Between half of the Black Twitterverse declaring, “I am not my ancestors,” and the rest of America gobbling up the Disney-fied stories of Civil Rights leaders, the amount of cap we’re producing as a society right now is truly unprecedented.
I’m no historian, but the re-writing of history that is occurring on social media in threads that contemplate all things headass, from “why MLK Jr. wasn’t more radical?” to, “why can’t Black men stop killing Black men?” and even, the K*nye W*st special, “why didn’t Black people try harder to end slavery? is beyond concerning and asinine, but luckily, it can also be easily debunked.
History shows that Black freedom fighters sought their basic human rights knowing that they would face some combination of social blackballing, financial retaliation, violence, or death.
And the threat of death continues to this day. A piece published in Rolling Stone in 2019 explores the ‘mysterious deaths of six Ferguson Activists:’ In 2014 Deandre Joshua, 20, was found dead inside of a torched car, bullets in his body; two years later, Darren Seals, 29, was found the same way. Three others, MarShawn McCarrel, 23, Danye Jones, 24, and Edward Crawford, Jr., 27, died in apparent suicides; though Jones’s mother, Melissa McKinnies publicly revealed that she felt her son was lynched. In 2018, Bassem Masri, 31, was found unresponsive on a bus and was later pronounced dead by overdose.
Their deaths (suspected murders, really) have spurred widespread conversation about surveillance, and full-on campaigns that independent journalists and media outlets blur protesters and organizers faces to protect them from violent, systemic retaliations. We have yet to see if their deaths, or if the mass of Black deaths (and if not death, the physical, mental, and emotional scars, losses, debilitating anxiety, and experiences of upheaval) in the freedom fight, can convince the collective that protest, in all of its forms, was nothing short of revolutionary, but if any thinkpiece hopes to change that, it’s this one.
It’s been time that we put some fucking respect on ALL the names of the people who fought for Black liberation, expression, and excellence, beginning with, the great, Bob Marley.
From his, “Redemption Song:”
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.”
Though Marley became a household name from his hits “One Love,” and “Three Little Birds,” the lyricism within his discography explores the history of slavery, the brutality of capitalism, punitive justice, and of the system as a whole, while promoting Pan-Africanism. Despite The Wailers’ lively instrumentals, Marley’s recounting of life in Trenchtown, the lasting effects of Britain’s rule on Jamaica, and the violence levied at activists like himself, is as raw as his many philosophies on life.
His final words? “Money can’t buy life.”
Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by a Black playwright to debut on Broadway on March 11, 1959; it was revolutionary not only for its subject matter, but also, its majority-Black cast. One year after its debut, Hansberry’s play was nominated for four Tony Awards. In 1983, Frank Rich, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, declaring, “A Raisin in the Sun changed American theater forever.” Several revivals of Hansberry’s play have been performed all over the world as recently as 2017, leaving no question of its enduring influence.
Beyond her writings, Hansberry inspired her friend Nina Simone to write “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” an anthem during the 1970s era of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Ironically, my own introduction to Gil Scott-Heron’s, “The Revolution Begins: The Flying Dutchman Masters” is due to K*nye’s sampling of Heron’s “Comment #1” on “Who Will Survive in America:”
The time is in the street you know
Us living as we do upside down
And the new word to have is revolution
People don’t even want to hear the preacher spill or spiel
Because God’s hole card has been thoroughly piqued
And America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey
The youngsters who were programmed
To continue fucking up woke up one night
Digging Paul Revere and Nat Turner as the good guys. America stripped
For bed and we had not all yet closed our eyes. The signs of Truth
Were tattooed across our often-entered vagina
We learned to our amazement untold tale of scandal
Two long centuries buried in the musty vault
Hosed down daily with a gagging perfume
America was a bastard the illegitimate daughter
Of the mother country whose legs
Were then spread around the world
And a rapist known as freedom: free doom
Democracy, liberty, and justice were
Revolutionary code names that preceded
The bubbling bubbling bubbling bubbling
Bubbling in the mother country’s crotch
And behold a baby girl was born
Nurtured by slave holders and whitey racists
It grew and grew and grew screwing
Indiscriminately like mother, like daughter
Everything unplagued by her madame mother
The present mocks us, good Black people
With keen memories set fire to the bastards
Who ask us in a whisper to melt and integrate
Young, very young, teeny
Bopping revolt on weekend young dig
By proxy what a mental ass kicking
They receive through institutionalized everything
And vomit up slogans to stay out of Vietnam
They seek to hide their relationship with the world’s prostitute
Alienating themselves from everything
Except dirt and money with long hair, grime, and dope
To camo-hide the things that cannot be hidden
They become runaway children to walk the streets downtown with everyday
Black people sitting on the curb
Crying because we know that they will go back
Home with a clear conscience and a college degree
The irony of it all, of course
Is when a pale face SDS motherfucker dares
Look hurt when I tell him to go find his own revolution
He wonders why I tell him that America’s revolution
Will not be the melting pot but the toilet bowl
He is fighting for legalized smoke, or lower voting age
Less lip from his generation gap and fucking in the street
Where is my parallel to that?
