Tag: Martin Luther King

February 21 Malcolm X


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Malcolm X



"I don't favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I'm also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people."


– Malcolm X 



Malcolm X is a critically underappreciated and tragically
misunderstood figure in American history. Often, he’s still tarred with the
kind of labels J. Edgar Hoover used to describe him. What many people fail to
recognize is that Malcolm X worked relentlessly to improve life for Black
people in America. That was his focus.



Malcolm used his role as a minister in the Nation of Islam
to preach a message of Black love and self-reliance that was truly radical in
the early 1960s. While many Blacks viewed their relationships to Whites as being
permanently imbalanced, Malcolm began convincing us that no one else held the
key to our destiny as a people. Publicly decrying America as inherently,
institutionally racist was a revolutionary step. The Black Power movement,
Black Liberation Theology and Afrocentric theory owe Malcolm the deepest of



Many are now convinced that Malcolm X was an advocate of
violence because of the dichotomous relationship presumed between he and Martin
Luther King Jr. The two men had many important differences but their
similarities were much deeper and more profound.* While he rejected King’s
stance on passive resistance, Malcolm never suggested that violence was a
solution to turmoil, only that every person has the right to self-defense. The
image of a Black man encouraging his followers to stand against violence was
terrifying to a population accustomed to seeing Blacks as willing victims of



Sadly, none of us were able to see the ultimate evolution of
Malcolm X. He was assassinated soon after his hajj to Mecca during which he
discovered that Whites of good will existed in large numbers and could be
important allies in his fight against American racism. The shift from Malcolm X
to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was on the verge of changing the world once again.



Malcolm rejected much of the delusional race theory of the
Nation of Islam and preached about the possibilities of Black people. He
refused to focus on being a victim and demanded his adherents decide to live
their lives fully and well.


Today, on the anniversary of his assassination, I am particularly grateful for Malcolm X. You should be too.






*- Hopefully I’ll be encouraged to write more on the


February 14 Coretta Scott King


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Coretta Scott King


“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by
the compassionate actions of its members… a heart of grace and a soul generated
by love.”


-Coretta Scott King



Somehow, many of us have managed to forget the critical role
Coretta Scott King played in the Civil Rights Movement.  As the wife of Martin Luther King, Coretta
would automatically hold some level of importance but her accomplishments
during and after his lifetime have been incredible and valuable. Most accounts
of Mrs. King focus on her status as a loving wife and homemaker but she was
much more a partner to Rev. King than was typical (or publicly acceptable)
during the 1950s. It is clear that she made remarkable efforts at maintaining
domestic tranquility in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances.



While her status as a symbol of love was incredibly valuable
to the Movement, Coretta Scott King went far beyond the prescribed models of
femininity. She was such a competent leader that she presided over the first
meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Mrs. King was also a
talented enough singer that she performed ‘freedom concerts’ to raise money for
civil rights initiatives.



For more than a decade, the Kings were constantly under the threat
of death and indeed had their home bombed multiple times. As the mother of four
children, Mrs. King could have easily asked her husband to take a less public
profile yet she publicly (and privately!) insisted that her resolve was only
strengthened by the violence perpetrated against her family. After her husband’s
assassination in 1968, Mrs. King failed to be cowed and raised her own public
profile by founding the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social



Eventually, Coretta Scott King became an outspoken opponent
of South Africa’s apartheid regime, a dedicated peace activist and one of the
first prominent Blacks to advocate for same sex marriage rights. Mrs. King also
led the way for the creation of the King federal holiday.* Mrs. King continued
to grow and change as she aged, eventually embracing veganism and her role as
the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement.



For nearly forty years after Martin Luther King’s murder,
Coretta Scott King served as a living symbol of the highest ideals of the Movement.
She focused continuing attention on the issues of racism, poverty, violence and
inequality that so deeply informed her work and life. It is particularly
appropriate that she be celebrated on Valentine’s Day as she continues to serve
as a tremendous symbol of love.



Today I am grateful for Coretta Scott King. You should be






*- Alongside Stevie



February 11 Barack Obama



This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Barack Obama



“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or
some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that
we seek.”


-Barack Obama




When Jesse
ran for President in 1984 and 1988, his campaigns were considered
quixotic. No one really thought Jackson would be President. However, a
generation later, Obama accomplished what many believed impossible; a Black
President. Nor was this an accident of history. Consolidating his 2008 win with
a sizable re-election margin in 2012 made Obama only the fourth Democrat to win
consecutive terms as President since Andrew Jackson.*   


Soon after succeeding George W. Bush in the White House,
Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. While the award was largely a repudiation of
Bush, Obama has ended America’s war in Iraq and the end of the conflict in
Afghanistan is imminent. With ObamaCare, the President has initiated the most
substantial change in health care since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society created
Medicaid and Medicare.


Obama has also broadened the national conversation on
civil rights issues by publicly supporting gay marriage rights and ending
discriminatory policies in the military. Obama is among the several most
important people in this 21st century and already belongs near the
top of the list for all of American history.


Beyond his policies, Obama has become a global symbol for
possibility. The vision of what America is and can be has been irrevocably
changed now that Obama and his family are the visual representatives of this
country. While Obama’s Presidency is not the realization of Martin Luther
King’s Dream, America has certainly come closer to fulfilling it. Clearly, America’s
first Black President holds a special, soon to be permanent place in the annals
of national and world history.



Today I am grateful for Barack Obama. You should be too.





*- Before him were Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt and
Woodrow Wilson. Grover Cleveland won the popular vote three times in a row but
lost the Electoral College race in between his terms in office. 




