Freedom Fighters

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    We all know the names of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, heroic abolitionists whose fight against slavery is taughtr in classrooms anually all across America. Today we celebrate some lesser known figures whose efforts were as valiant and valuable to the struggle as those we rightfully celebrate all the time.

Day 6 - F is for Freedom Fighters

Claudette Colvin

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    Before that day in December 1955, when Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, Claudette Colvin, age 15 was arrested for the same offense 9 months earlier. It was Negro history month, and at her segregated school they had been studying black leaders like Harriet Tubman, the runaway slave who led more than 70 slaves to freedom through the network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. They were also studying about Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became an abolitionist and women's rights activist. My head was just too full of black history, you know, the oppression that we went through. It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn't get up."  Read Claudette Colvin's Story.

Elizabeth "Mum Bett" Freeman

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    A statue of Elizabeth Freeman on display in the National Museum of African American History and Culture's Slavery and Freedom exhibition.


    Less than one year after the adoption of the Massachusetts State Constitution, a brave enslaved woman challenged the document’s proposed principles. Motivated by the promise of liberty, Elizabeth Freeman, born as “Mum Bett,” became the first African American woman to successfully file a lawsuit for freedom in the state of Massachusetts. This case marked the beginning of a group of “freedom suits” that would ultimately lead the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to outlaw slavery in their state.

Aaron Douglas

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    Aaron Douglas, Into Bondage, 1936

     

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    Douglas, Let My People Go, 1935


     

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Bayard Rustin

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    Born in 1912, Bayard Rustin became an influential fighter for the rights of Blacks and gays, was a labor organizer, and a key advisor to Martin Luther King. A 1953 arrest outed Rustin’s gay lifestyle, and many feared his sexual life would hurt The Movement; because of this, much of Rustin’s work was done behind the scenes and went unrecognized. In 1955 he helped Dr. King coordinate the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and in 1963, ten years after his arrest, he made what may be his greatest contribution to the movement as the architect of the August 28 March on Washington, providing the platform for King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”. Read More: "Bayard Rustin: The Gay Civil Rights Leader Who Organized the March on Washington"

Crispus Attucks

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    On the evening of March 5, 1770, British troops fired into a crowd of angry American colonists in Boston, killing 5. The event, which became known as the Boston Massacre, helped fuel the outrage against British rule—and spurred on the American Revolution. The first victim was a middle-aged sailor and rope-maker of mixed African American and American Indian descent named Crispus Attucks, In death, Attucks was afforded honors that no person of color—particularly one who had escaped slavery probably had ever received before in America. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people joined in the procession that carried the caskets of Attucks and the other victims to the graveyard. Attucks became a symbol in the 1840s for African American activists in the abolitionist movement, who promoted him as an example of a black citizen and a patriot, and that image stuck.

Stevie Wonder, "Black Man"

Stevie Wonder's composition from Songs In the Key of Life (1976) is celebration of freedom fighters of all colors.

Black Man Lyrics

  • Stevie Wonder - "Black Man"
    From Songs In the Key of Life, 1976
     
    First man to die
    For the flag we now hold high (crispus attucks)
    Was a Black Man
     
    The ground were we stand
    With the flag held in our hand
    Was first the redmans
     
    Guide of a ship
    On the first columbus trip (pedro alonzo nino)
    Was a brown man
     
    The railroads for trains
    Came on tracking that was laid
    By the yellow man
     
    We pledge allegiance
    All our lives
    To the magic colors
    Red, blue and white
    But we all must be given
    The liberty that we defend
    For with justice not for all men
    History will repeat again
    Its time we learned
    This world was made for all men