While it should be commonplace to study, promote, and protect Black History each and every day of the year, I still find it rewarding to dig into our history during the month of February to highlight those of our predecessors, especially the lesser know ones, to carry their messages forward into our future. Often because of Sexism, Hetero-Sexism, unpopular political inclinations, their stories are ignored, revised, and forgotten. Today, I welcome us all to get to know more about these freedom fighters in our history. So let’s get to know…
1. Bayard Rustin: There would be no Martin Luther King without Brother Rustin, an organizer and architect of the american Civil Rights Movement. Brother Rustin is often left out of our understanding of the civil rights history because he was openly gay. It is said that he spent a time “on two crosses”, dealing with marginalization as part of both Black and LGBT communities.
2. Harriet Jacobs: One of the mothers of Black feminist writing. She was born a slave and escaped to become an abolitionist writer and speaker. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” was the first recognized autobiographical work accounting the unique struggle of Black women in and outside of slavery in the american South. Her reflections on motherhood, woman-ness, sexism, and sexuality blazed trails for many that came after her.
3. James Baldwin: Another Black LGBT giant. You may hear his name here and there, but few times do we really delve deep into his life, his critique, and his contributions. Brother Baldwin is one of the brightest shining lights in our history. His legacy is one that forces us as a people to deal with secondary/internalized marginalization in a way that equates the importance of all struggles with each other all fronts. He reminds us to make sure that if we stand, if we fight, we are fighting for all of us, or we fight for none of us.
4. Soledad Brothers: Founders of the Black Guerilla Family, George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette, panthers, marxists, revolutionaries, led a hunger strike and uprising in San Quentin prison to combat the abusive, inhumane practices that lead to the death of several of their brothers and sisters. George Jackson shaped my understanding of the the prison system as the deliberate extension of slavery in America. While their lives were ultimately lost, they embody the selfless sacrifice that we need to see through a etter world for our children.
5. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti: Nigerian Feminist activist and mother of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Throughout her career, she was known as an educator and human and civil rights activist. She and Elizabeth Adekogbeprovided dynamic leadership for women’s rights in the ’50s. She founded an organization for women in Abeokuta, with a membership of over 20 000 women. For her activism, which largely inspired the music and activism of her sons, she was killed by state troops during a raid. Her legacy lives on as many black feminists in the diaspora stand on her shoulders.
6. Ella Baker: Revolutionized what Black Leadership looks, sounds, and feels like. Sister Baker was a staunch believer in helping ordinary people to work together and lead themselves, and she objected to centralized authority. In her worldview, “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” She modeled this by dedicating her time and energy to empowering people to make critical and practical changes in their life, tirelessly fighting on many fronts, including fighting sexism within the movement that often placed male-centric practices and hyper-masculinity at the forefront of Blackness and Black movements.
7. John Huggins and Bunchy Carter: Two powerful, creative, and dynamic brothers who were Black Panthers. Bunchy was part of the Slausons street gang, a Black community organization that led the fight to keep LA neighborhoods safe and healthy from the like of the white supremacist LAPD. John Huggins was from conneticut, and moved to Los Angeles to begin working with the Panthers. John and Bunchy fought tirelessly alongside the likes of Elaine Brown and Ericka Huggins to secure a better world for our people. While organizing as students in UCLA’s High Potential Program in 1969, they were assassinated on campus by FBI operatives that infiltrated the US Organization as part of COINTEL PRO, the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program. Their memorial is held annually on January 17th, the anniversary of this event, by the Afrikan Student Union at UCLA.
8. Assata Shakur: Freedom fighter with the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party, who provided guidance and leadership through her organizing, writings, and mentorship to many within the movement. In an unsuccessful attempt to incarcerate her for false felony accusations, Sister Assata escaped from prison and now resides in Cuba, where she has political assylum. Although labeled a domestic terrorist in 2005 by the FBI, she continues to spread knowledge, love and truth. While she is often mistaken for Tupac Shakur’s mother (Afeni Shakur), she is actually his god mother.
9. David Walker: Fearless abolitionist writer who is known for his unapologetic writings, speeches, and organizing during slavery. Born a free man, he made it his life’s charge to ensure that slavery was abolished. His style was radical for his time, and pushed multitudes of people to understand the political, social, economic, and moral implications of slavery in America. “Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World” is Brother Walker’s culminating work, a Black manifesto written in the style of the US Constitution, exposing the hypocritical nature of slavery in a self proclaimed “just, equal, and god-fearing” nation.
10. Steve Biko: A student leader, founded the Black Consciousness Movement which would empower and mobilize much of the urban black populations around the world. Since his death in police custody, he has become a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement.While living, his writings and activism empowered black people, and he was famous for his slogan “Black is Beautiful”, which he described as meaning: “man, you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being.”
Enjoy family, and feel free to share with us thosw that inspire you below.
Love + Peace,