Black Power Myth vs. Black Power Reality

Because of the myth of White supremacy, there has been a prevalent narrative of Black people being ungrateful for dominance. After the Civil War in the United States, emancipated African people started developing their own communities called “freedom colonies.” Black people sustained these segregated communities even under the scourge of sharecropping, and managed to become quite successful. Without the title of “Black Power,” these communities were dedicated to existence both without interference and to the fulfillment of all their citizenry, in a land where their personhood was codified to always be in question. Rather than respect the boundaries of these communities and work towards coexistence, terrorists did everything they could to interfere and deny fulfillment because of the belief that the formerly enslaved were subhuman, and therefore were not entitled to autonomy. Ever since that time, there has been a lingering mentality that rather than existence under sovereign autonomy, Black Power was a movement seen as Black people claiming dominion over everyone else.

When the Standard Zoning Enabling Act and the Standard City Planning Act were enacted, Black people were ordered to move to segregated communities with restrictions on how they were able to exist. Cities had the right to determine which part of town Black people were allowed to live, with the expectation that they would cede their land at the behest of the cities. Essentially, Black people went from being terrorized in their autonomous spaces to being controlled within the dominant narrative so as not to be seen as a threat. In the City of Austin, in the Black section of town, there were several businesses because Black people needed to be able to sustain themselves and maintain their social connections even while being partitioned into a small section of town. Because firehouses used to be private, the Black community prided itself on both having and maintaining its own fire department. When fire services became public, the firehouse remained in the community for quite some time.

During the rise of the Black Power movement, one such group called Community United Front, run by Larry Jackson, worked with community members and attempted to work with the City to address issues in the Black community. Because of the fears of the city council, Community United Front was unable to provide a free breakfast program until it collaborated with the University of Texas. However, one of the most crushing defeats was the loss of the firehouse–the only one in the Black community. Despite the need for daycare services among a plethora of service workers, the city council stressed that Jackson’s radical politics were too controversial to run a daycare center. As a result, the building remained unused and was eventually torn down, and the location–which used to be a carwash–was recently under construction. In the minds of the city council, Black people were not allowed to serve themselves without the supervision of the local government, despite their being pushed into such a position by the city council itself. Pooling resources was seen as a threat, rather than a solution to racial discrimination.

In Philadelphia, Black Power was seen as even more of a threat, especially since there was substantial property involved within the city limits. Described in Time Magazine as a “cult,” MOVE was communal group that focused on personal autonomy, something forbidden to Black people in the United States. This community was seen as so threatening that there were not one, but two deliberate attacks, one of which caused the death of 11 people and made 200 people homeless. On May 14, 2020, the City of Philadelphia apologized for the MOVE bombing again, but until that date had only paid $3.7 million in restoration to the people impacted by the attack. Even though there are reality shows, books, and university courses based on people living alternative lifestyles, when Black people demonstrated those same behaviors, they were seen as criminals.

Black Power has been seen as a threat for no reason other than their fear of Black people who eschew a society that sees Black life as subhuman. From freedom colonies to firehouses to communes, there has been no place where Black people have been able to live in the built environment without excessive interference. Regardless of the methods to bond together and share resources, Black independence is seen as particularly dangerous. It is up to society to mature into a culture that accepts the autonomy of every individual and does not degrade those who resist being subjugated by people against their best interest. No Black Power group has challenged the United States, and it would behoove the nation to collectively choose to reset the imagery of “scary” Black power.

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