Updated: Mar 8, 2019
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States. Passed into law in 1983 and first observed on January 20, 1986, the holiday is set aside to honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK).
In school, we are taught so much about MLK but there were other leaders who influenced Civil Rights in America. Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey were two other influential leaders who fought for the rights of the African Diaspora.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was is one of the most highly regarded leaders of the Civil Rights Era. His fight, while mainly centered around the inequalities of Black America, was for everyone. As President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, MLK worked with black churches to organize non-violent protest against racial injustices. His dream and his legacy focused on equality.
While Malcolm X's name is widely recognized today, we are not taught about him or nor do we celebrate him in the same way as MLK. As a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), many of Malcolm's earlier teachings focused on the black man's superiority. In the beginning of his ministry, he did not focus on politics as it was not permitted by the leader of the NOI; however, after parting ways with them, Malcolm X began to work with other civil rights organizations and advocated for black nationalism.
The most radical of these 3 men, is Marcus Garvey. Garvey was a Jamaican born man who founded the United Negro Improvement Association(UNIA). Because of his radicalism, we are rarely taught about him. Although he was not strictly a separatist, the UNIA worked to arrange for emigration of members of the African diaspora to travel to and settle in Liberia as a part of the Back to Africa movement.
The paragraphs above only give a glimpse into greatness of the men they describe. The purpose was not to educate you about their histories, but to highlight the different approaches to the same issue - the fight for civil rights.
Equality, Superiority and Autonomy. Three views, three approaches that have seeped into the Fight for Civil Rights in millennium.
We have come along way since the 1950s and 1960s, but racism is still alive. At one point, the people we were taught to fear wore white sheets and skulked about in the dark. In fact when I learned about racism, it was a history lesson not a current day experience. However so much has changed, in the last 5 years.
I know that systemic racism has been in play longer than the last 5 years, I know that police brutality has been an epidemic for longer than the last 5 years. But the point I'm trying to make is that every since the current Commander in Chief started his political campaign, white supremacy has become the norm. There are no more "white sheets" but rather a blatant disregard of human rights.
The border wall that the current Presidential administration wants to build is a monument to white supremacy and oppression. What started as an attack against Mexican immigrants has festered into an attack against anyone with brown skin from another country. We are in a new era of Civil Rights in America. The rights of black and brown people have remained challenged but also we must recognize the fight for immigrant rights, women's rights, LBGTQ rights.
What leader from yesterday would lead the fight today? Who would be the most effective at conquering this battle? Would the non-violent protest lead by Dr. King allow us to overcome? Would Malcolm X's logic of by any means necessary defeat this monster? Or should pack our things and leave to build our own communities? Maybe the leadership needed to day will not be met by just one of these ideologies but rather a combination.
In order to fight the battles of today, we should study the ones of yesterday.
*Pictures provided by Wikipedia