There were many influential African American leaders, past and present. In honor of Black History Month, we will talk about a few well-known leaders of color and their accomplishments.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most famous African American leaders who advocated for equality during the American Civil Rights Movement. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King discussed his vision to end racial segregation and empower the black community. King emphasized non-violence and the power of words, drawing from his strong Christian faith and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. In the less than 13 years King worked in civil rights during the 1950's and 60's, he made exponential progress towards racial equality. Dr. King has been described as achieving "more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced" and being the "greatest nonviolent leaders in world history (The King Center)."
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rosa Parks was an African American woman who fought for equal rights during the Civil Rights Movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She is famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Her actions on that Montgomery bus helped initiate what we now know to be the American Civil Rights Movement in 1955 by inspiring the formation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lasted more than a year and resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that bus segregation was unconstitutional. Parks then became recognized as "symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end entrenched racial segregation (History).”
“I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving up.”
Harriet Tubman was a female African American leader in the Underground Railroad who aided the freedom of enslaved people. Harriet was once an enslaved woman who was able to escape and become a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, leading enslaved people to freedom before the Civil War. Harriet Tubman was also a nurse, spy for the Union, and a strong supporter of woman's suffrage.
Common misconception, the underground railroad was not a literal underground railroad. It was a series of routes and safe houses that Tubman would lead slaves through to escape to the North.
After the Civil War ended, Tubman raised funds to aid former slaves, joined the fight for women’s suffrage with influencers such as Susan B. Anthony, cared for her aging parents, and worked with a writer to create her autobiography (History).
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars. To change the world”. -Harriet Tubman
Barack Obama was The United States of America's first African American president. Barack accomplished many things during his presidency to benefit the American people as a whole, such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) universal healthcare plan he signed into law in March 2010. This law was created to insure the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, as well as require health insurance companies to spend at least 80% of premiums on actual medical services.
“Another defining moment of Obama’s presidency came when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage on June 26, 2015. Obama remarked on that day: “We are big and vast and diverse; a nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, different experiences and stories, but bound by our shared ideal that no matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off, or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.”
“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.”
Malcolm X was very well known for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, less peacefully than Dr. King. Malcolm was a minister with the Nation of Islam and a vocal leader in the Civil Rights Movement that preached a "by any means necessary," approach to protecting the African American community. Unlike Dr. King, Malcolm felt as though violence was justified in the fight for freedom and ultimate peace. Malcolm was a very thorough observer of the human condition, and after becoming disgruntled with possible corruption in the Nation of Islam he traveled to Mecca on a spiritual pilgrimage and returned to found the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm X was later assassinated while attending a rally for his organization, literally dying in the process of promoting African American justice.
“You can't separate peace from freedom, because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”-Malcolm X
Solomon Northup is famously known for the book, “12 Years a Slave” and he even has trails named after him here in Louisiana. Northrup was born a free man in 1807 and made a career as a musician, abolitionist, and author. When Northrup went Washington D.C. in 1841 for a music gig, he was drugged and abducted to be sold into the slave trade. He was held in Richmond, Virginia until being shipped to New Orleans and sold to a planter. Solomon Northrup was held illegally as a slave for 12 years, mainly working in the Avoyelles Parish area of Louisiana. Northrup was finally able to get word to his family in New York explaining what had happened to him, and they were able to use New York illegal enslavement laws to help free Northrup in January of 1853. Northrup's experiences inspired him to write and publish his memoir Twelve Years a Slave, as well as become very active in the abolitionist movement. He gave over twenty anti-slavery lectures throughout the Northeast, helping build up the abolitionist movement. After 1857, Solomon Northrup largely disappeared from record and it is unclear what happened to him after that time period until his death in 1863.
“What difference is there in the color of the soul?” -Solomon Northup
Martin Luther King, jr.: About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. The King Center. (2022, February 3). Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://thekingcenter.org/about-tkc/martin-luther-king-jr/
Rosa Parks: Bus Boycott, Civil Rights & Facts - History. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks