Interview with Harry Belafonte

Do you have a first memory of the words Black power?


When it first arrived on the scene in its full blown infancy, so to speak. By that I mean, there always had been a quest for power, the whole struggle in the Civil Rights Movement was, was a constant reflection, of, ah, a certain amount of powerlessness that, ah, was, that had permeated through Black life, Black culture, Black aspiration. Ah, so I think people were constantly in touch with the idea that we were in need of power. Given Dr. King's position on the movement, in its broadest sense, and seeing it as all encompassing, not just for Black needs but for the needs of all of those who reflected an existence in the, in the underclass, or the poor peoples of our country, Dr. King, was somewhat careful in how he used racial definitions to characterize aspects of the movement. So no one ever really talked to the idea of, of Black power as such. It carried with it a host of, of definitions that for many, it was an unsafe, ah, well, cer--certainly that was the response of many people when they first heard it. Ah, but, when it arrived and when it was used as effectively and as powerfully as Rap Brown used it or Stokely used it as all of the guys out of SNCC and women out of SNCC applied it, it touched something that was irreversible. Ah, those who were afraid of it because it, it suggested anger and it suggested aggression, ah, were justified in that, in, in, in that as one of its definitions. Because it did represent, ah, a certain kind of aggression. It represented a certain kind of psychological aggression. It meant that we were ceasing a position, that a goal was very clearly defined: Black Power. All that we were to do from this day forward was going to be something that infused the idea that Black people would no longer be powerless. That, whatever we may have achieved, even if we achieved civil rights from a SNCC perspective, then, I think with great validity, also from Dr. King incidentally. But even if you achieve civil rights, one did not necessarily achieve power as we've come to understand, ah.