As Black History Month once again reminds and educates us on black culture and important values and events in black history, this year has its own anniversaries of two significant events in black history: the 25th anniversary of the Million Man March on October 16th ; and the 52nd anniversary of the iconic black power salute displayed at the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
The Million Man March was a political demonstration held in Washington D.C., on the 16th October 1968. The march was held in honour of African-American unity and family values and it is estimated that there were between 400,000 and 1.1 million people present, mostly African-American men, cementing its place in history as one of the largest ever gatherings of its kind. 2 years after the march took place, The Million Woman March was held after calls that the initial march did not include women enough, enabling all African-American people to have their say irrespective of their gender.
The event was organised by the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and directed by the former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, Benjamin F. Travis Junior. It was held in the hope of instilling a sense of responsibility to improve the economic and social conditions of African-Americans, and it is reported that the march inspired 1.7 million African-Americans to register to vote. A large number of black people that , due to the march, felt inspired to have their say and have their voices heard through the power of voting; something that many of them may have felt would have been redundant in previous years.
A vastly important factor of the march was ensuring that black issues were placed back on the USA’S political agenda. This demonstration was vitally important to the black community in America, as at the time, black people had a much larger redundancy rate, a much larger poverty rate, and a median family income that was almost half that of white people in the USA.
The sheer size of the demonstration is enough for it to be remembered in the history books, but the lasting impact was not in terms of numbers, but in terms of social attitudes changing, striving for black issues to be treated as an equal to white issues , in a political sense as well as a social sense.
Another important outcome of the demonstration was the changing of social attitudes towards black people, as they showed that they could meet up in masses of numbers without any instances of fighting or anti-social behaviour, contrary to the ridiculous attitudes that were held by many during this time period in America.
In the modern world, the Million Man March should be held in memories for a variety of reasons; the enormous size , the inspiration it instilled within African-American men, and its role in the changing of political strategy and social attitudes.
Another iconic moment in black history was the silent protest held by African-American Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, as they raised their hands in honour of black power whilst on the podium at the Olympic Games in Mexico City,1968. This year marks the 52nd anniversary of the protest, yet even after all the years it is still seen as a quintessential moment in black history.
The instantly recognisable image of the two athletes raising their fist came just 6 months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior, a time where black people were oppressed every day in the USA.
As the national anthem played, the two men raised their fist in honour of black power and in protest of the treatment of their fellow African-Americans. The stand was met with derision from the crowd however this did not affect the athletes attitutdes; they were determined to make a stand for their culture, a defiance shown against the racial prejudice they had faced for their entire lives and a loyal showing of their allegiance to the Olympic Project for Human Rights- a protest set up in 1967 that opposed the racial segregation in the USA.
The defiance and unalduterated courage to make a stand for what they believe in that was shown in the famous images are what makes them some of the most influential images in black history; a no holds-barred symbol that, despite the bad reception at the time, became a pinpoint for the stand of black power for years to come.
As time passed, there was less and less opposition shown to the stand they made, as racial attitudes changed with the development of society, and eventually , Carlos and Smith were presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2008 ESPY Awards. However this was 40 years after their act of protest, at the time of the raised fist, movements such as Black Lives Matter were yet to be made, a further commendation to the courage of the athletes as they knew that there would be little support shown for them, yet they went ahead and rose to show America that black people were just as important as white people, an attitude that was rare to find at this point in history.
Black History Month is a fantastic time to celebrate black culture, but also to remind the world of the hardships that black people have historically been put through, these two inspirational moments are both factors in the fight against racial oppression and should be taught at in every school, to inspire further strength in the fight and to spare a thought for the effort put in by black people of the past to overcome the racism that they have been victims to for far too long. Black Lives Matter and Black History Month are 2 entities that come together to try and make the world a better, more peaceful place and they should be held in regards as such.