Black History Month: Influential Men and Women in Politics, Past and Present
As we continue to celebrate Black History month, this week we take a look at some of the most influential figures in politics, past and present.
“One person can change the world” and “I believe there is one race, the human race.”
Rosa Parks’ legacy can be summarised through her being honoured as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” thanks to her activism in the civil rights movement. Parks was part of one of the most pivotal moments in the civil rights movement when she made a stand during the Montgomery Bus Protests of 1955, when she refused to move, sparking a court challenge that ended in bus segregation being deemed unconstitutional.
Martin Luther King Jr
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
One of the most famous men in American history, Martin Luther King Jr was the most visible spokesman and leader in the American civil rights movement. King was instrumental in the abolition of segregation and the progression of civil rights, leading marches for right to vote, desegregation, labour rights and more. King helped organise the 1963 March on Washington, led the 1955 bus boycott and delivered his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech.
"Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet."
John Lewis, an American Statesmen who served in the United States House of Representatives for 33 years until his death in 2020. Lewis was a key civil rights activist and was one of the integral figures in ensuring the end to legalised racial segregation in the US. Alongside Martin Luther King Jr, Lewis was part of the “Big Six” and was responsible for organising the 1962 March on Washington. Since being elected to Congress in 1986, Lewis has played an integral role in politics.
“We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort.”
The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama was the first African American president of the US, serving from 2009 to 2017. Obama’s presidency is considered amongst the upper-tier of American presidencies, is looked upon favourably by historians and commentators, and brought about a lot of change in America, including healthcare reform (Obamacare), LGBT rights and same-sex marriage and was an advocate for greater gun control.
“When we show up, act boldly, and practice the best ways to be wrong, we fail forward. No matter where we end up, we’ve grown from where we began.”
Stacey Abrams gained notoriety in the world of politics when she served for 10 years in the Georgia House of Representatives. Since then she has gone on to be a leading light in the political world, particularly in the lead up to the 2020 Presidential Election, boosting voter turn-out in the tightly contested state of Georgia and founding Fair Fight Action, an organisation which addressed the issue of voter suppression.
“So I am thinking about her and the generations of women – Black women, Asian, white, Latina, natives American women – who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all, including the Black women who are too often overlooked but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.”
In January of this year, Kamala Harris made history when she became, not only the first female, but the first Black and first South Asian American Vice President, as well as the highest-ranking female official in US history. Having already made strides as an Attorney General and as a senator, Harris continued to make an even greater impact when she was selected as Biden’s running mate, before successfully being elected to office. Picked as the Time Person of the Year alongside Joe Biden in 2020, Harris has already shown young boys and girls what they can achieve and continues to serve as a role model, paving the way for future generations.
Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng
“We have won a great victory here tonight.... For 400 years we have waited to go to that place of our independence and I say this, we went before as humble petitioners—Never again! We go now as Socialist Tribunes of all the people, black and white.” - Paul Boateng
First Black elected members of Parliament (1987), and Diane Abbott the first Black woman to be elected as an MP and is the longest-serving Black MP in the House of Commons, having held her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat for 34 years.
Grant served as MP for Tottenham from 1987 until his death in 2000. He made significant contributions to politics by establishing and chairing the Parliamentary Black Caucus, an organisation committed to advancing the opportunities for ethnic minority communities, as well as co-founding and charing the African Reparations Movement which campaigned for reparations for slavery and racism.
Also elected as a member of parliament in 1987 for Brent South, in 2002, Boateng became the first Black cabinet member when he was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury, under Tony Blair. Boateng has since gone on to be given a Life Peerage, being introduced to the House of Lords in 2010.
"Historically black people have not always been listened to, or treated equally in terms of medical care, so there is a lack of trust sometimes. We need to deal with it and we need role models within the community.”
In 2017 Eleanor Smith was elected as an MP, winning the Wolverhampton South West Seat. Of African Caribbean descent, what made Smith’s win even more poignant was the history behind that seat, which was once held by Enoch Powell, a notorious anti-immigration campaigner who delivered the Rivers of Blood speech in 1968, which saw him being dismissed from the Shadow cabinet. Smith also made history when she became the first Black female President of trade union Unison.