History of the Legendary Civil Rights Movement Symbol: The Black Power Fist

September 21, 2021 3 min read

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History of the Legendary Civil Rights Movement Symbol: The Black Power Fist

The Black Power Fist has been widely known as the symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. What is left unknown is that this symbol is closely associated with the harsh and painful history of anti-racism fights of African Americans. After more than half a century of struggle, this Civil Rights Movement Symbol has strongly reflected the aspiration for equality between skin colors and races all over the world. 

So, where would it be in the records of history? Here, with the African movement for civil rights, we are tracing the origins of the black power fist in the US.  

The Clenched Fist Debuted as A Civil Rights Movement Symbol of Revolutionary Spirit 

The raise of the black closed fist as a black civil rights symbol is a longstanding history. This one was originally used by disadvantaged communities globally with any type of oppression to deny discriminatory conduct, not solely for those of oppressed African-Americans. The clenched palm was an act of resistance and a rejection of an unjustified power. 

When Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale established Black Panther Party in 1966, the first Black power Fist arose to identify Black Power to oppose excessive use of force of police against the African American population. 

Black Panther demonstration by CIR Online is licensed by CC BY 2.0 

It was later utilized by the Black Power movement as a gesture to signify the civil rights fight in the 1960s. It's also a strong deterrent that the Black Panther Party has embraced for years after.

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This Civil Rights Movement Symbol Made It to The Olympics 

Decades later, this symbol still appears frequently in black movements in the United States. At the time, the civil rights movement of the early '60s had given birth to the Black Power movement of the late '60s. While the 1964 Civil Rights Act has improved Black people's position in the United States, racism and segregation have continued all over the US. The culmination of the protest against black rights was the assassination of prominent activist Martin Luther King in 1968.  

In that context, this symbol has made its world debut as the centerpiece of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. During the medal ceremony of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, two black athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos from the US team wore black gloves and raised their fists during the ceremony. 

John Carlos and Tommie Smith Black Power Salute at Olympics 1968

Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Men's protest against discrimination and "black power" was an important achievement in their own nation's black civil rights movement and it is an emblematic picture in Olympic history.

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This moment is a public statement to express the courageous message to the globe. This gesture is globally renowned as "Black Power Salute," as opposed to the original impression of battle, indignation, and protest by the Black Panthers Party.  

Years later, in 1990 – after spending 27 years in jail – Nelson Mandela's first gesture right after he was freed from jail is raising a fist in victory. He later also repeated this action many times during his political chronicles. 

"Nelson Mandela (ANC) Addresses Special Committee Against Apartheid" by United Nations Information Service Vienna is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

Other allies from the black community, like feminist activist Gloria Steinem and politician Bernie Saunders, have also adopted the Black Power Fist.  

Black Power Fist Nowadays Has Been Adopted as Modern Civil Rights Movement Symbols  

Today, the raised black fist symbol not only represents civil rights but is also the logo of the African-American struggle in the recent Black Lives Matter Movement. 

Black Lives Matter was established by the phrase of three ladies who celebrated the 2012 murder demonstrations in Sanford, Florida, of Trayvon Martin, the African-American adolescent slain by George Zimmerman. 

Black Power Fist by Elvert Barnes is licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 

The raised clenched fist is not the only sign the movement wielded, but was adopted in August 2014 when Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. The black youth, who was acting in self-defense, had been shot to death by white cops. At that time, the black power fist conveyed a message "hands up, don't shoot" instead of its usual aggression. 

Six years after on May 2020, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 has marked the major comeback of this symbol. George Floyd was pressed on the neck to death by a White policeman for more than nine minutes. This event has outburst a major transition with Black Lives Matter supporters of all races. 

Protestors for Black Lives Matter by Katie Crampton (WMUK) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 

Although it is considered as a symbol of Black pride, the fist is then connected throughout history with rallies against racial discrimination. Nowadays, this gesture signifies strength and optimistic belief in making the world a better place.

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1 Response

Charles Crump
Charles Crump

September 23, 2021

The NFAC founder John F Johnson aka Grand Master Jay is our present day Fred Hampton presently under Fed charges only as an attempt to silence him from bringing black unity to black peoples. Please help expose this unjust case anyway you can using your widely supported platform. We don’t want him ending up like his predecessor. Black power has never been more powerful than right now solely by the establishment of the worldwide movement of the NFAC/UBKN.

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