February 10 Ralph Abernathy


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Ralph Abernathy



“Bring on your tear gas, bring on your grenades, your new
supplies of Mace, your state troopers and even your National Guards. But let
the record show we ain’t going to be turned around.”

– Ralph Abernathy



Despite being older and initially more recognized than
Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy will always be viewed as MLK’s
sidekick. But what an important sidekick.


Ralph Abernathy was something of a prodigy, having become
the pastor of Montgomery, Alabama’s largest Black church at only 25. It was
this position that helped make Abernathy such a prominent member of the local
NAACP and a natural leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the
organization built around the Montgomery bus boycott. Soon after, Abernathy
became Vice President in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC),
among the most prominent of civil rights organizations.


Abernathy never received the public acclaim of King but was
his most valued ally. Racist groups were well aware of Abernathy’s importance
to the civil rights movement and attempted to assassinate him on numerous
occasions. Abernathy was viewed within the movement as King’s most important strategist
and best friend. In the minds of some, Abernathy had more sway over King’s
thinking than even his wife, Coretta Scott King.*


After King’s murder, Abernathy assumed the presidency of
SCLC and fulfilled King’s dream for a Poor People’s Campaign, an attempt to
advocate for the needs of the most desperate Americans, regardless of their
race. Even as the civil rights coalition fractured, Abernathy remained active
in social issues. He worked to resolve the Wounded Knee conflict between
American Indian activists and the federal government; became President of the
World Peace Council; and led numerous initiatives to guarantee economic


While Martin Luther King was the unquestioned leader of the mainstream
civil rights movement, Ralph Abernathy played a critical role in it. His
allegiance to King and support of the vision of racial equality was an
inimitable boon to the movement. Few people could have stood so firmly in so
large a shadow.


Today I am grateful for Ralph Abernathy. You should be too.






*Check back Wednesday. 



February 6 Jesse Jackson


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Jesse Jackson



“Both tears and sweat
are salty, but they render a different result. Tears will get you sympathy;
sweat will get you change.”

-Jesse Jackson



In the last decade or so, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has
become caricatured for having a complicated personal life and making an absurd
statement about Barack Obama. However the 21st century image of
Jackson I’ll remember is this one.  The
picture doesn’t reflect the elation of a typical Obama supporter. The picture
represents an outpouring of emotion from a man who spent his entire adult life fighting
on the front lines of America’s race battles. And, in this picture, we can see
Jesse Jackson watching Barack Obama complete the journey Jackson began himself.


People often forget that Jesse Jackson was a civil rights
prodigy. While only in his mid-20s, Jackson became a trusted adviser to Martin
Luther King Jr., helping run Operation Breadbasket in Chicago and planning
national strategies. In the famous photo of the Lorraine Motel balcony upon
which King was assassinated, Jackson is one of the men surrounding King.


During the 1970s, Jackson worked to fill the void left by
King’s death and became the most prominent advocate for Black interests.
Jackson attempted to meld the interests of the old guard civil rights
community, the developing Black middle class and Black Power radicals by
emphasizing Black culture, pride, self-reliance and community. He also helped
develop the model of Black Expos which expanded into other communities across
the country.


Jackson’s obituary will most prominently highlight his 1984
and 1988 Presiden
tial campaigns. Jackson was the first Black candidate to run a
national Presidential campaign that featured electoral successes.* Jackson did
so well in 1984 that eventual Democratic nominee Walter Mondale felt compelled
to choose someone who was not a White male in an effort to capture potentially
disaffected Jackson voters.#   


Even after failing to win the Presidency, Jackson stayed
engrossed in national politics, serving as Washington, DC’s shadow senator. Now,
the prodigy has become one of the elder statesmen of Black America; receiving
Jackson’s blessing is still greatly valued. He’s one of the strongest links between
the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and the glories of an America in
which a Black person is President.


Today I am grateful for Jesse Jackson. You should be too.






*- Shirley Chisholm ran an inspiring campaign in 1972 but
never gained any traction. Chisholm demonstrated tremendous courage during her
short lived race and survived at least three assassination attempts.

#- His choice of Geraldine Ferraro was poorly received.



February 4 Rosa Parks



This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Rosa Parks


“I had not
planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail.
But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt
that we had endured that too long.”


-Rosa Parks




Today is the 100th birthday of the woman many describe as “the
mother of the Civil Rights Movement”, Rosa Parks.  That kind epithet acknowledges Parks’ role in
starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott which launched the national career of
Martin Luther King Jr. and is often seen as the first example of a new type of
civil rights struggle. At the same time, though, viewing Parks as a matronly figure reinforces the false idea that Parks was an accidental heroine.

Many of us now have an image of Parks as an old woman (she
lived into her 90s) who was so exhausted and worn down that by December 1955,
she just couldn’t muster the energy to move further back on the public bus she
rode home.  In reality, the actions Parks
became famous for were in no way accidental. Parks was a longtime community
activist and, in her early 40s, vibrant, strong and defiant. Parks was
perfectly aware that she would suffer the public humiliation of an arrest and
would likely suffer long term consequences for her actions. In fact, Parks was
fired from her job.

Part of what I hope folks can take a moment to acknowledge
is that when Rosa Parks began her personal fight against the segregation of the
bus system, she was doing it on her own. There was no plan to create a boycott
of the buses. There was no Montgomery Improvement Association. There was no
guarantee that Parks would even be supported by the Black community in
Montgomery. Rosa Parks fought against an unjust system, not because she knew
she would win but because she knew the system was unjust. For that she deserves
to be richly celebrated.


Today I am grateful for Rosa Parks. You should be too.