Black Power in the Bluff City: African American Youth and Student Activism in Memphis, 1965-1975

Black Power in the Bluff City: African American Youth and Student Activism in Memphis, 1965-1975

by Shirletta Kinchen

Hardcover(1st Edition)

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During the civil rights era, Memphis gained a reputation for having one of the South’s strongest NAACP branches. But that organization, led by the city’s black elite, was hardly the only driving force in the local struggle against racial injustice. In the late sixties, Black Power proponents advocating economic, political, and cultural self-determination effectively mobilized Memphis’s African American youth, using an array of moderate and radical approaches to protest and change conditions on their campuses and in the community.
            While Black Power activism on the coasts and in the Midwest has attracted considerable scholarly attention, much less has been written about the movement’s impact outside these hotbeds. In Black Power in the Bluff City, Shirletta J. Kinchen helps redress that imbalance by examining how young Memphis activists, like Coby Smith and Charles Cabbage, dissatisfied by the pace of progress in a city emerging from the Jim Crow era, embraced Black Power ideology to confront such challenges as gross disparities in housing, education, and employment as well as police brutality and harassment. Two closely related Black Power organizations, the Black Organizing Project and the Invaders, became central to the local black youth movement in the late 1960s. Kinchen traces these groups’ participation in the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike—including the controversy over whether their activities precipitated events that culminated in Martin Luther King’s assassination—and their subsequent involvement in War on Poverty programs. The book also shows how Black Power ideology drove activism at the historically black LeMoyne-Owen College, scene of a 1968 administration-building takeover, and at the predominately white Memphis State University, where African American students transformed the campus by creating parallel institutions that helped strengthen black student camaraderie and consciousness in the face of marginalization.
            Drawing on interviews with activists, FBI files, newspaper accounts from the period, and many other sources, the author persuasively shows not only how an emerging generation helped define the black freedom struggle in Memphis but also how they applied the tenets of Black Power to shape the broader community.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781621901877
Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
Publication date: 11/15/2015
Edition description: 1st Edition
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Shirletta J. Kinchen is an assistant professor in the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisville.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: "We Want What People Generally Refer to as Black Power": Black Student and Youth Activism in the Era of Black Power 1

Chapter 1 "The City Was on Fire": The Beginnings of a Movement 17

Chapter 2 "Damn the Army, Join the Invaders": The Black Organizing Project and the Invaders 45

Chapter 3 "Make the Scene Better" The Neighborhood Organizing Project, the Decline of the Invaders, and the Promise and Limits of Black Power in Memphis 83

Chapter 4 "Why Not at LeMoyne-Owen?" Student Activism and Black Power at LeMoyne-Owen College 117

Chapter 5 "We Cant Be Isolated Any Longer": Memphis State University, the Black Student Association, and the Politics of Racial Identity 143

Epilogue: "Black Panther Party Not Needed": The Legacy of Youth and Student Activism and the Black Power Generation in Memphis 175

Notes 191

Bibliography 229

Index 241

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