Juneteenth Spotlight: Famous Black Speakers – OZY


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Politicians and experts

Shirley Chisholm

Historian Howard Zinn once said that “the most revolutionary act one can undertake is to speak the truth”. In the case of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, being an outspoken had political consequences. The daughter of working-class West Indian immigrants, Chisholm was not afraid of controversy. The “unbought and bossless” leader was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and a strong advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. His bold campaign for president in 1972 would forever alter the nation’s view of what a presidential candidate might look like.

jesse jackson

Faced with the audacity of hope, a lyrical reverend sang: “Down with drugs, make way for hope”. The Reverend Jesse Jackson had the rhetorical skills of Barack Obama, but couldn’t get his 1984 or 1988 presidential campaigns across the finish line. In 1988, some 20 years before Pres. Obama shook the world – Jackson was leading the early primary results, appearing on the covers of Time and Newsweek, and it looked like he might just make history.

Barbara Jordan

It is still considered one of America’s great political speeches. “My faith in the Constitution is complete; it is complete; it’s total, ”thundered Barbara Jordan. Jordan, a black congresswoman in a pink suit and thick glasses, acknowledged that when the Constitution was drafted, it would not have been included in her solemn promise. But on July 25, 1974, she gave her endorsement to the nation’s supreme legal document while defending the right of Congress to seek the removal of President Richard Nixon.

James Baldwin

Public debates almost always disappoint, but one exception comes from the archives of 1965 – a debate between William F. Buckley Jr. (the very grandfather of modern conservatism) and James Baldwin, one of the most important writers of the 20th century. , who happened to be black and gay. In this debate, Baldwin captivates a room full of fanciful white Englishmen by addressing the question, “Has the American Dream been realized at the expense of the American Negro?”

Civil rights activists and leaders

Frederick Douglass

Sometimes oratorical fireworks are the best way to celebrate the 4th of July. Frederick Douglass, famous for his heroic journey from slave to statesman, was also a gifted orator. And on July 5, 1852, Douglass tried to convince a large crowd in Rochester, New York – gathered to celebrate Independence Day – of the hypocrisy of slavery. Douglass did not mince his words. “This 4th of July is yours, not mine,” he said to the assembly. “You can rejoice, I must cry.” And he was just starting to warm up.

Marcus Garvey

Black nationalist Marcus Garvey has had a wider geographic impact than most people realize, and a speech past you may not know. Garvey rose to fame as a leading advocate of pan-African politics, advocating for permanent refuge on the African continent for black people everywhere. In 1921, he captivated a West Indian audience in Panama with a laudatory speech. “Two years ago in New York, no one was paying attention to us. When I spoke, even the police officers on the ground never noticed me,” he said of the sudden rise in black consciousness. Garveyism would inspire the creation of later black nationalist movements, such as the Nation of Islam.

Martin Luther King jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was such a gifted speaker that he gave several historic speeches at the Lincoln Memorial. At the same location in Washington, DC, where six years later he would deliver his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, King addressed a request to American leaders: Give us the ballot. King was the keynote speaker for the Freedom Prayer Pilgrimage, and it was the charismatic preacher’s first national audience. Although much less well known than his “I Have a Dream” speech, his “Give Us the Ballot” speech was no less eloquent, and perhaps even more consequential.

Malcolm X

Words and deeds can live in curious and beautiful ways. Take civil rights activist Malcolm X’s final speech, delivered at Barnard College in 1965. Although only fragments of text, video and memory remain, “The Negro Revolution and its Effects on the Negroes of Western Hemisphere” connected the struggle for civil rights with a global struggle against oppression, in a speech delivered to an almost entirely white audience. Malcolm X’s home in Queens had been burned down days before, and his wife and four children were in hiding, but he persevered, saying he “would rather be dead than someone take my rights away from me.” Three days later, on February 21, he was assassinated in Harlem.


Presidents and world leaders

Nelson Mandela

One of the most influential freedom fighters of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela emerged from nearly three decades in prison to become South Africa’s first black president and help his country transition into a post-apartheid era. He could also make a good speech. OZY CEO Carlos Watson recalls how, as a summer intern for the Detroit Free Press more than three decades ago, he went to a Detroit stadium to listen to Mandela’s newly released. “All around me, people were buzzing with excitement,” Watson recalled. “I remember a young woman saying that she saw her visit as a chance for her generation to see Martin Luther King.”

Kwame Nkrumah

As the clock struck midnight on March 6, 1957, Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah led his fellow citizens to welcome the independent nation called Ghana, the first black African nation to shake off the yoke of colonial rule. The band played the new national anthem, and fireworks and dancing filled the night. Beloved Nkrumah, with his contagious smile, used his independence speech to proclaim his vision for Africa, saying: “Our independence only has meaning if it is linked to the total liberation of the African continent” . Unfortunately, Nkrumah would later declare himself president for life and institute one-party rule in the new nation. While visiting China in 1966, he was overthrown in a coup.

Patrice Lumumba

Malcolm X called him the greatest black man to ever walk the African continent. Just six months after becoming the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of the Congo (later called the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Patrice Lumumba was shot by firing squad in 1961. In one of his rare speeches as prime minister, the nervous intellectual had spoken ardently of the oppression and humiliation suffered by the Congolese people at the hands of their Belgian colonizers. This speech and his refusal to acquiesce to Western interests helped trigger the events that led to his death.

barack obama

Few presidents have had the oratorical skills of Barack Obama. His talent, exemplified during the 2008 campaign with his “A More Perfect Union” speech on racial tensions and his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, helped him overcome the challenges of his historic candidacy. During his second term, Obama described immigration as an issue where “differences are shrinking; where a broad consensus emerges; and where a call to action can now be heard from across America. As with so many challenges facing the United States and the world, struggles for racial equality and just immigration policy continue today. Yet it is clear that Obama and the historic speakers who came before him have all helped to change the very course of history.

Community corner

What great leaders of today – whether local, state, national or international – could you add to this list?

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