For the past two centuries, black Americans have been deprived of the right to vote, a quality education, and equal opportunities in business. After being freed from slavery through the American Civil War, blacks were liberated, but their rights were limited. They were denied the right to vote, could not attend schools with highly educated, not eating in restaurants, and sleeping in white hotels.
There have been many black activists who devoted their whole lives to fighting for the justifiable rights of the African American community. In this post, we will go through a shortlist of black activists and their contributions to prominent civil rights movements.
Martin Luther King Jr., the great American human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless struggle for equal rights for black people in America. All his life, he was known as the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement against institutionalized racism.
Martin is the founder of the African-American human rights organization with many peaceful, organized mass protest campaigns; Register to vote and fight for equality. The organization has taken a devastating toll on the Jim Crow laws that discriminated against African-Americans at the time.
Following the arrest of Rosa Park, Luther King led a campaign to boycott the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. This boycott campaign, which lasted for more than a year, was a political and social movement against racism. Thanks to the significant impact of this campaign, the US Supreme Court complied that the racist bus service was unconstitutional.
In 1963, he led a peaceful march of more than 200,000 people in Washington, DC, from the Lincoln Monument to the Washington Museum. The march attracted the participation of a large number of human rights groups, workers, and religious organizations to achieve social and economic justice for African Americans. Also in this march, Mr. King gave the historic "I Have A Dream" speech, calling for an end to racism.
After many years of historic achievements and successes, he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the United States Congress in 1986 approved a national holiday in memory, which is the third Monday in January each year.
Not only a controversial individual accused of preaching racism and violence, but Malcolm X is also a well-known activist in the African-American and Muslim-American communities for his pursuit of racial justice.
As an active member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm quickly became one of its most influential leaders upon his release from prison in 1952. More than a decade later, as a journalist, official spokesman, and political activist, Malcolm made many remarkable achievements. He was involved in the advocacy of black legal rights, black supremacy, and secessionism between black and white Americans, and openly criticized the civil rights movement for its emphasis on non-violence and racial harmony. Malcolm X also expressed pride in the nation's social welfare accomplishments, notably the free drug addiction program.
Malcolm X once criticized Martin Luther King's policy of nonviolent protest because he believed that it is not possible to reclaim human rights only through nonviolent struggle.
However, after leaving the Nation of Islam and founding African American Unity (OAAU), Malcolm X gradually adopted Martin Luther King's ideas and expressed a softer and more peaceful attitude toward the white community. Before he was assassinated by being shot 21 times in 1965, he exerted a lot of positive political influence on a variety of politicians around the world at the time.
He was posthumously recognized with Malcolm X Day, which is observed in cities around the United States.
Huey Newton is one of the two founders of the Black Panther Party, who made many contributions to the black rights movement in the 60s of the last century.
Influenced by the works of extremist activists such as Che Guevara and Malcolm X, in October 1966, he joined forces with Bobby Seale to form a new group they called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The organization focuses on combating police brutality in Oakland and San Francisco.
The Black Panthers emerged from the nonviolent civil rights movement in the early 1960s. The Black Panther Party had a specific platform that included goals such as: "the power to determine the destiny of oppressed black communities. violence", and "Owning land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace." Newton also expressed his beliefs around black liberation, self-defense, and social change.
For these ideas, Newton as well as other members of the Black Panther Party gradually developed in the direction of fighting and protesting with violence. The Black Panthers persuaded Oakland's Black people to begin carrying firearms, invoking their constitutionally protected rights under the Second Amendment. This is the reason why conflicts between the authorities and the Black Panthers kept growing.
Newton's arrest became a significant cause for protesters in the United States after he was accused of fatally shooting a police officer. The slogan "Free Huey" has appeared on banners and buttons at rallies around the country. He was later released after two retrials in 1970. In 1980, he returned to the Black Panther organization and received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was a black activist who was best remembered for her participation in the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott.
On a late-day bus ride one day in early December 1955, Mrs. Rosa Park, who was tired after a long day of work, was forced to give up her seat of the "colored" section to a white man because the others are full. Instead of suffering and giving way, she was ready to refuse even when threatened by the police. And she was arrested for refusing to abide by unfair and prejudiced treatment.
More than a protest against segregation, Rosa Parks' response, and the government's unreasonable arrest sparked a wave of strong boycotts and deep pride among the black community in Alabama. This woman did inspire The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to come up with a brilliant and innovative way to confront local authority.
By protesting nonviolently and boycotting bus companies, Montgomery's black community made clear its stand against the government's harsh treatment. The black community plays a pivotal role in contributing to the economic and social values in their living and working areas.
This black activist continued fighting for African-American rights and aroused a movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s the reason why The United States Congress has dubbed her "the mother of the freedom movement" and "the first woman of civil rights”.
Often affectionately known as "Tata" or "Father," of South African, President Nelson Mandela has earned great admiration around the world. He was South Africa's first black president after more than three centuries of domination of white authority, a hero in the fight against apartheid but also an international symbol of the spirit of freedom, national unity, and altruism.
For the people of South Africa and the world, Nelson Mandela is the most successful black activist leader in the fight against apartheid. The efforts of him and the people of South Africa, along with the economic sanctions of the international community, brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. During 67 years of fighting for freedom, justice, and serving humanity, Nelson Mandela's greatest success in life was the repeal of a law requiring black people to carry and hand identification at all times requested by white people.
One of his greatest achievements was building solidarity in a deeply divided country. More than 20 years since apartheid ended in South Africa, while much of the economic power structure remains in white hands, South Africa has changed dramatically. In 1999, after leaving politics, he continued to play an important role as a mediator for conflicts around the world. He also spends time raising funds for a charity named after Nelson Mandela.
His great contributions in the fight against apartheid racism, poverty, and inequality have been recognized by South Africa and many countries and international organizations around the world. He was honored with many awards, notably the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the Soviet Union's Lenin Prize, and the American Freedom Prize.
In particular, in November 2009, the 64th United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted July 18 as "Nelson Mandela International Day".
Marcus Garvey is a renowned nationalist and a well-known black activist in the United States. He was famous for founding the journal Black World and the Pan-Africanism movement to unite people of African origin all around the world. He also has certain achievements in the fields of economics and politics, notably the Black Star Line, a shipping firm, and the Global Black Improvement Association, or UNIA, a fraternal organization of black nationalists.
Many scholars regard Marcus Garvey as the most outstanding African political genius who ever lived. He instilled the concept of black self-sufficiency in all black cultures and communities—the concept of building institutions to fight for their own freedom. Garvey is also claimed to be responsible for emblems like the red, green, and black Pan-African flag, which is popularly seen today. Garvey's black nationalism and Pan-Africanism beliefs — movements that advocated for people of African ancestry to unite and form an independent nation in Africa – have paved the ground for the civil rights struggle.
The most valuable legacy in Marcus's ideology is black pride. For the first time, he demonstrated that black people are capable of doing everything as or better than any other white man. His key message was steeped in African American pride by coining the phrase “Black is beautiful.”
His philosophy is perhaps best exemplified in the following quote: "We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor Black men and women who have made their contributions to our racial history. I am the equal of any white man and I want you to feel the same way.”
In the past, history and biases have made it easy for certain groups to win the competition. On the contrary, other groups of people will suffer losses and always have to fight for the rights they deserve.
The black slaves, after being liberated, continued to struggle on all fronts to have the same opportunities for education, nutrition, housing, medical care as white people. Victims who have been discriminated against in the past will need to continue to stand against residual prejudice and injustice.
“This may be the darkest hour before dawn… we must keep moving forward with the same faith!”
Martin Luther King
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