Black Protest

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Black Protest is about two complementary traditions of black protest against white racism: integrationism and nationalism, as developed by James Hal Cone in "Martin and Malcolm: Integrationism and Nationalism in African American Religious History."[1]

The struggle of African Americans, in the United States, to claim their rights as human beings in the face of overt racism, by whites, during the Civil Rights movement, were expressed by two main traditions of protest. Integrationism and nationalism were two sides of the same coin that served as the tender which brought an oppressed people to claim their identity as unique, equal, and empowered participants in U.S society.


Essentially optimistic in its outlook, integrationism seeks to foster wholesome relationships between whites and blacks. The goal was assimilation but not at the expense of black cultural and spiritual identity. Hope, for the integrationist, was engendered by the traditions and laws of the U.S. as handed down to them by the founding fathers of the nation. The Declaration of Independence proclaims:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Integrationism depended upon the consciences of whites to acknowledge the hypocrisy of racism in light of their expressed beliefs in order to claim the freedoms denied to them for generations. Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist, exposed whites for their sanctimonious posturing as "civilized" people in his speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?":

To [the slave], your celebration is a sham...Your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery....There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States.

Martin Luther King Jr. was the face of Christian integrationists during the Civil Rights Movement. His application of nonviolent, civil disobedience, enabled whites and blacks on both sides of the racism equation to emerge, not completely healed, but whole.


Black nationalists resolved to completely reject America and identify entirely with their African heritage. No attempt was made to restore the relationship between whites and blacks, and was, in fact, militantly against such occurrences. Fundamental to this stance was the belief that blacks and whites not only didn't belong together but that whites sought to kill blacks in every generation. As a result of generations of oppression, abuse, and exploitation:

Black nationalism was defined by a loss of hope in America.[1]

They had no desire to assimilate into American culture and were vehemently against having to plead with whites for fair treatment. Racial pride and the denunciation of whites served to raise the esteem of blacks who had been repeatedly violated by white society. Henry McNeal Turner, a bishop in the AME Church,declared,

God is a Negro.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the face of integration during the civil rights movement, Malcolm X represented nationalism. The media often portrayed them as enemies and they made but one public appearance together yet they had goodwill towards each other and together gave blacks a comprehensive vision to hang their hopes upon.


  1. ^ Cone, James H. (2003), Hackett, David G., ed., Religion and American Culture, Routledge-New York and London 

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