Meditations on MLK: revolutionary black feminisms

Where do revolutions come from? How are revolutions birthed, nurtured, and sustained amid the cycles of formation, action, devastation, and the natural flow of time and life?

As we drove to the King Center yesterday, we stopped at a corner not even a two minute walk from Dr. King’s birth home. On that corner, a Sister conducted her own, humble protest.

The demands from the corner.

Martin Luther King Jr’s was born on January 15, 1929 and his birthday is commemorated in the united states on the third Monday in January. Either day (really any day) is an opening to reassess his impact and to reaffirm a commitment to the work needed to realize Black freedom.

It’s important to appreciate the degree to which King’s writings, speeches, organizing, and campaigns were derivative of the everyday acts of liberatory rebellion that millions of Black women were undertaking in the schools, churches, kitchens, buses, and street corners throughout Black america. That’s as much true in 2022 as it was in 1929, 1957, or 1968.

To educate Black youth in a way that imbued them with a deep love of self was an act of rebellion. To build schools was a rebellion. To stand against patriarchy in all of its forms was rebellion. To stand on the corner, making the point, even if alone, is a dedicated act of rebellion.

As Dr. Bernice King (MLK’s youngest daughter) points out, the existence of the King Center, the commemoration of King’s birthday, the continuation of the Poor People’s Campaign, and innumerable other justice projects are testaments to Coretta Scott King’s unrelenting devotion to the cause of Dr. King’s life.

Coretta Scott King leads a candlelight vigil in 1969 against america’s war on the Vietnamese people.

Anna Malaika Tubbs recently released book The Three Mothers threads the lives of Alberta King (Martin’s mother), Berdis Baldwing (the mother of James Baldwin), and Louise Little (the mother of Malcolm X). Tubbs writes that all three have been ignored by history:

While this disregard of Black women’s contributions is widespread and so extensive that it is unquantifiable, the women I honor here have been ignored differently: ignored even though it should have been easy throughout history to see them; ignored in ways that are blatantly obvious when the fame of their sons is considered.

Anna Malaika Tubbs, The Three Mothers

When we listen and watch King’s speeches and marches, the degree to which song and rhythm are integrating into the movement and the particulars of King’s cadence is obvious. As an accomplished musician and founder of the Ebenezer choir, the importance of Alberta King as Martin’s “first teacher” is clear. We can also imagine how Mother King sustained the family and Ebenezer through loss after loss.

Despite pervasive misogynoir, Black women were at the forefront of organizing and taking the literal body blows that resulted in major changes to the legalize overt discrimination. Misogynoir is still pervasive and continues to be the undoing of Black freedom aspirations.

The imprint of Sisters “from the block”, “from the corner” is all around the Old 4th Ward neighborhood. The Sister calling on us all to remember the urgency of voting rights, calling for an end to police violence, housing rights, healthcare. Freedom. The murals below are all within a casual walk from where Martin and Coretta are buried.

In addition to Dr. Tubbs book, please take this opportunity to engage with

Love as the Practice of Freedom, by bell hooks

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, by Barbara Ransby

The Combahee River Statement published by the Combahee River Collective

Southerner’s on New Ground

The Poor People’s Campaign

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