Excerpted from: Garrett Chase, The Early History of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the Implications Thereof, 18 Nevada Law Journal 1091 (Spring, 2018) (Note) (156 Footnotes) (Full Document)
From quarterbacks to hashtags, from mall demonstrations to community vigils, and from the streets of New York to the courts of Texas, the Black Lives Matter movement undisputedly has made its mark on America's consciousness. But what is this “movement”? Where did it come from? Does Black Lives Matter stand for civil rights, or human rights? What are the movement's goals? What are its motivations? With the onslaught of media attention given to Black Lives Matter, I found the magnitude of these questions troubling. Black Lives Matter has garnered widespread awareness; yet, many know almost nothing about its origins. Black Lives Matter's ultimate place in the historical narrative of our time is uncertain. Part viral social phenomenon, part civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter draws on common themes from previous civil rights movements, but is a marked departure from previous chapters of the centuries-long struggle for Black freedom and equality in America.
As a matter of clarification, and with all due respect to those who were responsible for the inception of the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement, this Note addresses Black Lives Matter in the context of America's history of civil rights movements. In an article for Time Magazine, one of the originators of the movement, Opal Tometi, specified that the aspirations of the movement go beyond civil rights and that the movement characterizes itself as a human rights movement for “the full recognition of [Blacks'] rights as citizens; and it is a battle for full civil, social, political, legal, economic and cultural rights as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” However, this Note focuses on BLM's role in the history of American civil rights movements because of its focus on race, particularly (as the name implies) on the equal treatment of Black people.
This Note explores the early history of the Black Lives Matter movement, in an effort to craft a historical narrative of the movement, within the context of America's history of racial inequality.
Parts I-III examine the catalyst that sparked the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, the very beginning of the movement and its founders' diverse backgrounds, and the early, gradual development of Black Lives Matter from a simple phrase, into a civil rights movement. Throughout, the Note will illustrate the national consensus that has driven Black Lives Matter from the beginning and compare and contrast the movement, in its early stages, to other civil rights movements from American history.
Finally, Parts IV-V will analyze some of the issues and implications that have become evident in the early history of the movement. This Note's ultimate goal is to present a clear notion of what Black Lives Matter really means, and what ideals drive it as a movement.
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Black Lives Matter has undoubtedly shaped the way Americans view racial inequality in the last three years. The movement's approach to organization, and its roots in social media, mark Black Lives Matter as a novel chapter in the centuries-long struggle for Black freedom. However, this approach may create, and in some cases already has created, issues for the direction that the movement takes. Misappropriation, fracturing of ideals, and other issues may interfere with the movement's effectiveness in the future.
Black Lives Matter has drawn comparisons to the “Occupy Wall Street” viral phenomenon, that ballooned from a hashtag into a brief set of demonstrations, then effectively vanished from public awareness. However, in spite of issues related to its organizational model, Black Lives Matter has shown, since its inception, and especially since the fall of 2014, that it is more than a mere social media fad for this generation. Black Lives Matter has made its mark on American history and has evolved from the passionate social media posts that marked its inception to a nationwide civil rights movement. Looking forward, given the impact that the movement made in its early history, and given the novel approach to civil rights reform that the movement takes, Black Lives Matter will likely find its way into future generations' textbooks as a historical chapter in this nation's struggle to achieve racial equality.
Associate Attorney at Shumway Van and William S. Boyd School of Law Alumnus, Class of 2017.