Journalist Mark Whitaker’s (Smoketown) riveting Saying It Loud: 1966—The Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement chronicles a key moment in the movement for racial justice in the United States: the shift in 1966 from the nonviolent organizational tactics associated with Martin Luther King Jr. to an emergent focus on Black Power as a “state of mind and a badge of identity” whose adherents used whatever means necessary to achieve justice.
On January 3, 1966, Black civil rights worker Sammy Younge was murdered by a white gas station owner in Tuskegee, Alabama, for asking to use the restroom. As Whitaker points out, Younge’s death “reverberated through a generation of young people who were reaching a breaking point of frustration with the gospel of nonviolence and racial integration preached by Dr. King.” Whitaker tracks many such seismic events and the ways they shifted the leadership within core civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), leading to the development of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party. Through meticulous research, he draws revealing portraits of figures such as Stokely Carmichael, who replaced John Lewis as SNCC’s chairman; Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, who formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California; and Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, who became the executive secretary of SNCC and thus the highest-ranking woman in the civil rights movement. In stunning detail, Whitaker records all the ways that 1966 became such a pivotal year in the quest for civil rights that, before it was over, “a cast of young men and women, almost all under the age of thirty . . . [had changed] the course of Black—and American—history.” He concludes by demonstrating that the defiant rhetoric of the Black Power movement in 1966 planted the seeds for the Black Lives Matter movement and other responses to police violence against Black Americans over the last 50 years.
Saying It Loud provides an essential history of events that deserve more attention and consideration. Whitaker’s striking insights offer a memorable glimpse of a key period in American history and the struggle for racial justice in the U.S.