Black History Month: ‘Stayed on freedom’

Black History Month again offers us a chance to honor the body-and-spirit-filled determination of African-American people who have struggled, built and fought in order to win against the deeply violent injustices of “America.”

Honoring the lessons of Black history means acknowledging that those who founded the U.S. were colonizers and enslavers bent on despicable wealth and profit. And the truth of Black history reveals that a MAGA agenda to make “America” “great again” means reinstating and intensifying the subjugation of Indigenous peoples, Black and Brown peoples, women and gender-oppressed people.

The current reactionary president’s administration — unbridled in its vicious language and policies toward all these groups — is simply enacting the same hateful principles embedded in the documents of the “Founding Fathers.”

This administration’s new volley of attacks are attempts to roll back victories that people’s movements have won over many hundreds of years, always with people of African descent in resistance and leadership.

The more recent wins under attack range from worker protections in union membership gained in the 1930s, to laws benefiting women like Title IX in the 1970s, to trans and gender-nonconforming people recently winning safety protections like gender neutral bathrooms.

The struggle has won some space for oppressed peoples to live, breathe, work and even sing — that is what the haters and the bigots want to erase.

But these attacks are not made simply out of hate. These are calculated attempts to intimidate and push back those who are leading the forward motion against prejudice, discrimination and violent repression. The attacks are designed to break solidarity between people and between movements.

One freedom song that the Black Civil Rights Movement marched to was “Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.”

That determination by people of African descent in the U.S. fuels the struggle for justice every day, every year, every decade, every century in this unjust country.

There are many, many inspiring examples to learn and reflect on during Black History Month. But just within the last couple of years:

In Mississippi, the heart of the “right-to-work-for-less” South, Black auto workers have been indefatigable in organizing for a union at the Nissan plant in Canton.

In Alabama, Black women were the heart of local campaigns to uphold the basic right to a vote; their work resulted in the defeat of a violently white supremacist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman candidate for senator.  

In Missouri, the Fannie Lou Hamer Committee of the Fight for $15 led the way in striking against sexual abuse and wage discrimination at McDonald’s. Fannie Lou Hamer was a legendary organizer for justice for African-American people.

And last December, in a small individual act of solidarity, Jussie Smollett appealed for lifting up the lives of Black women through support for Bennett College, a historically Black college for women in the South.

During Black History Month, let’s affirm with our actions that we are also on the side of justice and solidarity in the fight against racism.

As attacks are hurled by bigots aiming to break down freedom struggles, let’s remember that Black History Month calls us to actively honor hundreds of years of Black determination to keep fighting while saying, “My body is strong, but my soul is stronger.”

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