Seven Misconceptions About Black History

February 26, 2018

Many black leaders or events are misunderstood. It is important to understand the intentions behind different movements in order to fully grasp the motives of different personalities in black history.


1. Martin Luther is the epitome of historic black leaders

When most people think of black leadership, the first person who comes to mind is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At a young age, students are taught about Dr. King, and his efforts to establish equality among all races through non-violent tactics. Other leaders are vaguely and briefly discussed, and not held to the same standard as Dr. King. It is undeniable that Dr. King made a huge impact on the lives of black people in America, but it is not true that he made more of an impact than any other black leader.

2. Malcolm X promoted violence

People commonly contrast Malcolm X with Dr. Martin Luther King, creating the narrative that Malcolm X promoted violence, while Dr. King was peaceful. This comparison is not fair because, Malcolm X was very much against unnecessary violence. He lived from 1925-1965, a time period filled with horrible acts of racism against blacks. Malcolm X advocated for the protection of blacks, who were not otherwise being protected. He famously said, “We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.” Another huge aspect of his teachings that is commonly ignored, is his teachings on the importance of education. He believed that no one would ever be free until they were educated.

3. The Black Panther Party was anti-white

The Black Panther Party branded themselves with the concept of Pro-Black, but this does not mean anti-white. They aimed to help the black communities in ways that the government had neglected. People often fail to mention the numerous programs created by the Black Panther Party to uplift the black communities such as the initiatives for employment, education, housing, health, and against poverty. Before the Party was abolished, they had created over 50 community programs.

4. Rosa Parks just said “no”

Rosa Parks was involved in activism before and after her bus incident. Many people think all she did was refuse to give up her seat on the bus, but she did so much more. Rosa Parks was a member of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and was serving as the secretary for this chapter at the time of her arrest. She also helped organize the Bus Boycott, and was arrested for a second time along with hundreds of others for participating in it. She spent the rest of her life advocating for freedom and equality.

5. The story of Hattie McDaniel’s oscar win

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American woman to win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. The 12th Academy Awards were held in a whites only hotel, so McDaniel was initially turned away. She was only allowed to enter by the request of the producer of the film, David Selznick. Upon entrance, she was seated at a table on the back wall with her agent. Hattie McDaniel’s win opened many doors for future black actresses, but it is important to recognize that she faced many obstacles in just obtaining her award.

6. Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War

In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be placed in the U.S. Army despite being selected in the draft. His main argument was that it was against his religion to engage in war, but he also argued that he did not want to die for a country that did not value his life as a black man. The punishment for refusing the draft was a $10,000 fine and five years in prison. Despite the threats of punishment, Ali remained persistent in his beliefs. He was also stripped of his championship title as a result of refusing to go to war.

7. Protests from black athletes

In 2016, NFL player Colin Kaepernick ignited a silent protest by kneeling for the national anthem to honor the lives of the unarmed black people who had been killed by the police and to bring awareness to the issue. His protest was silent and peaceful, yet many found it problematic. Kaepernick is not the first black athlete to use their platform to educate people on issues of racism. Tommie Smith and John Carlos are two black olympic athletes who also took a stand against racism. In the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, these two track athletes silently protested against the poverty faced by so many black communities and the lack of government efforts to assist these black families. For this display, their olympic medals were taken away and they were made to leave Mexico immediately. Like Kaepernick, their athletic careers came to an end following the protest.


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