The Black Power Movement in Baltimore

The key to Mike Davis’ brilliance: He never fit in

By Brian Sciaretta | February 13, 2014

In the early 1960s, it was easy to feel out of place in a city dominated by two powerful cultural forces: the Civil Rights movement and the hippie counterculture. And it was even easier to be out of place in Baltimore, where one of the most prominent of these movements was born.

Baltimore’s Black Power Movement (BMP) was born after the assassination of a young civil rights activist on March 7, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot by James Earl Ray, a mentally disturbed white supremacist, who was later convicted. King and his followers were in the front lines of a movement to end racial segregation, to push for black civil rights, and to desegregate the city. When King was killed, Baltimore became the first major American city to declare an emergency, under a law prohibiting discrimination. Two years later, the city followed in Chicago’s footsteps by passing a law prohibiting discrimination based on race.

But the civil rights movement was a small movement—and Baltimore’s black residents lived in a small city—and they weren’t prepared for the changes that were coming. By the late 1960s, the Civil Rights Act granted blacks the right to vote, to hold public office, and to be elected as county and city officials. But Baltimore was still segregated. When one man asked to vote for a white candidate, he said, “I’d vote for the devil first, but I’d be willing to vote for a devil and a pimp too.”

As Baltimore’s black population continued to grow, racial segregation became even more deeply rooted. In response, the BMP led a successful effort to pass a city charter in 1965, which finally created municipal government for Baltimore as it was at the time.

The BMP movement also led to the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E. Church). The A.M.E. was a spiritual church that focused on racial reconciliation and economic justice. Members of the A.M.E. would work to form small business cooperatives in order to address the racial disparities between white and black Baltimoreans. Many African Americans

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