Over time the concept of “Black Supremacy” changed. The most substantial transformation of “Black Supremacy” came during the 1950s. Oddly, it was used to incite opposition to the Mau Mau in Kenya and promote opposition to the drive for independence in other parts of Africa.
Proquest shows 829 results in a search for Black Supremacy. 582 or 70 percent of those articles are from the period from 1959 to 1970. The notion of Black Supremacy fell to a new level of unreality in 1959. That year the phrase became a buzzword to attack and lump together any ideas which did not conform to the non-violent integration narrative promoted among Black people in the United States.
What caused that huge increase in articles about “Black Supremacy?” We are not exactly certain but, we do know it began to happen shortly after the appearance of what could easily be characterized today as docuganda masquerading as documentary. “The Hate That Hate Produced” is a five-part series which appeared on WNTA-TV, Channel 13 the week of July 13-July 17, 1959 as part of Mike Wallace’s “News Beat” show. The show uses the phrase “black supremacy” or “black supremacists” at least fifteen times. Each time it is spoken by Mike Wallace or Louis Lomax.
On August 10, 1959 an article in Time Magazine entitled none other than “The Black Supremacists [part 1].” [part 2] The article goes on about a group it calls “The Moslems” headed by Elijah Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. Although Time refers to the group as “a stern, demanding, disciplined” religious sect, it also refers to Muhammad as a “purveyor of…cold black hatred.” The brief, unflattering bio of Muhammad claims he is “attacking all forms of dependence upon whites,(?)” because he “set up a Moslem restaurant, cleaning business, barbershop, butcher shop, grocery store and department store on Chicago’s South Side, a cafe in Harlem, a cafe and a farm near Atlanta.”
To Time, “Muhammad’s doctrine of total hate” began to “exploit Negro hopes and fears after the Emmett Till case.” It also mentions how the Honorable Elijah Muhammad began publishing a column in the The Pittsburgh Courier, and the Los Angeles Herald Dispatch. Curiously, Muhammad had been publishing his column “MR. Muhammad SPEAKS” for about three years beginning in 1956 without so much of a whisper suggesting he was preaching “Black supremacy.”
Time went on further lamenting the fact Congressman Adam Clayton Powell and Manhattan Borough President Hulan Jack supported “the Moslems” shows Time finds deep concern with the rise of the “Moslems” and fault with anyone who does not give keep distance from them.
A subsequent article in the Philadelphia Tribune refers to the Time article and TV stations allegations of “Black Supremacy” against the “Moslems.” The article regrets the allegations, if true, and goes over the need to prevent a “lunatic fringe” from taking over. However, the article never contemplates the possibility that it is not true.
Shortly after all the above happened, Elijah Muhammad’s column in the Pittsburgh Courier ceased to appear.
In September of 1959 the General Board of Education of the African Methodist Episcopal Church met with the denomination’s General Board. They adopted a resolution to send to U.S. President Eisenhower. The were “re-affirming…basic principles of American democracy are directly at variance with discrimination based upon race, color or national origin.” The Philadelphia meeting was in preparation for the national convention in Los Angeles, California during May 1960. The group also specifically attacked “black supremacy,” condemning the efforts as “un-Christian” and opposed to the AME Church creed.
The statement of Birmingham, Alabama’s Eugene (Bull) Connor shows just how irrational ideas related to Black Supremacy truly are. In April 1960 Connor made a speech in Selma, Alabama. There he announced Black people were seeking “Black Supremacy” and not racial equality in the South.
The claims of “Black Supremacy” compelled Elijah Muhammad to call his very first press conference on April 14, 1961. He felt a need to counter news reports misrepresented his teachings and denied being an advocate of black supremacy or violence. Muhammad spoke of “teaching our people to clean themselves up morally and spiritually” as well as having a desire to “unite my people…on their way…to other than..the doorsteps of the white man, begging.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Roy Wilkins, on the same day, made declarations regarding “black power.” Wilkins, as part of an address before the convention of the N.A.A.C.P. equated “black power” with racism in reverse and could lead to “black death.” Meanwhile, Dr. King, while accepting $100,000 from Sweden for the Southern Christian Leadership Council claimed “black power” is the same as “black supremacy” and implied “black nationalism.”
Unusual is one way to describe an August 1966 announcement by Black Roman Catholic bishop Harold R. Perry S.V.D. Auxiliary of New Orleans. By describing “Black Power” as misunderstood and a “catchy slogan” meant to raise interest in registering Blacks to vote he appeared to counter King and Wilkins. The Bishop did not expect the slogan to last long. He demonstrated the error in equating “Black Supremacy” with “White Supremacy” by pointing out Black people were no more interested in the former than they were the latter.