Barack Obama and the Contours of African American Social Protest Movements
By Manning Marable
The fundamental impulse behind all major African American social movements throughout US history has been the quest for "freedom." During much of the long nightmare of human bondage, lasting nearly 250 years, freedom had a clear and unambiguous meaning: the shattering of shackles, the elimination of whips and chains, the reuniting of Black families who had been divided and sold apart, the ownership of farms and private property by Blacks, and the personal and collective feelings of safety and integrity that are guaranteed by state power and constitutional authority.
Deeply embedded within even these notions of Black freedom, moreover, were two strategic concepts implying collective action to maximize Black civic capacity. The strongest of these was the struggle for equality.
Supported primarily but not solely by the African American middle class, the diverse social movements that championed the cause of equality generally called for the outlawing of racial segregation laws, the granting of Blacks' voting rights, and the guarantee of civil liberties and Constitutional rights. A second tendency, drawing upon greater working-class support, can be described as the social movement for collective "self-determination."