Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky
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Black Power and Direct Action

In 1966, Stokley Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, introduced the slogan “Black Power” at a rally in Mississippi, calling on black people to unite, to recognize their heritage, and to build a sense of community. He also defined Black Power as a call for African Americans to define their own goals, lead their own organizations, and reject the racist institutions and values of American society. While the press and the more conservative civil rights organizations rejected and condemned Black Power as black racism, many young people in the civil rights movement adopted the slogan as a rallying cry for more aggressive action in the liberation struggle and as a rejection of nonviolent resistance.

The Black Power movement was most evident in Kentucky in the black arts and culture movement and in educational efforts to teach young people about their African heritage. Other efforts included a campaign to drive out drug dealers, who had begun to move into the black community, by local Black Panther chapters. A second organization called BULK (Black Unity League of Kentucky) organized against police abuse of black citizens in Louisville.

Many Kentucky colleges—including the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Berea College, Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, and Bellarmine College—had Black Student Unions in the late 1960s. Though not affiliated with any specific national organization, they were part of a black student movement that identified strongly with Black Power ideals. Usually, the BSUs served as advocates for more black studies in the curriculum, more black teachers, and more scholarships for African-American students.

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