Black Power, Martial Arts, and Sports Liberation: Beyond the Page
By M. Aziz
Black martial artistry has dazzled us for decades. Our understanding of it in the context of American Studies and American history has remained static. This story extends far beyond the cinematic catharsis and hetero-masculinist fantasy of the Kung Fu Film Boom of the 1970s. Black Power organizers used martial arts to blend embodied practice and community organizing. Organizations like the Black Panther Party provided local, accessible avenues to rethink the role of sport in American Society. After the Olympic Committee for Human Rights’ protests during the 1968 Olympics, a small but vocal Sports Liberation Movement started to form, with thinkers and Jack and Micki Scott voicing concerns about the collision of liberalism, capitalism, and athletics.
|Figure 1: A photograph of the Oakland Community Learning Center’s teenager martial arts champions. From the November 5, 1977 issue of The Black Panther. Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.|
The article, “Vanguard of the Athletic Revolution: The Black Panther Party, Micki and Jack Scott, and the Sports Liberation Movement,” examines a lost history of interracial “socialist sport.” Moreover, it takes the “Revolt of the Black Athlete” out of the largest stadiums and podiums and locates its importance for communities like East Oakland. Using the archives of newspapers such as The Black Panther and Sports Illustrated, I contend that the Panthers, representative of the larger Black Power Movement, politicized sport as a necessary site to change the everyday person’s quality of life. As demonstrated by dozens of action photographs in the Party newspaper from 1975 to 1978, improving the well-being of youth through martial arts became one of the most important iterations of Black martial artistry. Boys and girls eagerly took to the Party’s afterschool program. Taught by Tae Kwon Do practitioner and math teacher Steve McCutchen, it provided an exciting recreational outlet as well as an introduction to the Party’s Third World vision of the future.