Epic 1972 National Black Political Convention

National Black Political Convention

The Defeat of Black Power: Civil Rights and the National Black Political Convention of 1972 analyzes the converging of the 1960s Black Power Movement together with Civil Rights and Black political activists of all stripes in Gary, Indiana, in 1972.

National Black Political Convention
The Defeat of Black Power: Civil Rights and the National Black Political Convention of 1972

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 provides the first in-depth evaluation of this critical moment in American history.

In the decades following Gary, amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 paved the way for massive increases in African American office holding. As Black political power grew in the form of African American office holding, a variety of factors, significant among them the repression and counterintelligence activities against black activists organizations and leaders, led to the demise of the Black Power Movement and its most dynamic organizations and leaders.

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 1980, there was an attempt to resurrect the historical promise of the Gary, Indiana National Black Political Convention. This New Orleans convention led to two subsequent gatherings in Philadelphia and Chicago. Out of the New Orleans National Black Political Convention and the subsequent gatherings emerged the national Black Independent Political Party (NBIPP). However, NBIPP was short-lived.

Much more analysis and historical documentation needs to occur to tell the story of the black political movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Young African American activists of the 21st Century need to understand all of the various tendencies with the historical Black Movement and imagine the possibilities for African American people if those various tendencies are able to exist together in one movement on behalf of black people. Imagine the power of a Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panther Party, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the NAACP, and others all working together for the benefit, advancement, and liberation of Black people.

In The Defeat of Black Power, Moore shows how the National Black Political 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.