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2023 Black History Theme Executive Summary: Black Resistance

By the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALH)

Courtesy: ASALH, photo provided.

African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores.


These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction. The 1950s and 1970s in the United States was defined by actions such as sit-ins, boycotts, walk outs, strikes by Black people and white allies in the fight for justice against discrimination in all sectors of society from employment to education to housing.


Black people have had to consistently push the United States to live up to its ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Systematic oppression has sought to negate much of the dreams of our griots, like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and our freedom fighters, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Septima Clark, and Fannie Lou Hamer fought to realize.


Black people have sought ways to nurture and protect Black lives, and for autonomy of their physical and intellectual bodies through armed resistance, voluntary emigration, nonviolence, education, literature, sports, media, and legislation/politics. Black led institutions and affiliations have lobbied, litigated, legislated, protested and achieved success.


In an effort to live, and maintain and protect economic success Black people have organized/planned violent insurrections against those who enslaved them, such as in Haiti,, and armed themselves against murderous white mobs as seen in Memphis, Tenn. (1892), Rosewood, Flo. (1923), and New Orleans, La. (1900).


Additionally, some Black people thought that the best way to resist was to self-liberate as seen by the actions of those who left the plantation system, of Henry Adams and Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, when they led a mass exodus westward in 1879 and Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who organized emigration to Liberia.


Black faith institutions were spaces where Black communities met to organize resistance efforts, inspired folk to participate in the movements, and offered sanctuary during times of crisis.


To promote awareness of the myriad of issues and activities, media outlets were developed, including radio shows, podcasts, newspapers (i.e. Chicago Defender, Chicago Bee, the Afro, The California Eagle, Omaha Star, the Crisis, etc.). Ida B. Wells used publications to contest the scourge of lynching.


These outlets were pivotal in sharing the successes and challenges of resistance movements. Cultural centers such as libraries including George Cleveland Hall Library (Chicago, IL), Dart Hall (Charleston, SC) and social, literary, and cultural clubs, such as Jack and Jill, Phillis Wheatley Literary Societies, fraternal and sororal orders, associations (i.e. Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, National Association of Colored Women, etc.) worked to support the intellectual development of communities to collect and preserve Black stories, sponsor Black history and literature events, and were active in the quest for civil, social, and human rights.


Black medical professionals worked with others to establish nursing schools, hospitals, and clinics in order to provide spaces for Black people to get quality health care, which they often did (and do not) receive at mainstream medical institutions.


For economic and financial independence, businesses, such as Binga Bank, Johnson Publishing Company, Parker House Sausage Company, Soft and Sheen, etc., were developed to keep funds within the community.


In order to resist inequality and to advocate for themselves Black men and women formed labor unions based on trades and occupations, some examples include the Colored National Labor Union, Colored Musicians Club, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the Negro American Labor Council.

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