Our history, our transgenerational story, is, in the words of the brilliant warrior-scholar, the late Dr. John Henrik Clarke, “A Great and Mighty Walk.” And with that “Walk” being attacked, silenced and damn near outlawed by the Fahrenheit 451 forces of anti-Blackness, now more than ever we need to be researching, celebrating, studying and digging into our story and into the sisters and brothers who gave (and give) our journey its lifeblood and spirit.
It is in this spirit that I offer volume one of what will be an ongoing series of articles shining the spotlight on those underappreciated Black history makers and Black history moments over the centuries. And FYI … this article is meant to be shared and used as a starting point, a push, an encouraging nod for you to do your own research into those women, men and moments listed, so they can be underappreciated no more.
Here we go …
If you know me, you already know I’m kicking this thing off with Marcus Mosiah Garvey, an unashamed Race Man. In the 1920s, Garvey founded and grew the largest Pan-African organization the globe has ever seen (the Universal Negro Improvement Association, UNIA) — before cable, before the internet, before social media. Merely with the force of his message that pierced the hearts and minds of the Pan-African world — “Africa for the Africans,” “Up ye mighty race, accomplish what you will” — Garvey lit a fire that spread worldwide and touched the lives of countless souls who, themselves, went on to do great things for the culture. I’ve read incredible books on Garvey’s life; one of them being “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.” I also wrote an African American Studies textbook on the brother; “Princes Shall Come Out of Egypt: A Comparative Study of the Theological and Ecclesiological views of Marcus Garvey and Albert B. Cleage Jr.” But this is neither the time nor place to write (or rewrite) a dissertation on Brother Marcus. Instead, use these words as a launching pad to your own journey to discover the truth of a Black Man whose voice, movement and influence was so powerful, nearly all the countries of the western world conspired to defame and silence him. Yet, through our acknowledgement of his work, Garvey lives and speaks, and holds true to his promise to visit those who oppress Black people “in the whirlwind and the storm.”
The death of the women whose lies led to the brutal lynching of Emmett Till, speaks to the sad fact that Emmett still has not received the justice his soul is due. Similarly, neither has Emmett’s uncle, Mose Wright, received the recognition he deserves for the courage he showed during the trial of his nephew’s murderers. In Money Mississippi in the mid-’50s, when whites could literally come to any Black person’s home and snatch out any one they wanted — like they did to Emmett — Wright had the opportunity to testify in a court of law and point out the person who came to his home where his nephew was staying for the summer, and kidnap Emmett before torturing and murdering him. I say Wright had that opportunity to testify, but it was more like a death wish. If he dared testify against the white men who snatched and killed Emmett, Wright himself and the rest of his family would literally be signing their death warrant. Wright was well aware of this, just as he was aware that the all-white jury, white judge and white lawyers would find the murderers not guilty, no matter the evidence presented; no matter Wright’s testimony, if he dare do such a thing. Knowing all this, Wright still took the stand in that courtroom, and when asked if he saw the murderer who came to his door, gun in hand, demanding Emmett, Mose Wright not only said he saw him, Wright literally stood up, pointed his finger dead in the direction of the murderer, and said loud and clear for all to hear, “Dar he” (there that no good MF is). Wright’s bold and courageous testimony, along with the energy from the Montgomery Bus Boycott later that year, provided the momentum that helped give birth to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. And Wright deserves to be underappreciated no more.
With so much attention placed on the madness that went down in Tennessee a few weeks ago, it’s important to note one of the most fearless and courageous freedom fighters that Tennessee has ever produced — Diane Nash. This warrior-queen still walks this earth in 2023. But when you look back at the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, you’d be hard-pressed to find a time when she wasn’t involved — in the back room organizing the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee organizing sessions or on the many front lines, putting her life on the line for the life of Black people. Let’s give Sister Nash her flowers while she’s still with us in this realm.
Talk about underappreciated. Anyone who is a member of a faith system that believes in monotheism (the belief in one God), should literally bow down to the African who gave birth to that concept — the pharaoh of Kemet Akhenaton. Islam, Judaism, Christianity and other monotheistic faith systems have this brother to thank for laying down the spiritual foundation from which such religions emerged.
The Haitian Revolution which scared white enslavers to their rotten core was a global game changer in a myriad of ways. This moment in Pan-African history will be spotlighted in a future article in this “Underappreciated” series. But for now, please turn your attention to the brother, without whom, this successful revolution would not have been possible — Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Generally, when the Haitian Revolution is mentioned, we hear of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture; and rightly so. He too, is grossly underappreciated. But the fact that Dessalines is still unknown to far too many members of the Pan-African family is a crime we have the power to do something about.