Memory, Affect, and the Shaping of Black Power
This chapter examines the ways in which Black Power activists used memories of King’s assassination as an instrumental as well as an affective rhetorical resource to help shape the memory and direction of the Black Power movement after 1968. It argues that King’s murder provided context and clarity for the Black Power movement, justifying a more militant and assertive identity for black activists working in opposition to an increasingly hostile federal government even as these intellectuals expressed their closeness with King. King’s death was an instance of cruel optimism that calcified an affective and rhetorical shift from black optimism to black pessimism because his assassination was a chronopolitical moment that not only ended integration politics but that fundamentally stopped time and also spurred more riots. For Black Power activists, King’s assassination confirmed both the impotence and duplicitousness of the federal government, particularly in the Johnson Administration and King's own class politics and militancy on Vietnam near the end of his life, shaped in part by the Black Power movement, allowed Black Power leaders to mobilize King's memory in the service of Black Power philosophy and tactics.
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