This blog post was authored by Alondra M. Gomez, a student in Professor Eckelmann Berghel’s HIST 3475: Modern Civil Rights Struggle class that curated an exhibit on display in the George Connor Special Collections Reading Room, located in room 439 of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Library in Spring 2019.
While researching the topic of Black Power in America during the 1960s and 1970s, I was eager to discover new aspects of the history of this movement in Chattanooga. Popular accounts continue to characterize Black Power as a militant confrontation from the African American community. My research revealed that the local Black Power movement was much more than a “militant front.” Black Power arose from the need of African Americans to instill a sense of racial pride and dignity. Local black power advocates demanded the end of the systematic racism and insisten on equal access to employment opportunities, income, an education that celebrated black history, adequate housing conditions, more power and representation in politics, safety of their communities of color. Upon learning about the Black Power movement through a lens of social justice rather than rebellion, I also became interested in the aftermath of the movement. What effects did Black Power have on young African Americans and white Americans?
During my research, I came across an article from the Echo dated back to February of 1981. Although the publication of this article was not within the timeframe of the Black Power movement, I chose to take it under consideration for my group’s exhibit; the title of the piece “BAW Gives a Sense of Dignity” raised my interest. In the article, UTC students were asked to give their opinions on Black Awareness Week. According to a poll conducted at the university on the matter, African American students voiced a sense of pride and self-importance during Black Awareness Week. The majority of white students expressed dissatisfaction. Based on the article, they felt it unnecessary for black students to be given a special week of celebration. In the Echo, the students’ responses to Black Awareness Week ranged from support for black students’ celebration of culture, heritage, and achievements, to an indifference or sense of inequality that white students do not have the same opportunity to celebrate white culture.
The interviewed African American students reflected upon the leadership of those who came before them. It highlighted African Americans’ dignity and contributions and gave them a sense of belonging. It served as a reminder that their existence was and continues to be valued. Like the Black Power movement, Black Awareness Week empowered these students and gave them a sense of pride.
Draper, Dean. “BAW Gives a Sense of Dignity,” University Echo 80, no. 22 (1981): 1-20. https://digital-collections.library.utc.edu/digital/collection/p16877coll9/id/9787/rec/1.