Black Leadership Question

January 18, 1980

Report Outline
Changing Goals and Tactics
Rise of Black Spokesmen
New Political Advances
Special Focus

Changing Goals and Tactics

New Challenges After Civil Rights Era

Twelve years ago, the Kerner Commission issued its report describing the United States as a nation of “two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” Today, many of the outward signs of white discrimination and black anger have disappeared. Yet significant barriers to achieving racial equality still remain. This is due in part to the country's diluted enthusiasm for the black cause, and to what urban affairs writer Roger Wilkins has called the “denial” at the heart of American society. “A large portion of whites,” he wrote, “do not want … to face how brutally unfair life is, and has always been, for their black fellow countrymen.”

A 1978 New York Times-CBS News poll indicated that a majority of whites believe either that the civil rights battle has been won or that it is too costly in terms of sacrifices white people have to make for the social vision of the 1960s to come true. Although the country remains essentially sympathetic toward black aspirations for equality, there has been a discernible stiffening of resistance to rapid change. This is most apparent in the increasingly bitter debate over what has come to be known as “reverse discrimination” — giving preferential treatment to minorities and women in such areas as employment and college admissions.

Time and the changing public mood have sapped the momentum of the civil rights movement. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 deprived the movement of its most celebrated leader, while the overthrow of segregation in the South took away the issue that had galvanized its supporters through a generation of marches and demonstrations. The organizations which formed the nucleus of the civil rights struggle — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — still exist, but they no longer dominate the scene as they once did. A number of black rights organizations and their leaders — the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), headed by James Farmer and the student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), headed by Stokely Carmichael — have faded away. To a large extent, civil rights has become a local question and black leaders have turned their attention to a much broader spectrum of issues.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement
Jul. 22, 2022  Black Hairstyles
Nov. 15, 1985  Black America Long March for Equality
Aug. 12, 1983  Black Political Power
Jan. 18, 1980  Black Leadership Question
Aug. 15, 1973  Black Americans, 1963–1973
Nov. 26, 1969  Racial Discrimination in Craft Unions
Sep. 11, 1968  Black Pride
Feb. 21, 1968  Negro Power Struggle
Mar. 08, 1967  Negroes in the Economy
Jan. 19, 1966  Changing Southern Politics
Oct. 27, 1965  Negroes in the North
Jul. 21, 1965  Negro Revolution: Next Steps
Oct. 14, 1964  Negro Voting
Sep. 21, 1964  Negroes and the Police
Jul. 03, 1963  Right of Access to Public Accommodations
Jan. 23, 1963  Negro Jobs and Education
Mar. 25, 1960  Violence and Non-Violence in Race Relations
Aug. 05, 1959  Negro Employment
Apr. 18, 1956  Racial Issues in National Politics
Apr. 18, 1951  Progress in Race Relations
Dec. 17, 1948  Discrimination in Employment
Jan. 10, 1947  Federal Protection of Civil Liberties
Aug. 25, 1944  The Negro Vote
Jul. 01, 1942  Racial Discrimination and the War Effort
Mar. 25, 1939  Civil and Social Rights of the Negro
Jul. 22, 1927  Disenfranchisement of the Negro in the South
Civil Rights: African Americans