When asked to name the most influential African-Americans in black history, almost by reflex, the names Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman come to mind. America has accepted these leaders as the pinnacle of black excellence. The educational curriculum taught in most public schools not only follows this train of thought, but Hollywood seems to follow suit as well. Is it enough that we only acknowledge the black leaders that the media promotes? Are we even celebrating the right ones? Let’s examine one of the most celebrated events in Civil Rights history–the March on Washington.
The first name that comes to mind is no doubt Martin Luther King Jr. and his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. As amazing and transcendent of a speech that it was, did the coverage of the speech overshadow the real importance of the march and some of its key players? What if I were to tell you that the speech was Dr. King’s only contribution to the march and he was in no way the actual organizer of the event? In fact, Dr. King cared so much for his speech, he gave the only typewritten copy to a retired basketball coach named George Raveling who just so happened to volunteer to be a bodyguard, and by luck ended up with it.
Does the name Asa Philip Randolph, ring a bell? If not, it should.
Randolph was an amazing and innovative African-American. He was also the true leader and organizer of the March on Washington. Mr. Randolph also organized the first predominately African-American labor union. What is so fascinating about him is the fact he was a socialist. He was able to collaborate with then President John F. Kennedy to bring about the Civil Rights movement in the middle of the Cold War with Russia, all while being a communist himself. He was also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was also a believer of Marxist economics. Although he obviously played a major role in African-American history, being a black communist in the US is probably less appealing to mainstream America than a Christian black preacher such as King. In the mainstream, it was all about the speech along and black America’s newly anointed savior, Dr. King. But not much else from the march.
Randolph’s story is one of many influential African-Americans who do not get enough credit for their accomplishments. It seems African-American history has gone the way of religion in schools, non-existent. America has become to0 politically correct. We care more about generating great television ratings, than pushing boundaries to reveal the truth.
Randolph was a radical African American from an ideological and activist perspective but his political ambitions led to MLK Jr. making one of the most influential speeches in American history, and he deserves his place in history. However, we never hear the other side of the story. We can’t hide from our past nor can we cover up our present.
We should honor those who push our ideals. Those special individuals are the true architects of this nation. So while it is nice for us to recognize the same pillars of the African-American community year after year, let us not forget the many middlemen that made it possible for them to have such an incredible impact on American history.