Panelists look back to learn from Black Power Movement

Van Nguyen

“Moving forward through looking back” is how public affairs and history professor Peniel Joseph described a panel which aimed to address problems the Black Power Movement encountered and how the Black Lives Matter movement can learn from history.

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy in the LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted the panel, called An Agenda for Black Lives: From the Black Power Movement to Black Lives Matter, as part of a day-long event that focused on the Black Power Movement and American political culture from 1966 onwards. 

The panel, which took place in Bass Lecture Hall, was filled with graduate students and brought together academics from across UT to discuss the historic lessons students can learn from the Black Power Movement and apply to today’s movements.

“The Black Power Movement on one level produces historical transformations that change dramatically institutions in American society, including higher education,” Joseph said. “At the same time, it introduces intellectual production that becomes a basis of aspects of not just black studies, but queer studies and gender studies.”

Michele Deitch, senior lecturer at the LBJ School and one of the panelists, addressed the call for prison system reform in the U.S. Deitch said the agendas for Black Lives Matter and prison reform are intertwined.

Deitch cited the 1971 Attica Prison Riot in New York, in which prisoners called for better living conditions. The riots played a pivotal role in advancing the Black Power Movement, Deitch said.

On Sept. 9, more than 24,000 inmates across the U.S. protested by refusing to fulfill their work obligations, in order to address better living conditions on the Riots’ 45th anniversary.

“When we think about the agenda for Black Lives today, 50 years after the Black Power Movement, we have to have to make sure issues involving our prison systems are front and center in that agenda,” Deitch said.

Leonard Moore, panelist and senior associate vice president for UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said the black community came together at the 1972 National Black Political Assembly held in Gary, Indiana, to formulate public policy solutions for issues pertaining to blacks, and the Black Lives Matter movement should look to it for inspiration.

Moore said one issue he has with the Black Lives Matter movement is the organization’s lack of inclusivity. Moore said the Indiana assembly brought together people with a range of political beliefs, such as Black Nationalists, Democrats and Republicans.

“When you look back at the Gary convention, you’ll see they were very policy-driven,” Moore said. “The National Black Political Agenda of 1972 is unfortunately still relevant in 2016 and something we can use as a template as we move forward.”