I once believed that the concept of Black Power meant either reverse discrimination or black superiority. After reading James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power I have changed my mind (although use of terms may vary depending upon who is using them). Black Power, as I understand it, is the empowerment of black people to have an equal say in the political policies and social structures that affect them. It means they have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
To this day, the United States is mainly run by white people. This helped me to better understand why so many African-Americans were elated by the election of Barak Obama. Cone, in a recent interview, lamented an all white Supreme Court (although one Justice looks black, according to Cone he is actually white).
James Cone is a pioneer of black liberation theology, integrating some theological influences from Bonhoeffer, Barth, and Moltmann's theology of hope. Cone wrote Black Theology and Black Power as an angry young black man within a year of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. The frustration and angst comes right off the page, though as a white man I cannot pretend to fully understand.
Cone aligned himself with both Dr. King and Malcolm X. Judging King as not radical enough, Cone insisted that some white folks liked King because it required less change than some more radical approaches to the fight for civil rights. While Malcolm X is sometimes accused of violent rhetoric, I've found no evidecne of his ever inciting race riots or anything of the kind. It seems to me that Malcolm's reputation was acquired in part by his vocal acknowledgement of the rights of blacks to defend themselves by any means necessary. It seems that the blacks were in a war that had been declared upon them by racist whites. As a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm's rhetoric did suggest black separatism and black superiority, identifying the white man as the devil. While remaining a Muslim, Malcolm's break with "the Nation" led him to some less radical approaches resulting in his assassination.
Cone neither condemns the race riots, nor does he overtly separate violence from appropriate means of civil disobedience. He doesn't solve the problem as to whether violence is ever acceptable, but nor does he hesitate to empathize with those who had resorted to it. I would find more affinity with Cone if, like King, he condemned all violence outright. But if I could feel the desperation of the black man in the struggle for civil rights, I might be more sympathetic.