Charting The Path to Black Freedom

Path to Black Freedom

“You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise!” ― Maya Angelou

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The recent signing into law of Juneteenth as a federal holiday highlights how Black American’s struggle for emancipation and recognition is characterized by progress and setbacks; oppression and uprising. Throughout history, there have always been those who stand in the way of liberty and justice. Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of freedom from slavery and the 15th amendment guaranteeing the right of all American citizens to vote was countered by white supremist groups who called for segregation in schools and public places. Martin Luther King, organized a protest march where he delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

In 1963, 250,000 people participated in the march on Washington where Black leaders called for equal employment opportunities, voting rights and an end to racial segregation. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech symbolized a defining moment for the civil rights movement, and he soon emerged as its most prominent figure. On October 14, 1964, Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize for opposing racial inequality through nonviolence.

Lack of Change Results in Radical Activity

Many African Americans began to feel that the civil rights movement had not culminated in social, political and economic equality and attempts to redress disparities between the rights of blacks and whites had failed. The term ‘Black power’ was popularized, calling on Black people to stop depending on white-controlled institutions for solutions. The assassination of Martin Luther King, as well as Malcolm X three years earlier, radicalized black activists resulting in days of riots, burning and looting.

An African American who has dedicated much of his life to an examination of economic and socio-political issues is social theorist Thomas Sowell. His book, Knowledge and Decisions, which won the Law and Economics Centre Prize, explores the discrepancy between knowledge and decision making, with particular reference to government agencies. Sowell contends that governments make what they consider to be rational decisions, but this often results in limiting individual freedom.

Maya Angelou Recognized

In her magnificent poem ‘Still I Rise’, Maya Angelou champions the cause of individuality and the will to defeat oppression and to overcome adversity. The passionate tone of the poem underpins the privations endured by Black Americans but ends on a note of victory, inspiring people to continue to be resilient and to fight for their rights. During her lifetime, Angelou was honored by numerous universities and literary organizations.  She is also the first African American woman to be depicted on an American coin – an initiative that honors prominent women in American history.

The image of Maya Angelou on the reverse side of the coin is fitting: she is standing with her arms held wide open with a large bird in flight behind her and the sun’s rays shining above.  The US Mint released a statement that the coin depicts Angelou’s poetry and the way she lived her life. The image on the coin, with her outstretched arms showing a readiness to embrace life, her passion for individual freedom symbolized by the bird and the warmth she spread across the world depicted by the sun, is a perfect depiction of ‘Still I Rise’ – a poem that will resonate with black Americans for years to come.

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