I would add to the list of 11 Black Americans you won’t learn about on MLK day the following: the 24th infantry in the Korean War, the Tuskeegee Airmen, Marcus Garvey, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, A. Phillip Randolph, my namesake Adam Clayton Powell, Kwamee Ture, Sojourner Truth, Thurgood Marshall…the list is mighty long. I didn’t even touch on the fact that without artists like Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, James Brown, Sly Stone and several others, some folks might still be listening and dancing to classical music.
I learned much of the neglected history of the descendents of the African slave trade while attending Howard University, but in the past 6 years, I have been doing much more research into world history. I’ve learned how influential my ancestors have been in our country’s story. History was never as clear cut as “the slaves were free, treated separate but equal, MLK had a dream and things got better after that speech.” There is a lot going on under the surface and it’s truly fascinating studying history. I find myself less appalled nowadays when I hear about certain current events.
As much as things have improved, many things haven’t. In fact, they have gotten worse.
We are a very young nation and still a work in progress. The constitution is a wonderful document that needs to be held as the standard we should all aspire to. Let’s try to remember that and not let peope forget what is in it, or dismantle it.
One day, just like one month, isn’t nearly enough.
If the Black Lives Matter movement has taught us anything these past couple of months, it’s that every black life matters. But more than that, it’s proven that a single voice can never truly be representative of an entire moment. One federal holiday and one month celebrating black heritage, culture and activism is pithy at best, insulting at worst.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a symbol of civil rights for good reason. His passion for activism is and was an inspiration to countless others. But he was not alone in these endeavors. Americans like heroes, even if that means we have to rewrite history a little in order to simplify it. But if the past has taught us anything, it’s that you cannot truly understand history in digestible soundbites.
Therefore, in honor of a holiday that has come to represent the spirit of the civil rights movement, we’ve compiled a list of the heroes you probably won’t hear about on Monday. These are the people who marched in the streets of Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, side by side with King, who delivered inspiring speeches about civil rights and ending racial oppression, icons who, in their distinct way, expanded King’s vision of “the revolution for human rights” to include women and queer people.