Abstract

Throughout the heady year of 1966, a clash over Black Power's meaning took place that would come to profoundly shape public perceptions of the movement. On one side of the battle stood Black Power's proponents, especially the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which endeavored to explain that the strategy centered on Black self-determination and prioritized intraracial organizing. On the other side, movement moderates were joined by establishment liberals and the national white press; they insisted Black Power was a violent turn in the movement that disavowed integration and aimed to kick white people out of the struggle. As the fight wore on, it became clear that various news media were misappropriating SNCC to shape public perceptions of Black Power as “antiwhite.”

This article deconstructs the antiwhite frame that the nation's print media built around Black Power during that pivotal year. It does so by delineating faulty reporting practices—from encouraging and then ventriloquizing Black leaders’ criticisms, to simplistically equating Black Power with Black nationalism, to alleging the discovery of a smoking gun that revealed Black Power's “true,” diabolical meaning. In doing so, this paper shows that interrogating print coverage of the movement complicates the longstanding and romantic idea that news reporters proved one of the Black freedom movement's greatest assets. Indeed, in examining print rather than broadcast coverage of SNCC and Black Power in 1966, it becomes clear that print media did more than construct an antiwhite frame that villainized SNCC. It also made Black Power about white people and legitimized a backlash.

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