Today, Louis Armstrong is a beloved figure. But 60 years ago, when he cancelled a tour to perform in the Soviet Union as a cultural ambassador on behalf of the State Department to protest the deployment of the National Guard to prevent nine African-American students from attending classes at Little Rock Central High School, he was criticized for his lack of patriotism.
Today, Martin Luther King, Jr., is a beloved figure. But 54 years ago, as he prepared for the March on Washington where he delivered his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech, 60% of those polled by Gallup had an unfavorable opinion of the upcoming civil rights rally.
Today, Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos are beloved figures. But 49 years ago, after they raised their black-gloved fists on the medal stand in Mexico City to protest racial inequities in the United States, they were stripped of their medals, and harshly criticized back home.
“There has never been a movement for the freedom or equality of people of color that has gained white approval,” writes Michael Harriot. “Not the abolitionist movement. Not the anti-lynching movement. Not the Black Power movement. Not the civil rights struggle.”
And when African-American athletes and entertainers protest today, writes Jelani Cobb, “the belief endures … that visible, affluent African-American entertainers are obliged to adopt a pose of ceaseless gratitude—appreciation for the waiver that spared them the low status of so many others of their kind. Stevie Wonder began a performance in Central Park [Saturday] night by taking a knee, prompting Congressman Joe Walsh to tweet that Wonder was ‘another ungrateful black multi-millionaire.’ Ungrateful is the new uppity.”
As the debate around the NFL protests — which began with Colin Kaepernick protesting police violence and racial inequality, and evolved this past weekend after President Trump suggested protesting players should be fired, only less diplomatically — continues, keep in mind that while the news may be the first draft of history, when it comes to the history of protest, that first draft will be subject to extensive revisions.
This originally appeared in The Mouse and the Elephant Weekly. Read the full email, explore other resources, and subscribe at https://tinyletter.com/mouseandelephant/.