At the 1967 Congress of the US National Student Association (NSA), the delegates present passed a resolution endorsing the Black Power movement, which they defined as a struggle for the unification and liberation of black people in America “by any means necessary.”

These last four words got a lot of attention.

One of the most prominent attacks on the resolution came from the New York Times, In an editorial entitled “Appeasing Negro Extremists.” The resolution, the Times declared, was “morally … inexcusable” because it was “insincere.” Surely the members of NSA did not, it continued, “believe that American Negroes have the right to seek something called ‘liberation’ by murder, arson and other terror tactics,” as “the phrase ‘by any means necessary’ clearly implies.”

A few days later Ed Schwartz, NSA’s newly elected president, replied in a letter to the editor. 

The Black Power resolution had, Schwartz noted, made no reference to “murder, arson, and other terror tactics.” Its authors had deliberately left the phrase vague, leaving it “to the reader of the resolution to determine what means will be necessary to achieve social progress in this country.”

“If the Times believes,” he continued, “that ‘murder, arson and other terror tactics’ have become ‘necessary means’ to social progress, then it should examine why such tactics … have become ‘necessary.’ … Those who predict violence are,” he said, “admitting that we will remain incapable of solving problems of our own creation. The National Student Association is unwilling to make such an admission.”