Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Eyes on the Prize
The Story of the Movement — 26 Events

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26

"Power to the People"

1966-1968

"There was a lot of people yelling 'black power'... I liked 'power to the people.' ...We really needed, as the school board, to have power."
—Dolores Torres, Ocean Hill-Brownsville Community Board

Related Links:


African Americans understand that their communities will gain power when they have more involvement in political and educational institutions. In 1967, no major American city has ever elected a black mayor. In Cleveland, Ohio, state legislator Carl Stokes seeks the office and is backed by a grassroots voter registration campaign. The city's population is 35% black and 65% white, so Stokes works hard to avoid running a campaign focused on civil rights. He even rejects the chance to have his hero, Rev. Martin Luther King, appear with him. Block to block canvassers add 30,000 black voters to the rolls, and the effort pays off. Stokes wins the Democratic primary with 52% of the citywide vote, and near unanimous support from the black community. Though 80% of Cleveland voters are Democrats, some white voters switch to the Republican candidate, Seth Taft. After a close race, Stokes wins the general election by a narrow margin. Two months later, Gary, Indiana inaugurates its first black mayor, Richard Hatcher.

Blacks also seek access to decision-making in education, another arena that affects their communities. Parents in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn, concerned about the quality of their children's education, want greater involvement and control in the schools. In 1967, Rhody McCoy becomes New York City's first black school superintendent to oversee an experiment in their district. His efforts go over well with minority students and parents: the placement of more minority teachers and transfer of white teachers, and the broadening of the curriculum to increase teachings on black culture. But the changes result in controversy when the teacher's union strikes. In October 1968, the city's Board of Education ends McCoy's experiment and withdraws its support for community control of schools.

Context

Other Events: Late 1967

Sidney Poitier stars in three hit films, "In the Heat of the Night," "To Sir, with Love" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

The Supreme Court rules that laws against interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

William Styron's bestselling novel The Confessions of Nat Turner, about a slave revolt, wins the Pulitzer Prize.

Young people flock to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for the "Summer of Love."

Childcare expert Dr. Benjamin Spock is among those arrested in a Vietnam War protest at the Pentagon. Norman Mailer describes the event in his book Armies of the Night.

Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara is captured and executed in Bolivia.

Press

The New York Times, October 5, 1967

Editorial: Maturity in Cleveland

The success of State Representative Carl Stokes, a Negro, in winning the Democratic nomination for Mayor of Cleveland, where the population is only 35 per cent Negro, is an impressive tribute to the maturity and good sense of the voters in that Ohio industrial center....

...For his part, Mr. Stokes is an intelligent, responsible man and an attractive candidate...

...when self-styled "militants" decry Negro-white cooperation as an impossible ideal and preach violence as a substitute for politics, Mr. Stokes's nomination is encouraging proof that interracial cooperation and orderly progress through political activity are realities, not illusions.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, November 8, 1967

Hatcher Wins Mayor's Race at Gary

Richard D. Hatcher yesterday became the first Negro mayor of Gary -- and in the state of Indiana -- by the unofficial margin of 2,578 votes...

...However, [white Republican opponent Joseph B.] Radigan refused to acknowledge defeat. H said in a statement: "We feel there must be further investigation of the facts before anyone can be certain who won this election. In two precincts more persons voted than were on the rolls. The reporting of votes in many other precincts is highly questionable..."

..."I feel I owe it to my supporters to investigate this election before making any other statements. I don't intend to lose this election because of voting irregularities. My opponent asked for an honest election, and I am going to make certain he gets it."

As Radigan read this statement, some of the 300 persons in his Gary Hotel ballroom headquarters shouted, "They stole it!" and "vote fraud!"...

The Louisville Courier-Journal, November 9, 1967

Young Hails Negroes' Election As 'New Hope'

Whitney Young Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, characterized the election results yesterday as a demonstration to Negroes that "a reservoir of good will still remains in this great nation of ours."

Young hailed the election of Negroes as mayors of Cleveland, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana, and the election of a number of others to state office. He said results of Tuesday's voting showed that there is some white backlash but "it is not as powerful as the demagogues would have us believe, as was proven in Cleveland, Gary and Boston."

"It marks a new day for democracy and signals new hope for the nation's Negroes," Young said. "It also provides living proof of what political organization and wise use of the ballot can do for any group."

Music

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Songwriter: Traditional, also called "Hold On", with new lyrics by Alice Wine
Performed by: Robert Parris Moses
Listen to the Music

"Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" serves as a fitting theme to the Civil Rights Movement.

First, the movement was made up of individuals who came together to advocate for a more just society. Thousands of these people stayed focused on that prize, "holding on" in the face of tactics that included arrest, assault, and even murder.

Second, although leaders like Martin Luther King are closely identified with the movement, the goal of equality was more than any single person's dream. It required a transformative process for the nation.

Carl Stokes was a great admirer of Dr. King, but asked the minister not to come to Cleveland while Stokes campaigned to be the majority white city's first black mayor. Stokes understood he could not win the votes he needed using racial justice as his platform. He felt the importance of his eventual office -- and the power it would give him to achieve more just policies -- outweighed a few moments on stage with his hero.

For more on music and the movement, read comments by Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Music courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, www.si.edu/ folkways.

Video

"Power to the People"
Duration: 1:06 min
Watch the Video

The first clip is of Cleveland mayoral candidate Carl Stokes greeting a cheering crowd.

Next is footage of Stokes saying urban riots reflect a failure of municipal leadership and then asking voters neither to support nor oppose him just because he is black.

Footage provided by BBC MOTION GALLERY.

Select an image to open the gallery.

back to top page created on 8.23.06

Eyes on the Prize Blackside American Experience