In August 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis (SNCC), and James Farmer were among those present when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act eliminated many of the obstacles that hindered black southerners from voting. It also included other new economic and social laws that would help to translate the civil rights into tangible gains for the black communities. Sadly, the Voting Rights Act was the last major victory of the southern civil rights movement. Days after President Johnson signed the act, deadly violence broke out in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, and spread throughout the south-central part of the city. Police killed over 30 black residents before National Guards were able to suppress the unrest. This event and the growing violence demonstrated that civil rights laws have failed to address and fix many of the problems black residents faced in America's urban centers.
A new wave of radicalism swept the movement when in June 1966 a sniper shot James Meredith. Meredith, who was instrumental in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, was participating in the "March Against Fear," a solitary march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage African American voter registration. The incident brought together many veterans of the earlier civil rights campaigns, who came to continue the march. During the march, Stokely Carmichael (SNCC) attracted national attention with his call for "Black Power." The slogan strongly resonated with the younger activists who were losing interest and patience with the nonviolent principles. "Black Power" expressed the widespread discontent and anger of African-Americans who remained poor and powerless despite civil rights reforms.
Early in 1966, King, and later his family, moved to Chicago. As a social gospel minister and leader of the civil rights movement, King was concerned with the issues of the urban North. The impoverished living conditions in the ghettos, segregated schools, lack of employment opportunities, and other forms of discrimination were the results of institutionalized racism in the North. In January 1966, King and the SCLC announced plans for the Chicago Freedom Movement, a campaign against poverty, housing, and other urban problems. As black political activism shifted from the rural south to northern cities, King's nonviolent principles were tested and proven less successful. King also felt concerned about the ideological divides within the movement, the growing black radicalism, and the increase in racial violence. Despite numerous mass marches, the Chicago Campaign produced few tangible gains and weakened King's reputation as an effective civil rights leader.