During the mid-1950s Black Americans grew tired of the racial segregation plaguing this country. It was during this time the Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” unconstitutional. In addition, there became an increasing amount of Black leaders rising to the occasion to combat the racial and political issues affecting the Black community. Of those leaders, America observed the birth of activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin and many more. These individuals were able to relate to their generation and stir change in America as a whole.
Today, six decades and four years later, history is repeating itself. Like 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Renisha McBride, Rekia Boyd and countless other Black souls were faced with the same fate. However, today our generation does not have a Black leader we can relate to. With all due respect, Al Sharpton does his best to promote justice regardless of race, religion or gender with the National Action Network (NAN). But he is not someone all individuals of this generation can connect with.
Al Sharpton, however, does not have the ear of this generation, and it is not his leadership that any of us who will live on the planet for the next half-century or so really needs. To be clear, I do not believe in the slaying of elders. Black cultural traditions hold within them a serious reverence for the authority and wisdom of elder people.
This is not about Sharpton’s age, but rather about how he has positioned himself in relationship to black politics. My issue with him resides squarely within the limitations of his moral and political vision for who and how black people get to be within the American body politic.
I 100 percent agree and would like to add throughout the 20th century, there were personalities that served the diverse makeup of the Black community. Martin Luther King Jr. was known to be a peacemaker. From jail in Birmingham, where King was arrested for a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, he articulately defined his theory of non-violence: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue.
Conversely, Malcolm X was a “by any means necessary” kind of guy. He believed if you put your hands on us, you should not turn the other cheek. I stumbled upon a quote that appeared in his autobiography that was composed along side Alex Haley. It is as following:
“I feel that if white people were attacked by Negroes — if the forces of law prove unable, or inadequate, or reluctant to protect those whites from those Negroes — then those white people should protect and defend themselves from those Negroes, using arms if necessary. And I feel that when the law fails to protect Negroes from whites’ attacks, then those Negroes should use arms if necessary to defend themselves. ‘Malcolm X advocates armed Negroes!’ What was wrong with that? I’ll tell you what’s wrong. I was a black man talking about physical defense against the white man. The white man can lynch and burn and bomb and beat Negroes — that’s all right: ‘Have patience’…‘The customs are entrenched’…‘Things will get better.’”
Bayard Rustin on the other hand was a master strategist as well as an activist. Rustin is best known for organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held.
Every leader during the 20th century had a distinct personality and position in the movement. There was more than one person and/or groups fighting the good fight. Today, not so much. We need more Black leaders that can embody who we are as a generation.