The recent wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism has inspired numerous comparisons with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. advertisement advertisement Commentators frequently depict the charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in sharp contrast with the decentralized and seemingly leaderless nature of the current movement. Despite the efforts of activists and historians to correct this “leaderless” image, the notion persists. Such comparisons reflect the cultural memory—not the actual history—of the struggle for Black equality. Heroic struggle led by charismatic men Through collective remembering and forgetting, societies build narratives of the past to create a shared identity—what scholars refer to as cultural memory. The civil rights movement is remembered as a heroic struggle against injustice led by charismatic men. That is not the whole story. King’s soaring rhetoric and Malcolm’s unflinching social critiques have supplanted recollection of the significant work performed by legions of local leaders, whose grassroots organizational style more closely resembled the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists and other contemporary social justice groups to build movements full of leaders. The iconic images of 1950s and 1960s Black protesters marching, kneeling, and being arrested while dressed in their “Sunday… Read full this story
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