Last week, the nation celebrated civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. and we are a few days from entering Black History month. For as long as I could remember, Dr. King was the paramount of civil rights figures for black America and the hard hitter of every Black History program I ever participated in as a child. Dr. King was always flanked by other Black historical leaders much like Jesus was by the apostles. I recall my desire to write about lesser-known Black leaders for the ritual Black History paper that many of us had to write in grade school. At the time, Spike Lee had just released the critically acclaimed film biopic about Malcolm X, which chronicled his journey from criminal to leader. I choose Malcolm X as the topic for my paper and received dissuasion from my teacher.
“Don’t you want to pick some one else?”
Malcolm X unfortunately was demonized based on his criminal past and his position within the Nation of Islam, which to many Christian Blacks and Americans is considered a foreign religious sect for terrorist. I found my tiny rebel voice within the history of Malcolm X and seek out other radical Black leaders in our history like Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. That teacher was uncomfortable with the radical, pro Black message of Malcolm X. We were lulled into the fairy tales that was Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A story sanitized to be appealing to not only Christian sensibilities but to be cross-cultural for non-black citizens.
There is indeed a Malcolm X day, May 19 but it is not a federal holiday and is only recognized in Berkley, California. There is a list of other notable Black leaders that are not bestowed a holiday. Typically holidays are developed based on a tremendous call from citizens. I am not making a case for whether or not Malcolm X is worthy of national federal holiday, but that we would readily accept a “friendly” version of a Black civil rights leader rather than an entire humanist view of this person. Life is in a constant state of evolution as we develop ideas, principles, and opinions from our experiences. As an adult, I can honestly and shamefully say that I only know the “sticking points” that were fed to me as a child about Martin Luther King Jr. I can tell you a wealth of knowledge about other black leaders in history. I owe my knowledge to actively seeking out information that was not being giving to me via the educational machine. To be able to witness the synthesis of the ideas and beliefs of Dr. King could give us a better understanding of the man and ourselves. But because certain parts of life are deemed unsavory, we shy away from the human experience and are left with a caricature of what it means to be human which serves no one.
So ask all of you to take some time and research a Black leader from our history. Share your information with some one else. We share everything else, so why not share a little knowledge.