Our Civil Rights Legends Are Dying

Our Civil Rights Legends are dying.

And this is natural. It’s a natural progression. They die. They transition. Because they’ve done all they can. But they tire. They tire from life. They tire from fighting all of the hardships, all of the battles, all of the wars. Some transition violently, while others transition naturally and peacefully. But they die. And their deaths, as tragic as they are, allows for the next generation to pave the way. Allows for the next generation to fight the good fight. Their deaths allow for the next generation to fight for black equity.

So we can become legends.

It’s natural. That’s what I keep telling myself. I keep telling myself that their death is natural. That natural still hurts, though. Their deaths still leave massive holes in our hearts, wondering if we could ever fill the shoes of such titans that came before us.

I wonder if we can make the kind of changes that allow us to sit in front of keyboard to type up this pro-black work; or allow us to stand in front of a voting booth and cast these pro-black votes; or allow black staffers to converge in a random conference room in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill and draft pro black legislation; or allow us to occupy traditionally racist courtrooms and argue for pro-black justice; or allow us to become elected officials and sit on committees so we can include pro-black budgetary line items.

I wonder about this, because in our struggle for black equity, we naturally slip and we fall. No movement is perfect. But we have a playbook, a playbook drawn up by our ancestors, those who are still with us along with those who have transitioned. This playbook was drafted, edited, re-edited and edited again and edited some “moe”.

And it continues to be edited.

It’s FULL of track changes. Full of comment bubbles, dissecting and analyzing what we did right, what we did wrong and what we need to do, going forward. We have structural writing comments from Ida B. Wells; petty comments from Julian Bond; speech writing and speech delivery comments from Brother Malcolm and Brother Martin; voter registration empowerment comments from Sister Fannie; thought provoking comments from James Baldwin; trouble making comments from John Lewis; Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee strategies from my Father; Freedom Rider tales from C.T. Vivan; and many, many more drafters and editors who contributed to this playbook. Because this playbook is MASSIVE. And it’s HEAVY. Full of so much black joy, so much black pain, so much black struggle, so much black hope, so much black blood.

So much black blood.

And now it’s on us. It’s on us to assiduously maintain this playbook, because our freedoms and the freedoms of our children and children’s children depend on it. It’s paramount to maintain this playbook’s integrity and never allow our legends to simply become footnotes. They deserve chapters for their contribution. They deserve chapters that we read; chapters that we re-read; chapters that we follow.

I encourage all of us who haven’t done so, to visit and revisit the contributions of the black deities who came before us. They were special in every conceivable way. Read the books. Watch the speeches. Listen to to the interviews. Stare at the images. There is so much blackness behind those words and pictures. And it’s the kind of blackness we need to consume. We need to consume all that rich blackness, so we can take that blackness with us, as we move forward. Because that blackness will get us to places they couldn’t reach. But that’s why they live and that’s why they die, right?

So we can become their dream. So we can become our ancestor’s dream.

Leslie McLemore writes about a lot of different shit for Black With No Chaser. He is also the Takeaway Kang and is the father of two beautiful girls, one of which gets on every nerve he has. The other one is sweet. So, you know, balance. 

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