All I want is a good home and a wife and a children
And some food to feed them every night
Back goes pale face to basics
Does Little Orphan Annie have a natural?
Do Sluggo’s kinks make him a refugee from Mandingo?
What does Webster’s say about soul?
I say you silly trite motherfucker, your great grandfather
Tied a ball and chain to my balls
And bounced me through a cotton field
While I lived in an unflushable toilet bowl
And now you want me to help you overthrow what?
The only Truth that can be delivered to a four year
Revolutionary with a hole card i.e. skin is this:
Fuck up what you can in the name of
Piggy Wallace, Dickless Nixon, and Spiro Agnew
Leave brother Cleaver and Brother Malcolm alone please
After all is said and done build a new route to China if they’ll have you
He did far more than saying, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Afeni Shakur Davis
To many, she is Tupac Shakur’s mom, but to her fellow activists and Black Panther Party members, she was a consummate guide. In an interview, Jamal Joseph recalls seeking out the BPP “[to get] a gun, but was instead given books and a mentor in Afeni Shakur.”
“Afeni would teach people how to lead themselves. She would not just help people, then leave...She made sure you knew how to get out of your own circumstances and your march toward liberation, being able to transform personally and in the community.”
She was known for running the BPP’s free breakfast program for Black youth, and was the youngest of 21 Panthers accused of conspiring to bomb department stores and police stations in New York City. Pregnant, with a $100,000 bail (in 1970s $), and 300-year sentence over her head, she represented herself after reading “History Will Absolve me” by Fidel Castro; she was the first Panther released, and played a major role in their 1971 acquittal on 156 charges.
Her legacy? Showing people how to defend their constitutional rights.
Piper is easily the most underrated, conceptual artist of our time. Her 50 years of work can be identified by her many street performances, which addressed “ostracism, otherness, and attitudes around racism,” a shock within the overwhelmingly white, male-dominated industry of conceptual art.
"In Catalysis (1970-3), her earliest sets of street performances aimed at testing public perception," she boarded a peak hour train in New York in clothes that had been soaked in eggs, vinegar, and fish oil for a week [intended to see how the public would react to someone deemed ‘unwashed’ or ‘repulsive’], walked around Central Park with helium-filled Mickey Mouse balloons tied to her ears, [and] travelled on a bus with a bath towel stuffed in her mouth."
Like many other artists, performance art wasn’t her only ‘thing,’ but regardless of how she created, she used “direct action to generate change.”
"In Catalysis III (pictured), Piper walks down the street and around a Macy’s department store with a sign on her body saying ‘wet paint’, just like a freshly painted handrail. Many would have witnessed Piper and been intrigued to touch the board to see if the paint was actually fresh or not, but no one did because of society’s restraints."
Piper’s work relied on confronting the uncomfortable, repressive, and deadly, as did Davis’, Heron’s, Hansberry’s, and Marley’s. They, and all other Black, freedom fighters in history, chose not to shield themselves from the proverbial fire and brimstone, set upon them for speaking truths of the past and present, whilst fighting for a better future.