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An Unseen LightBlack Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee$
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Aram Goudsouzian and Charles W. McKinney Jr.

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175515

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175515.001.0001

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Nonviolence, Black Power, and the Surveillance State in Memphis’s War on Poverty

Nonviolence, Black Power, and the Surveillance State in Memphis’s War on Poverty

(p.279) Nonviolence, Black Power, and the Surveillance State in Memphis’s War on Poverty
An Unseen Light

Anthony C. Siracusa

University Press of Kentucky

This essay examines the intertwined histories of federal antipoverty programs and the Black Power movement in Memphis, framed through the unlikely alliance of the Reverend James Lawson and members of the Black Organizing Project. Employing primary sources from antipoverty organizations in Memphis and newly surfaced FBI documents, it argues that the explosive events of late March and early April 1968 cannot be explained only by differences among black activists. The fracture within Memphis’s black freedom movement—a rupture that nearly thirty years of scholarship has attributed chiefly to deepening fissures between advocates of Black Power and advocates of nonviolence in the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968—is better explained by two factors: political resistance at both the local and national levels to black-led antipoverty efforts, and a robust and likely illegal effort by the FBI to infiltrate and undermine both the Black Power and nonviolent wings of the black freedom movement. The political efforts to halt the antipoverty movement and the black freedom struggle in Memphis were bound inextricably together.

Keywords:   Memphis, Black Power, James Lawson, Black Organizing Project, FBI

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