WRITTEN BY VALERIE KAUFMANN
St. Francis College’s Senior Citizen Lecture Series welcomed Yohuru Williams, Dean and Professor at Fairfield University, to talk about the historical precursors to the modern day Black Lives Matter movement.
The Black Lives Matter movement incubated on a very modern platform- Twitter. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter was first circulated in 2013, after the acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin.
While the platform on which the movement began is decidedly modern, its struggle for racial equality is not, argued Williams. From the abolitionist movement, to the Civil Rights movement in the 20th century, history is rife with images of Black men and women fighting for equality.
“We need to connect that imagery,” Williams said, “Because if we don’t connect the imagery what we lose is that there might be some gems or kernels of wisdom that we lose by trying to reinvent the wheel because we think we are dealing with something entirely new.”
One historical precursor to Black Lives Matter Movement can be found in the recent Oscar-winning film Selma, based on the true story of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965. In the film, a black man by the name of Jimmie Lee Jackson is shot while participating in a peaceful protest. His death spurs the 1965 marches.
“Wounds produce narratives,” repeated Williams throughout his lecture. The wounds inflicted on the Black community by the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, and numerous others, are not just isolated incidents. They continue to influence the Black Lives Matter movement.
The situation now, however, is different than the race struggles of old, distinguished Williams. While discrimination and violence against Blacks used to be extra-legal, operating outside the justification of the law, today’s problems circulate around officers of the law.
This problem is embodied in a cartoon of Mumia Abu Jamal, a former Black Panther who was convicted in the murder of a police officer. The cartoon, titled “The History of American Lynching” shows Jamal in the center with a Ku Klux member dangling a noose to his right with the words “String him up.” To his right, a judge stands holding up a picture frame with the words “Frame him.”
The message viewers should take away from the piece, explained Williams, is, “Whether the violence is done extra-legally by men that come in the cover of night wearing white robes and hoods…. Or it’s done by men in dark robes who use the vehicles of trumped-up charges, modified DNA evidence, messed up laws, whatever it may be– the injustice is the same.”
And injustice is something that cannot be tolerated in a society that relies on core Democratic values. Such injustices occurring under our law, said Williams, immediately threatens these values.
“Freedom is a consistent and constant struggle,” Jackie Robinson once said. If there was one takeaway from Williams’ lecture Tuesday, it was that the Black Lives Matter movement– and society as a whole– should continue treating freedom as such.