Pioneers of the emancipation of black American culture: What a sad period! What a disaster… Words aren’t enough, words cannot express the pain and anger. These last days, the world rose for equality! Black lives matter! Racism has no place, there is only one race, one true race, the human one.
“Our true nationality is mankind.”― H.G. Wells
I decided in this article to pay a tribute to four of the pioneers of the emancipation of black American culture.
Revered pioneers of the emancipation of black American culture
The Historical Abolitionist: Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was one of the greatest abolitionist voices in America. Separated at a very young age from his mother, not knowing who his father was, he worked first as a domestic slave, then in the fields and in a shipyard in Maryland. He managed to escape at the age of twenty to New York and then Massachusetts. Participating in an abolitionist meeting in 1841, he was invited to recount his experience. His eloquence was such that the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society hired him.
In 1845, he published his autobiography, which became a bestseller and made him famous. Because he named his owner in his book and was in danger of being captured and enslaved again, he spent two years in Great Britain, where he continued his fight against slavery and managed to buy his freedom with British support. On his return to the United States, he founded his own abolitionist newspaper, The North Star (named after the North Star that guided slaves north), whose motto is: “Right is of no sex, Truth is of no color, God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren”.
During the Civil War (1861-1865), he advised President Lincoln and continued to fight for the rights of former slaves and women and the importance of education. He held several political offices, ending his career as consul general for Haiti (1889-1891).
The Extraordinary Resistance Fighters: Harriet Tubman
She was a slave who became an abolitionist activist and fighter during the Civil War, she marked the history of segregation in the United States.
Born into slavery in 1822, Harriet Tubman helped tens, if not hundreds, of other oppressed people for years to cross the clandestine routes that separated them from freedom. Her heroic fate will see her face printed on $20 bills in the coming years. No black person has ever been recognized in this way before.
At the age of five, Harriet is rented by a woman who obliged her to watch over her child’s sleep. When the child cries, she is whipped until she bleeds. On her skin, the scars of this abuse will never fade.
As the years go by, Harriet is now a teenager but is still beaten according to the mood of the white people around her. One of these wounds will particularly influence the rest of her life. After suffering a head injury, the young slave girl is prey to visions, which she interprets as signs from God. She herself has been immersed for some time in the Old Testament, lulled by the story of Moses guiding the Jews out of Egypt. Her religious convictions are strengthened by this.
In 1849, her master died, Harriet Tubman managed to escape, leaving behind her brothers and husband. She crosses the Delaware and reaches Pennsylvania, finally free. But as soon as she arrives, she has new ambitions. The young emancipated woman is going to have a brilliant idea: to develop trips back and forth to her former land to free members of her family and then her community. She later estimates that she guided 70 slaves north. Some specialists calculate that hundreds of men and women benefited from her experience.
At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Tubman joined a group of fighters in South Carolina. She served as a nurse, a cook, and a guide before, two years later, forming her own spy troops.
She also took part in the fights. In 1856, the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina freed 700 slaves in a scene of chaos that would mark her for life. The activist continued her fight also in favour of women’s rights. In New York, Washington and Boston, she spoke out to claim their right to vote. She finally died in 1913 in a hospital for African-Americans that she herself had helped to found.
The revolutionaries and pioneers of the emancipation of black American culture – Malcolm X and Angela Davis
These two activists are emblematic figures of the American black movement of the 1970s. Malcolm X, who converted to Islam upon his release from prison, is opposed to the non-violent civil rights movement led by Pastor Martin Luther King, and to a more violent demand for the rights of the black community. He rejected assimilation and said, “I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare”. His father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan when he was 5 years old and he was also separated from his mother.
Angela Davis was born in 1944, into a militant family with a slave great-grandmother, while Alabama was still racially segregated. She joined the American Communist Party and the Black Panther movement in 1969, at the age of only 25. She was accused of murder. According to her, she became a symbol to be destroyed. She was finally arrested and imprisoned for twenty-two months. The whole world, intellectual (Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Prévert, Aragon) and musical (The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono), mobilized to obtain her release. Finally acquitted, she continued her academic career, tirelessly continuing her fight for the black cause and the emancipation of women.
Malcolm X was assassinated in February 1965, but his ideas endured with the Black Panthers, an African-American revolutionary movement created in 1966 for the liberation of black Americans. Their goal was to protect blacks from police abuse by forming militias. Angela Davis was one of them, but she did not agree with everything, especially the idea of creating an African-American nation separated from the United States.
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