Many time periods and movements in the United States and globally have shown us how Black people lead. Some of the most notable are Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks.
Today, we have leaders like Barack Obama and the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement–Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors.
Other Black activists exist, but they are not necessarily labeled as leaders of the protests against racism. So the question becomes, what exactly makes a person a leader or what constitutes leadership?
The Beginning of Black Leadership
The Reconstruction period, which spanned from 1865 to 1877, allowed Black men and women to adopt roles of leadership. They were able to hold public office and seek legislative changes for equality and the privilege to vote.
Some of these roles were Assistant Secretary of State, Speaker of House, and State Commissioner. These officeholders led in their departments but they were likely not recognized as largely as the Black Panthers were.
Let’s take a look at the Civil Rights Movement which took place in the 1950s and 1960s. For starters, the movement was a result of the injustices African Americans were facing in the United States. It was a fight for racial equality.
Black activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Little Rock Nine, Malcolm X, and many more were known to be at the forefront of this movement.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is probably the one that most people think of initially. His work during the Civil Rights Movement helped achieve “more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced,” according to
He led movements and initiatives including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and many more. His “I Have a Dream” speech was what ultimately sealed the deal for his image. It secured his status as a leader of social change and helped inspire the country to act on racial equality. Though unfortunately, we are still seeing issues of racial inequality today.
Leaders like Malcolm X shared a similar vision to that of MLK’s. Malcolm’s ideology shifted more towards Black people doing anything necessary to protect themselves against the aggression of white people. For most of his life, MLK’s views were on the peaceful protest side, until before his assassination.
His rhetoric began to emphasize and incorporate immediate action similar to Malcolm X’s approach. This draws the same question of the appropriate approach to civil unrest when it comes to the protests and riots that are happening today, in light of #GeorgeFloyd’s death.
— Kulture Hub #StayInTheCrib (@KultureHub) May 29, 2020
Today’s Riots and Protests
The on-camera murder of George Floyd sparked a major outrage over the past week and protestors have taken different routes. Some are peacefully protesting, while others had the same intention but were violently confronted by members of the New York City Police Department and pepper-sprayed.
Others are simply looting businesses like Target and some even looting and destroying those owned and operated by Black families.
— A N G E L A | R Y E (@angela_rye) May 30, 2020
Looting has been a part of civil unrest for decades in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement saw six days of rioting and looting after the assassination of MLK Jr.
The riots ended on the 6th day with the successful passing of the Civil Rights Act along with many other legislative changes. So it’s not prudent to state that riots, the destruction of property and looting has no place in movements.
Destroying Black-owned or brown-owned property and businesses is the problem. Those businesses’ destruction only hurts our community and has no positive impact on our goals of being heard by the powers that be. So if you end up looting don’t loot that corner bodega or Black barbershop.
Literally right now on fordham .. pic.twitter.com/Q1UzJJldPz
— LOSO (@masterchris05) June 2, 2020
The anger is also not the problem–it’s the direction. There comes a time where we have to realize that we are angry and want justice for Black lives, but we are also hurting these local businesses by shamelessly looting them.
This is where the importance of having a leader(s) comes in. A leader(s) will help grieving communities organize and direct them to effective methods of protesting and fighting for racial equality. However, how effective will just one leader be?
The Decentralization of Leadership
The decentralization of leadership here in the U.S. is a task that many will have to take on. Having one leader for the fight for Black racial equality may not work. Forces are stronger when they all come together.
If we go back to the conversation about MLK’s leadership, we see that he was a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement. People like Rosa Parks and her support towards MLK helped elevate Black voices.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is one of the ways people can support the lives of Black people in countless ways. Some ways to lead are signing petitions to defund police states and calling your local elected officials.
This is a mess.
This is why we must all back and get behind @JamaalBowmanNY for Congress.
Follow him & Donate now @ https://t.co/Z8oo4mNVdq
He needs our support! https://t.co/zCpOIEd8gh
— Shaun King (@shaunking) June 2, 2020
While we may not have an official leader for this movement, we all eventually become one with proper research and information. The lack of information (or misinformation) is what drives us in a different direction like the looting of small, Black-owned businesses.
Although Barack Obama is no longer in office, he is still a leader for Black and brown communities. I mean, most members of these communities still refer to him as “my president”. This goes to show that he is still a representative figure of African Americans and other groups of color.
It’s obvious that there are communities of people that do not value Black lives. We all need to become leaders in our circles–with the proper research and education, of course.