delegates agreed with nearly every provision, integrationists maintained their rejection of certain planks, namely the call for a U.S. constitutional convention and separatists’ demands for reparations. As a result, black activists and legislators withdrew their support less than ten weeks after the convention, dashing the promise of the 1972 assembly and undermining the prerogatives of black nationalists.

In The Defeat of Black Power, Moore shows how the convention signaled a turning point for the Black Power movement, whose leaders did not hold elective office and were now effectively barred access to the levers of social and political power. Thereafter, their influence within black communities rapidly declined, leaving civil rights activists and elected officials holding the mantle of black political leadership in 1972 and beyond.

Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality Spawns Activism

MooreBackRageHRWith its French, Spanish and Creole influences, New Orleans has the oldest black urban community of any city in the country. It also has a shocking history of police brutality that is told in “Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from WWII to Katrina,” a new book by Leonard N. Moore, Ph.D., to be released by LSU Press in April.

Moore recounts the history of police brutality in the Crescent City along with the energetic opposition waged by blacks. Drawing on police records, records from civil rights organizations, oral histories, and newspaper accounts, he details the problems with an underpaid, understaffed and undereducated police force that had an unwritten mandate to “keep black folks in line.”

By the 1970s enough black officers had been hired that the Black Organization of Police in New Orleans was formed to begin addressing the aggressive policing tactics and to make sure black officers were treated fairly. “There was little the organization could do,” said Moore. “If officers in the organization were perceived as being radical, their career would stall.”

He explained that corruption was woven into the culture from the top ranks. Often black officers were involved in the corruption and brutalized black residents of New Orleans. “In many ways it was easier for them—they couldn’t be accused of racism,” said Moore.

Leonard N. Moore, author of "Black Rage in New Orleans"

Leonard N. Moore, author of "Black Rage in New Orleans"

What amazed Moore was the number of ordinary citizens who have protested and voiced their outrage throughout the years. From 1945-2000 he estimates that more than 30 organizations were established to deal with police brutality. Rather than remain passive, African Americans in the city formed anti-brutality organizations, staged marches, held sit-ins, waged boycotts, vocalized their concerns at city council meetings, and demanded equitable treatment. Citizen groups such as the Police Brutality Committee, Committee for Accountable Police, the Liberation League and Community Action Now mobilized and managed to hold police anti-brutality meetings where 4,000 or more people would show up.

Corruption and brutality continued unabated until the late 1980s-mid 1990s. In 1994, Washington, D.C. assistant chief of police Richard Pennington was hired to head up the New Orleans Police Department and he began a series of reforms including community policing practices, increased training, better pay and other reforms. During his tenure more than 350 police officers were indicted, fired or disciplined for misconduct. He left for Atlanta in 2002 after running for mayor and losing to Ray Nagin.

The effects of Pennington’s reform effort were not lasting. For example, there were  high profile incidents such as one on Danziger Bridge, when police opened fire, killing a mentally retarded man and one other person, just days after Hurricane Katrina. Even in the past year, the Louisiana Weekly and the Times Picayune reported a coalition of community leaders, civil rights activists and ministers gathered to demand justice and answers after a fatal shooting involving plain- clothes police officers left a 22-year-old New Orleans man dead, shot 12 times.

Moore’s goal for the book: “I’m hoping that when people pick up the book, they will see how brutality has been persistent. It is an everyday fact of life for many American people.”

Moore is an associate professor of history and an assistant vice president for diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin.