They Bled Red Too: The Importance of Honoring All of Our Civil Rights Heroes

Hero … The word is utilized universally as a means to extol exceptional regard and esteem on an individual for deeds or acts deemed noble, daring or selfless. And of course, we know that each culture has its own set of heroes: For the English it could range from Alfred the Great to King Henry VIII to Winston Churchill. For the Irish: Oscar Wilde to George Bernard Shaw to Michael Collins. For the Egyptians: Tutankhamun, Darius the Great and Cleopatra I. For Africans Shaka Zulu, Haile Selassie and Hannibal. For Americans George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton.  For African-Americans: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X …

Of course, there are many more cultures that could be listed and far more heroes that could be mentioned in the cultures that were listed. The focus of this piece, however, will be the latter two cultures: American and African-American. It is within this juxtaposition that this nation has a crisis of identity which has led to unrest, fear, wariness, distrust and an apprehension-filled mindset that persists to this day … from both sides.

Mindset …

Last night, I watched the movie Loving, which is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Jeter Loving, two —reluctant—Civil Rights heroes who, in a landmark and Constitution-changing 1967 Supreme Court decision, successfully defeated Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.  Interesting thing is, Richard Loving was a white man from the most rural part of America and Mildred Jeter Loving was an African-American woman from the all too stereotypical poor part of the south. Nevertheless, without each other, there would have been no story, no noble deed, no heroism of note. But together they shocked the world and  were the unwitting authors of one of the greatest love stories and victories of the Civil Rights Movement. An African-American woman and a White American Man.

Mildred Jeter Loving is a hero … Richard Loving is a hero. They are heroes of equal measure.

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Richard & Mildred Loving circa 1967 shortly after landmark Supreme Court decision
The point here is history and the accurate documenting, reporting and honoring of it. All too often, the African-American community will—and understandably so—mention heroes of the Civil Rights Movement only as they relate to their melanin or kind. In other words, blacks often only recognize blacks when it comes to the struggle. Of a certainty it is critical and necessary for not only blacks but all cultures to know and recognize where they came from. That is an unassailable fact. However, it is equally important, and particularly in the case of the black experience in America, to recognize all the people and cultures that helped the Civil Rights Movement move forward then and now. Why? Because it’s fact, it’s a pillar upon which a certain reality was built and now stands. For example, it’s a fact that if Richard Loving hadn’t taken the risks he had, if he hadn’t stood with his wife in spite of being harassed, jailed and beaten to maintain his love for her, that the Supreme Court would not have ruled against Virginia’s racist law and just perhaps, interracial marriage would still be illegal to this very day. If that White American man had not stood with that African-American woman, a very critical change to annals of national juris prudence and the Constitution of these United States may never have happened.

Of course, Richard Loving could have left his wife and his troubles, as far as interracial marriage was concerned, would have been over. And if Richard had “tapped out”, Mildred Jeter Loving could do nothing to change the fact that she was black so she would most certainly have continued to experience discrimination in its many forms for the duration of her life. Based on this, the fact that this white man could have released himself from his exposure to the black experience of the day at any moment, some would say disqualifies Richard Loving from being a real hero of the movement. This view is objectionable and even offensive. Because is that not the very definition of heroism? An individual who refuses to take the easy way out and consciously chooses to endure hardship for a greater good?

Again, the message here is not to halt, slow or shame in anyway, form or fashion the African-American communities justified honoring of its ethnic heroes. All I’m saying is, let’s be all encompassing and inclusive about it. Essentially, let’s give credit where it’s due. Because honestly, if it weren’t for heroes like Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Loving, the world we live in would be a vastly different place. If our desire is to be a student of the movement, then we must study the entirety of the movement. Anything less lends to the divisive tenets the Civil Rights Movement and martyrs like Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks intended to combat in the first place.

The fact is that there are white, Native American, Latino and Asian brothers and sisters who have paid a heavy—and in some instances the ultimate—price for the rights African-Americans have today. And while today’s system is indeed corrupt and rife with discrimination, it doesn’t mean that these individuals are any less deserving than their black counterparts to be honored for the monumental sacrifices they did pay to help move things forward. So let’s honor them.

[ A COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF BLACK + WHITE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT HEROES ]


Think Passionately. Disrupt Strategically.
-A. Lawrence Haskins

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