The arc of the moral universe is
long, but it bends toward justice. MLK’s famous quote just may have a poster
child in Homer Plessy.
Homer Plessy was the first
plaintiff to legally challenge the de-facto segregation of the post
reconstruction period of US history.
Ultimately, the supreme court would rule against him in their famous
‘Plessy vs. Ferguson’ ruling that legalized state-mandated segregation as long
as the separate facilities for whites and blacks were ‘equal’. In practice,
they were anything but. This atrocious ruling set the stage for the Jim Crow
laws that would roll back almost all the post-Civil war gains that had been
made by people of color.
Plessy and his compatriots who had
fought for years to improve the lot of people of color did everything within
their power to bring an end to state sanctioned segregation, but were undone by
the Supreme Court’s decision.
The arc of the moral universe is
long, but it bends towards justice – in 1954, the segregationist laws were
overturned. Homer Plessy never lived to see that day, but his work had been
invaluable in leading to that day.
She was a journalist, writer,
editor, feminist, anti-racist and crusader against the horrors of
lynching.She was one of the earliest
leaders of the nascent Civil Rights movement and was tireless in her efforts to
improve the lives of her fellow blacks, despite her humble beginnings.
From an unofficial biography that can be accessed here:
Ida B. Wells-Barnett ranks among
the most important founders of modern civil rights and feminist movements among
African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century United
States. Her importance is both intellectual and social; the ideas she expressed
and organizations she helped organize have endured to this day. Her analysis of
lynching in the 1890s, especially of mob murder of black men wrongly accused of
raping white women, has held up to the scrutiny of generations of scholars and
activists, as have the organizations she helped shape: the National Association
of Colored Women (1896) and the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (1909)
She was also one of the founding
members of the NAACP together with WEB Dubois. She squeezed an impressive list
of accomplishments into her short time on this earth. Her list of writings has
an amazing breadth and depth that is almost unparalleled.
Her full body of work can be seen at the link below:
No true radicals are ever fully appreciated in the moment of their acts.
They are generally vilified and their actions are labelled ‘weak’,
‘ill-advised’ and ‘ineffectual’. It is only time that leads to a heightened
sense of the importance of their actions.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith are not important because of who they are.
The truth is that before the demonstration at the 1968 Olympics, they were not
great men. After that event, they would become household names.
Their raised fist ‘Black Power’ salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic
games became known as one of the most public and overtly political statements
at any sporting events. Tommie Smith had won the 200 metre dash, Australian
Peter Norman (who quietly supported their protest) came second and John Carlos
finished in third. Tommie and John wore black socks with no shoes to represent black
poverty, Tommie wore a black scarf to represent black pride and all the three
of them wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges.
All three of these men were ostracized and vilified after their protest.
The idea of mixing sports with politics was said to be ‘distasteful’ and
against the ideals of sports. It is a silly argument of course. Sports is
inherently political because every action taken within a political world is
political by nature. Neither Smith nor Carlos got any accolades in the
immediate aftermath. That would take time, but they had the courage of their
conviction and the certainty that they were correct in their protest. Over
time, they would become known as some of the more unsung heroes of the Civil
Rights movement and they would become household names. Their protest would gain
the respect and recognition it should have had all those years ago.The image of them with their fists in the air
was voted one of the 20 most influential images in history.
Some of the history behind their protest is explained below:
“The media—and school curricula—fail
to address the context that produced Smith and Carlos’ famous gesture of
resistance: It was the product of what was called “The Revolt of the Black
Athlete.” Amateur black athletes formed OPHR, the Olympic Project for Human
Rights, to organize an African American boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games.
OPHR, its lead organizer, Dr.
Harry Edwards, and its primary athletic spokespeople, Smith and the
400-meter sprinter Lee Evans, were deeply influenced by the black freedom
struggle. Their goal was nothing less than to expose how the United States used
black athletes to project a lie about race relations both at home and
In addition, John Carlos recently expounded on the reasons behind their
“My premise for going to
the games was to make a statement. I wanted to represent the people from where
I came from. It was the first time the Olympic Games was televised worldwide.
The first time the Olympic Games was televised in Technicolor. The first time
that anyone even cared to step up and make a public statement about humanity.”
I win, I am American, not a black
American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are
black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we
Stokely Carmichael was a pioneering Black activist of the Civil Rights
Movement of the 1960s. He is primarily known for his affiliation with the Black
Panthers. He was initially quite integrationist, but would eventually become a
staunch pan-Africanist and Black Nationalist.
He is responsible for coining two entirely different terms which combined
explain why he holds a great deal of personal appeal.
The first term is ‘institutional racism’, which I personally believe is
the most powerful concept in gaining a true understanding of the racial systems
that govern western society. You either understand it intuitively or it is
completely invisible to you. It negates the false libertarian view of ‘pulling
oneself up by the bootstraps’. It’s difficult to do so, when the very
institutions of social, political and economic advancements are rigged against
you. How can one play the game when the game is inherently unfair. The lack of
understanding of this concept even to this day shows the lackadaisical attitude
most majority groups have towards true societal equality.Carmichael understood quite clearly the
forces both visible and invisible that were conspiring to prevent POC from
reaching their true potential.
On the other hand was the second term he coined: ‘Black Power’. This to
me signifies the duality of Stokely Carmichael. While remaining cognizant of
the power of the forces working against POC, he was forever mindful of the
strength and ‘power’ that lay within. POC could achieve great things despite
institutional racism. Black Power was to him “a call for black people in
this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of
community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead
their own organizations”. He eschewed the middle class influences and instead
focused on self-reliance.
Carmichael was quite active in the freedom ride movement and spent
numerous days in jail for his efforts. He would eventually join the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and would later become its president,
although he was never committed to strict non-violence as a matter of
principle, viewing it rather more as a tactic. This was evident in his
endorsement of the militant Activist group the Black Panthers.
He would eventually settle in West Africa in a self-imposed exile and
became more of a pan-Africanist. He would eventually die there at a far too
Carmichael was a strong and powerful voice who remains one of the
greatest Civil Rights Activists of our time.
Greatest Quote (On Black Power):
It is a call for black people in this
country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community.
It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own