Civil rights protests and revolutions have been a consistent part in American history, dating back centuries.
And while although American history can be discussed without the mention of such events (due to white privilege, suppression on information, etc.), African American history certainly cannot. Racism, civil rights, protests, and revolutions are part and parcel with the history of the black community.
In short, the history of protest and revolt in the United States is largely linked to racial violence and injustice, and have changed the course of history as we know it.
While it was rare to see people revolting against those in major authority prior to the Civil War, in the modern era, it has become a primary tool employed in defense of liberty and justice.
“Freedom or death!”As mentioned above, it was a rare occurrence for impoverished slaves to revolt, let alone violently revolt, against the majority opposition prior to the Civil War. At most, enslaved blacks would show signs of displeasure by slacking off in their duties, for example, because anything more was certain to result in unjust, bloody murder.
Few protests were set into action at that time. There were, however, a couple of exceptions. One notable revolt took place in the early 1800s and involved a mass of 500 African Americans marching the streets of New Orleans chanting the phrase “freedom or death!”, known as the German Coast Uprising. Though widely suppressed by the American media at the time, this revolt was one of the first “partially” successful and certainly impactful revolts in African American history.
Rosa sat on the bus…
Some years later, about 150 to be exact, the widely known true story of a courageous woman by the name of Rosa Parks marked history.
What followed is known in history textbooks as the Montgomery bus boycott, led by a man named Martin Luther King Jr., which ultimately succeeded in its message and resulted in the Supreme Court ruling segregated buses as unconstitutional. Thanks to Rosa Parks and others, peaceful protests and standing up for what is right started to become the culture of the black community. No longer were they willing to sit and allow themselves to be treated as second class citizens due to the simple difference in the color of their skin.
Rosa Parks gave rise to the power generation of protesters and activists that showed the black community that change IS possible, and that courage in the face of scrutiny is the answer.
“By any means necessary.”
The generation of activists that followed was made up of some of the most exemplary, monumental figures in black history, fighting the good fight towards racial equality. The 1960s gave rise to what is possible and is often regarded as one of the more provoking, struggle-filled, yet impactful eras of protest in the fight for justice. This generation included names like Martin Luther King Jr., The Greensboro Four, The Black Panthers, and Malcolm X.
While each figure held a different approach in protest (some were more violent and angry, while others were peaceful and passionate), all had the same goal of unity.
Malcolm X, for example, was best known for his “staunch” and “controversial” approach towards black racial advocacy, convicted in his anger, and unforgiving in his stance. Martin Luther King Jr, on the other hand, took a peaceful approach to protest, bringing forth the idea of oneness, unity, and love as the way forward.
In U.S history, protest and revolt take many different shapes. It is peaceful yet violent, inspiring yet heartbreaking, historic yet suppressed, successful yet stagnant. Nonetheless, as we look back, no matter the lack of vision forward in the moment proves to be revolutionary and necessary in hindsight.
"I have a dream!”
From the March on Washington to the Selma March towards Montgomery, black voices were finally being heard by both white folk, and even the sitting President at the time, Lindon B. Johnson. Although these marches were, of course, accompanied by the same racial prejudice as history so often repeats (note: the infamous Bloody Sunday in the wake of the Selma March), steps were finally beginning to be taken in the right direction. The civil rights act was passed in 1964 and expanded voting rights were finally given to those of color. The cause seemed to be finally gaining momentum.
However, as all protests and revolts tend to unfold, the message of peace and unity preached by King was met with the anger of violent riots, looting, police brutality, and continued outrage from both sides (note: the Detroit riots of ’67).
On April 4th, 1968, while leading a routine, but powerful protest for sanitation workers in Memphis, King was assassinated. Murdered in cold blood. King was 39 years old.
Black. Lives. Matter.
Although it’s difficult to visit the past, history is undoubtedly the best teacher. Ignorance towards it results in a lack of understanding and compassion for those less fortunate. It results in a lack of context towards what may be happening in your world today. Ultimately, it results in inaction.
July 17th, 2014. Eric Garner.
August 9th, 2014. Michael Brown.
March 13th, 2020. Breonna Taylor.
May 25th, 2020. George Floyd.
These names are just a few of an uncountable number of innocent black lives that were taken from the world without reason. If you don’t know the history, educate yourself, if not for you - for them.
In 2020, history is still proving that it repeats itself. However, that is no excuse. It is important, now more than ever, to repeat the other side of history. Protest. Stand up for what’s right. Make your voice heard. Stand together in unity, no matter the color of your skin.
There’s still work to do.