The Occupiers’ Vanguard: Celebrating Black History Month

Occupiers have pitched their tents in McPherson Square, Zuccotti Park, and Oakland, but their form of civil disobedience harkens back to an older generation whose extraordinary accomplishments continue to shape the US. In light of this past year’s recognition of “the protester” as the Time person of the year, APB would like to commemorate some of these activists’ predecessors for this year’s Black History Month. We are honored to represent remarkable individuals whose contributions to the Civil Rights Movement allow us to openly voice our own discontent today.
The following are a few of these innumerable men and women:
Award-winning journalist and speaker Charlayne Hunter-Gault was one of two black students to force the University of Georgia to integrate in 1961, and its first black student to graduate in 1963. In 1968, she joined The New York Times as a metropolitan reporter specializing in the coverage of the urban African American community, for which she garnered fame for her “people-centered” approach to journalism. As NPR’s chief correspondent in Africa, and later the CNN Johannesburg Bureau Chief and Correspondent, she continued her longstanding mission of exposing human rights violations through her candid reporting.
After graduating from Columbia University in 1956 and receiving his MD from Cornell in 1960, APB speaker Dr. Alvin Poussaint plunged head-first into the Civil Rights Movement, providing medical care to civil rights workers and contributing to the desegregation of hospitals and health facilities throughout the South as the Southern Field Director of the Medical Committee for Human Rights from 1965 to 1967. In 1969, he joined the Harvard Medical School as a professor of psychiatry, and later he was recruited by Bill Cosby as a script consultant to The Cosby Show to help screen out inappropriate humor and stereotypes. To this day, Dr. Poussaint strives to create positive images for black Americans.
After attending grade school and high school under a deeply segregated system, keynote speaker Mary Frances Berry climbed her way up academia to become the first black woman to head a major research university as chancellor of the University of Colorado. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter named her Assistant Secretary of Education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and in 1980, he appointed her Chairperson of the US Civil Rights Commission, a post she retained until 2004. Having dedicated her life and work to the pursuit of civil rights, gender equality, and social justice, she inexhaustibly continues to inspire individuals today as a professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania.
Immortalized by the film Remember the Titans, in which he was portrayed by acclaimed actor Denzel Washington, football coach and inspirational speaker Herman Boone is a legend in the stadium as well as outside of it. In 1971, he was appointed head football coach of the newly integrated TC Williams High School in Alexandria, for which he faced the seemingly impossible task of leading a team of previous football rivals of mixed black and white backgrounds. Against all odds, he not only succeeded in uniting his team, but led them to the state championship.
Following a difficult, poverty-stricken youth in an overtly racist society, Baltimore native and APB speaker Kweisi Mfume decided to seek refuge in his cultural roots and become politically active in order to help his fellow community members. He rose to prominence in Maryland and was eventually elected to the House of Representatives in 1986. He stepped down from office in 1996 to accept the presidency of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and for the next nine years, he successfully raised the NAACP’s national profile and helped restore its prominence among the nation’s civil rights organizations.

For more information on what APB speakers have to say about Black History Month and Martin Luther King, please visit our website.

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