The roots of #BlackLivesMatter
Police violence against African Americans has long been an everyday occurrence in the United States. And it is not just since the death of George Floyd that massive resistance against it has been forming. The #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was founded in 2013, is experiencing broad support worldwide. A new research group led by American Studies scholar Simon Wendt explores the precursors to this movement in the 20th century, analysing the successes and impact of Black Power.
Over the past 20 years, historians’ interest in Black Power has grown. However, many historiographical gaps remain. A new research group, which will officially start in May, aims to bridge some of them. To better understand its influence on America’s democracy and the values associated with it, the researchers want to take a fresh look at the Black Power movement.
“The 1960s and 1970s had profound implications for debates on race and democracy – and continue to do so today. In this context, we want to examine the lesser known Black Power groups as well as neglected topics and, in this way, illustrate the struggle between competing ideals of US democracy and their long-term ramifications,” explains Professor Simon Wendt. The prime intention is to combine gender, social, intellectual and political history. What effect did the Black Power movement’s anti-racist struggle have on interpretations of what constitutes a just and democratic society?
The research group is primarily composed of three doctoral projects. One of these projects focuses on the tensions between the Black Power and Gay Liberation movements and how they collaborated. To what extent did different perceptions of what constitutes a just and democratic nation help or hinder the two movements’ quest for full equality? Another project investigates the arguments of critics of the Black Power movement in the 1960s and 1970s to find out how debates about racism left their imprint on various social groups’ understanding of US democracy. The third project is the first study of the history of the National Black United Front (NBUF), an African American organisation that was founded in 1980 in New York by former Black Power activists. The central question here is whether and how the understanding of US democracy and the tactics of the African American freedom struggle have evolved following the demise of the Black Power movement. Two additional studies complement the three subprojects: an ongoing doctoral dissertation looks at how religion shaped the Black Power movement. The second study aims to condense the deluge of post-1945 historical studies on African American activism into a general history of the Black Power movement. “We’re expecting to have five monographs by the end of the funding period, all of which will make important contributions to the study of the Black Power movement and US democracy,” says Wendt. Only by knowing the history of this movement, he adds, can we understand Black Lives Matter today.
The research group will receive funding of around €180,000 from the Gerda Henkel Foundation up until 2025.
Professor Simon Wendt
Institute of English and American Studies
Tel.: +49(0)69 798-32368