Our heroic approach has been to primarily concentrate on the heroes and heroines that have carried the torch. Truly, Martin, Malcom and Ms. Rosa Parks are towering figures, but there are tens of thousands of unknown and unsung titans that have changed the course of history. You will not find alphabets in front or behind of their names, but when the call was given, they showed up and showed out for Black people and the American nation.
We know from Taylor Branch’s tour de force that prior to Rosa Park’s history changing act of defiance against race supremacy, Claudette Colvin and four other black women had been arrested for refusing to give up their seats on Montgomery Alabama buses.
How can we forget that heroic White mother of five from Motown city, USA, Ms. Viola Liuzzo? Dr. Martin Luther King gave the call and Ms. Liuzzo came to Selma, Alabama on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement and the extremists murdered her on her way back to her family. Her sacrifice is a part of Black History.
Let it be known that ordinary people had been doing extraordinary acts of courage since the transatlantic slave trade began in the 15th century. Most of our people were never slaves, only enslaved people.
As a student at the University of Houston, in 1969, my friend and I were charged with “inciting to riot” and we faced serious jail or prison time. An ordinary maid and mother who worked in River Oaks and a Black preacher from Fifth Ward set us free by refusing to buy the official hype about our guilt. Conviction had to be unanimous, and these two stalwarts refused to be moved.
After our trial, we visited the domestic worker juror in a shot gun house that was furnished like Spartacus’ cell. She said that when she looked at us, she was reminded of her two boys that were incarcerated in the Texas Department of Corrections penal system. No evidence would be convincing enough to convince her that we were guilty.
Laborers, clerks, field hands, maids, teachers, blacksmiths, and entrepreneurs are underrepresented in our story of swimming against the tide to get to safety amidst a hostile and often a bloody tide.
The argument is for championing and enshrining the memory of those who cleaned toilets and emptied pots, those who pampered the masters’ children while their children went sometimes unattended. The argument is for the UH African American Studies leader, Dr. James Conyers who added his sisters’ children to his family when she died of a dreadful cancer. The argument is for recognizing that women hold up more than half of the world. Grandmothers and grandfathers knitted families together by providing safe harbor for children when parents are locked down or drug addicted. Are not they heroes?
The great advances made in the 1960’s ensued from the struggles in the streets of Birmingham, Watts-Los Angeles, Selma, Alabama and Weingarten’s grocery stores by the Houston version of the Freedom Riders. These pioneers and segregation busters were from Texas Southern University.
None of us remembered the Fort Logan Black soldiers that were court-martialed and hung in Houston in 1927. Nineteen of our ancestors were sent to the gallows near downtown Houston. Their names must be memorialized.
Those who were slaughtered in Elaine, Arkansas and chased out of Beaumont, Texas by White mobs deserve our attention as they moved west to establish new lives.
Let’s keep the emphasis on the great performances by great souls but let us not forget that there are countless stellar contributions by countless liberators that never made the front page or gave a soundbite to the local tools.
These soldiers stayed on the road, voted their consciences, and changed America by standing on the right side of history in times of controversy.