Kim Steele, History teacher at Doon Academy, has kindly written a guest blog to help the College mark Black History Month.
Kim has been working with the College’s Equality and Inclusion Team on ways to support the mainstreaming of equality in her school.
She advocates the rights of all, and champions’ equality, diversity and inclusion.
Her blog reflects on key figures and points in U.S. Black History and asks us to challenge any of our own prejudices in regards to race and ethnicity.
‘Black lives matter’ (2016) / ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ (1787).
The words may differ but the meaning is still the same.
It has been over 200 years since the abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain and 150 years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S., yet many black people are still fighting to be treated equally. Throughout these years there have been many key figures who have driven forward the Civil Rights cause in the U.S. despite vast differences on how to achieve this.
‘We shall overcome’ (1962)
In one corner we had the peaceful movement. Civil disobedience was the order of the day, the media was peppered with images of unarmed protesters male, female and child alike being attacked by police dogs, cattle prods and water cannons. At the forefront of this was Martin Luther King Jr.
From the March on Washington where he delivered his ‘I had a dream speech’ to those in Birmingham and Selma, Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned passionately for Black Civil Rights. He encouraged black people in the Southern States to ignore the Jim Crow laws that segregated them from white people. He understood the needs of this community and used the media to highlight this to the rest of the nation.
For the first time, people in the North became aware of how dangerous life was for black people in the South. All for the price of being treated as an equal human being – a privilege which white people were born into but black people had to fight for.
‘Black Power’ (1966)
In the other corner we had the more extreme groups who encouraged black people to fend for themselves – the very opposite of the turn the other cheek approach. Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and Stokely Carmichael, each encouraged black people to take what was seen as rightfully theirs.
“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality and justice or anything.
If you’re a man, take it.”
While the media was a great tool for Martin Luther King Jr., the opposite could be said for these individuals and groups – no one wanted to print stories of how black communities were healing the wounds white people had inflicted upon them. The Black Panthers set up Breakfast Clubs for children, provided free medical clinics and addiction rehabilitation. These were the prevalent issues of the 1960s and are still, arguably, the case today.
‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM)
The Black Lives Matter movement brings us back to the modern day – with the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a Neighbourhood Watch Captain, in 2012.
BLM is a movement created in response when Zimmerman was found Not Guilty of killing Trayvon. The movement really picked up pace in 2014 when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white Police Officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Riots erupted in Ferguson and sparked renewed racial concerns echoing those in Detroit, Watts and Birmingham almost 60 years ago – tensions between black communities and the Police Force stretched to breaking point with senseless deaths on all sides.
So the questions are obvious – despite changes in the law to promote equality on all fronts, why are people still trying to supress each other on the basis of race? How can a persons’ skin colour determine the quality of life they will lead or the chances they will have in life?
This is why Black History Month is important. We cannot ignore the struggles and sacrifices individuals have endured for the sake of equality. Centuries have passed and black people are still suffering because they were not, ultimately, born white. We must continue to tackle racism and prejudice at every level.
While Martin Luther Jr. had a dream, I have a wish that one day we will no longer have a cause to fight for equality on any level. We all will simply just be. Sadly, we are not there.
I would like to add a closing thought – remember that day you wore your top outside in and nobody noticed because it looked the same? Imagine we were to do the same with our skin, would we still have the very same racial issues as we do now?
Visit the Equality and Inclusion Moodle page for several student podcasts on key figures of Black History.