Black Radicals

African American history is densely populated with black people working in radical ways to create change. From the slave rebellions of the 19th century to contemporary figures in black radicalism like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Angela Davis, a tradition of radical behavior colors the African American story. Radical behavior has often changed the political and social landscape for African Americans.

Angela Davis
Though she is most associated with the Black Panther Party and with the "black power" politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Angela Davis' career in politics and women's rights continues long after the Panthers. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Davis switched her allegiance from the black power movement to the Communist Party, laying the first stone of black political associations with Communism. David had been active with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 60s, but her taste for the nonviolent was cut enough by violent experience with the Panthers for her to eventually be at the head of the US Communist Party ticket in 1980. Davis is a hated figure for many black radicals who think of her as a "traitor" to the black power movement.

Black Radical Congress
A discussion of black radicals would be incomplete without talking about the Black Radical Congress and their new definition of the term "radical". The BRC was founded in Chicago in 1998 to bring together individuals and smaller organizations that fight for the rights of Americans of African descent. The BRC is not as "radical" an organization as the Nation of Islam, for instance, choosing instead to focus on advocating for "progressive social justice", equality at all levels, and (maybe most importantly) economic justice for blacks in America. Having met on issues such as "anti-militarism", the BRC doesn't evoke memories of the inherently violent Black Panther Party or any other extremist group. A relatively young "radical" organization, the BRC does have ties to the American Communist Party, though not official ones. The BRC's definition of the word "radical" is different from that word's meaning in other times. They insist the word "radical" refers to "working for . . . fundamental change".

Stokely Carmichael
Whether you know him as Kwame Ture or by his more familiar "white name", Carmichael's presence at the forefront of every important black power movement (and at the head of more than one revolutionary organization) makes him one of the most important black radicals in US history. The inventor of the term "black power", Stokely Carmichael was at one time the head of both the SNCC and the Black Panther Party. Carmichael even answered his phone in support of black power -- he was known to say "Ready for the revolution!" instead of "Hello" when picking up a phone call.

Why does the African American experience contain such a strong note of radicalism? Opinion is divided, though most scholars agree that the history of blacks in America is a series of struggles, requiring radical action to initiate great change.