Martin Luther King day came and went, but it is doubtful if there will be dramatic changes in this society. Americans today remember Martin Luther King, but few recall other important figures in the fight for equal rights. When Martin Luther King was growing up there was an important Negro leader(Negro wast the term for King, not African American or black) who is rarely mentioned these days. Paul Robeson was a dynamic individual who inspired both black and many white children such as myself. Robeson was the first black football player to cited as an All-American football player. He then went on to become a successful lawyer. That was followed by his entry into acting where Robeson was considered among the great Shakespearean actors for his role in Othello. Ah, but Robeson still was not finished. He went on to become the first dark skinned actor who played serious film roles. Ah, but that was not enough. Robeson had among the greatest singing voices in the twentieth century. Ah, but that was not enough. He fought for civil rights, he refused to play before segregated audiences, he opposed American foreign policy when it was directed against poor people, and his dignity and respect for all humans made him a hero to teachers in my slum schools.
Malcolm X was a voice for black power and he would not back down for anyone. Malcolm emphasized that blacks should separate themselves from whites and draw upon their own resources rather than depending on white help. He converted to the Muslim religion and even made the pilgrimage to Mecca. He was hated by whites because he insulted whites, he refused to act like a “polite Negro” but was a proud black man. He inspired many black youth to be proud. After the trip to Mecca he realized the problem that must be confronted. In Mecca, he found Muslims of all skin colors so the idea of skin color had to be rethought. As he grappled with that issue, he was murdered by other Muslims who lacked his insight into the complexity of race and color.
Most people are familiar with Martin Luther King and his life. Suffice to say, he was a man who refused to back down even when asked by John Kennedy not to be so demanding in his quest for immediate equal rights. Ironically, he died and then Robert Kennedy died and perhaps their death interfered with America moving forward more rapidly in the goal of ending all forms of hatred and discrimination in this society.