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Introduction 1 1 Prior to the 1960s most African Americans were denied their basic civil and human rights. The right to vote, the right to protest peacefully, the right to a fair trial, the right to live without fear of state violence, and the rights to live, work, study, and travel were routinely violated by government officials and their allies. The success of the Civil Rights Movement changed that reality and led to important socioeconomic and political changes in the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and related legislation created more opportunities for African Americans to succeed in education , employment, politics, entertainment, and other fields. Blacks gained legal integration and access into American politics. The American political system was further democratized, and Blacks gained rights that had been previously denied. Despite these positive developments, Black America continues to suffer from discrimination, poverty, and inequality.1 Moreover, the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites is much greater than racial differences in income, education , and other social indicators.2 Many substantive aspects of the old racial regime such as discrimination, police brutality, sexism, and unemployment plague the post–Civil Rights era.3 More than any other segment of American society, Black political groups have worked to eliminate these problems. Given the multiplicity and variety of challenges facing Blacks, it should not be surprising that historically a myriad of political organizations have addressed distinct and only partially overlapping concerns. While progress has been made on some fronts, the general struggle for Black advancement continues. Ollie A. Johnson III and Karin L. Stanford Introduction The Relevance of Black Political Organizations in the Post–Civil Rights Era 2 Ollie A. Johnson III and Karin L. Stanford The post–Civil Rights period of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s witnessed unprecedented opportunities for African Americans in education, employment, housing, and politics. As a result, Blacks became more visible in American universities , businesses, suburbs, and political office. Black organizations encouraged their members and communities to take advantage of this new access to previously closed sectors of the American experience. Nonetheless, Black political organizations, particularly those active during the Civil Rights Movement, have come under increasing scrutiny. Questions of accountability, structure, and relevance have surrounded these organizations since the end of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Examples of the validity of such concerns occurred in the 1990s, when Rev. Benjamin Chavis was fired as executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) over the misuse of organizational funds; Rev. Henry Lyons, former president of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), was convicted of grand theft and racketeering charges; calls were made for a public financial accounting of the Rainbow/ PUSH Coalition; and the leadership skills of Martin Luther King III as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition were criticized publicly. Conflicting Views on Black Organizations Prominent Black political organizations in the post–Civil Rights era have not received sufficient attention from scholars. Discussions of these organizations take place primarily in Black newspapers and magazines, which generally consist of updates on their activities and anecdotal information. The vast literature on American interest groups rarely delves deeply into Black groups. The NAACP, NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, and other majority Black organizations usually are mentioned as a side note to important political events such as the defeat of Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork. Since Black groups generally do not have large staffs, great financial resources, and extensive lobbying operations, they are neglected in most recent texts on American interest groups.4 Nevertheless, two recent books focus on Black political organizations and reach divergent conclusions. In We Have No Leaders Robert C. Smith argues that Black leaders and their organizations have been ineffective in representing and promoting Black interests in the last three decades. He identifies limited resources, incompetent leaders, and misguided strategies as key factors characterizing African American organizations. Smith strongly criticizes Black groups for being dependent on White philanthropy and passive on the issue of Black poverty. From his perspective Black groups and leaders have lacked innovation and courage. They have failed to pursue the radical and egalitarian public policies necessary to uplift all of Black America.5 Introduction 3 Dona Cooper Hamilton and Charles V. Hamilton examine the social welfare policies of Civil Rights organizations during this century in The Dual Agenda. They emphasize that Civil Rights groups have always fought for Civil Rights and full employment for all Americans. The Hamiltons note...


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