Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement: Immigrants of African Descent Should Remember the Shoulders We Stand On


Dr. Martin Dr. Martin Luther Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, the fighters, both white and black gave a lot to all of us, people of color, Immigrants of African descent, Black Americans as well as to all of white America. It is what we have done and will do with such a freedom that helps us remember.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the leaders who fought for our Civil Rights in the United States are inarguably the fathers and mothers of the freedoms we African immigrants and immigrants of color enjoy today. It is easy to forget because many of us were not here to see how far we’ve come as a people.

One of my most favorable people I know is a woman I called, Grandma Laurine Brown who lived in Kalamazoo MI, when my family and I lived there. We adopted Grandma, the grandmother of my girlfriend, Narda during our seven years in K-zoo. Grandma, who celebrated her 90th birthday before my family and I moved to Pennsylvania never forgot to remind us younger people of how far we had come as a people, whether black African immigrants or black Americans. Today, Grandma is still strong at almost 98 years old.

Whenever we would get together for a celebration or just a visit, for dinner, family time, or just so Narda’s children and ours would play, we’d be sitting there talking and eating at some snacks, sometimes in Narda’s home or at mine, and there we were, complaining often about the injustices and discriminations we had seen that week or that month or that year. One of the things we African immigrants discover very fast is that instead of black people complaining about colonialism and corrupt government officials and dictators in our countries, here in America the issue is more about how subtle and institutionalized discrimination is, and how widespread it can be, even so that one has to strain their eyes and ears to find out they’re being set aside for someone else lighter skinned than them. Of course, Africans take a longer time to discover all of this, and when they do, they are often shocked and angry.

Since we were not a bunch of intellectuals trying to dissect civil society’s evils during those get together times, our complaining was not a regular thing, but when we did, we did. But there we’d be in our cold K-zoo wintry town, and we’d be laughing at our problems or angry about our problems of that week, and Grandma, with her beautiful silver hairs thinning out and her often upbeat spirit, would say, “We’ve come a long way, my children, we’ve come a long way,” stopping us in our conversation.

“If you’d seen what I have lived through, you will know that you have nothing to worry about. I am just glad to go to God, knowing how far black people have come to be here,” she’d wiggle her strong body around the room and leave our complaining selves standing there. The hopes she had carried for decades of her very long life and the joy and spark in her eyes were my hopes of things to come.

This brings me to my point of African immigrants, immigrants of African descent or people of color.

Mostly, my points here are for African immigrants who have come to these United States since the early 1970s, first, as students who came and returned home on the most part, then in the 1980s, coming mostly now as immigrants or staying after their education. In the 1990s, wars in West Africa propelled hundreds of thousands of us to immigrate, some for a brief time, but most, forever to a land that had become more free because of the Civil Rights Movement.

Because of the freedom that others fought for, the US government made it possible for thousands of immigrants from all over Africa to come and find a home in this country. As we celebrate Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement and legacy, the question is how do we as immigrants see ourselves? Do we stand aside and watch as if this is not our history and they did not fight for us or do we celebrate and help to make the world better as is expected?

Whether or not we feel like celebrating or studying the history of how it is that we can equally fight for jobs alongside everyone, both whites and blacks, we have much to be thankful for. I know for a fact that from the understanding of human movement, had the Civil Rights fight not taken place, had King not given up his life for the movement, had he fled from the call that God placed upon him, had he not accepted this great call to die for his people, had he said, “hey God, find someone else to do this dirty job,” many of us would never have come here. One example I have is that if you look at Africa itself, the Republic of South Africa under Apartheid at that same time did not see other African immigrants flock out there to try and become South Africans.

When Africans and black people could not eat in the same restaurants as white people, when black people’s children could not play on the same block as white people’s children and when they could not go to the same schools or ride the same buses, I tell you, my people, we did not get on planes in droves trying to come to the United States, and those that came were not free to love this country because of what they saw.

But lest we forget that others fought for what we of all races and creeds enjoy today, we need to stop and teach our children something. We need to know that the fact that Obama, the son of a Kenyan man and a white woman is not only running, but is doing what black candidates could not do in having supporters of all races no matter what, tells us that yes, as my beautiful adopted, Grandma Laurine said over and over, “Yes, we’ve come a long way!”

But this means that those of us immigrants standing on the fence need to get off the fence and live the American dream that others have fought to get us to share in. I do not believe that that dream is only for color or black people whose heritage is in the history of Slavery. Many people often think it means that. No, Dr. King and all of those, both whites and blacks who fought for our freedom would not have suffered for that kind of half freedom. They fought for racial equality- finish, as they say in Liberia.

So you cannot say “they did not fight for me.” I believe that that dream and its fulfillment then and still to come is for all: Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, every body. That’s the reason why America is such a great country. There certainly is no place on earth where everyone of every race and creed, religious belief and sexual orientation can have the rights to be protected under the law. This is why we call this place, America, where you now live.

2 Responses to “Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement: Immigrants of African Descent Should Remember the Shoulders We Stand On”

  1. poetryforpeace Says:

    Patricia, you’re getting at a topic that needs much more discussion among “African immigrants,” namely, an appreciation of the political struggles and sacrifices that occurred in the USA before recent African immigration. Those struggles and sacrifices occurred not merely with King and SCLC but among the greater black population, not merely with the black middle classes, but among working class and poor blacks, not just among the literate but also the illiterate were there too, like Fannie Lou Hamer. And many gave the full sacrifice—their lives.

    Yes, a few whites joined that struggle, but they did not lead that struggle to rid ourselves of unjust US racial laws. These struggles indeed have provided great opportunities and possibilities for all immigrants—Hispanics from the Americas, Caribbeans, Europeans, and, yes, Africans as well.

    There indeed need to be a broader appreciation of those historical sacrifices. I am afraid that many African immigrants do not want to be identified and associated with the native U.S. Negro, for many reasons. Some want to set up a distinction. I can understand that partially, that some take on too easily without study the prejudices and perspectives of the status quo. That is indeed a troublesome matter—this divide and conquer kind of thinking benefit only the few, not all of us.

    On these racial holidays, including Black History Month, we indeed need a deeper reflection among African immigrants on how America got to where we are today, as well as how Africa got to where it is today. Yes, we have our cultural differences (traditions) and there indeed need appreciation all around and we need more patience with each other as well. We cannot remain isolated in our own little worlds. There should be as much cooperation and collaboration as there is competition among us.

  2. poetryforpeace Says:

    Thanks, Rudy,

    That discussion is a larger one than I’m taking on right now. I think the place anyone can begin is with herself/himself, and as a middle class, educated African immigrant, I want to begin in my own backyard, where Africans like me often feel like they do not connect to the history simply because it does not seem to include them. Yes, they were not here when that history occurred, and yet that fight and that struggle made life easier for them to join in. The issues that must be discussed however, among the poor and the rich, the educated and the non-educated, the immigrant black and the non-immigrant black is where we begin to tell that history and where we begin to stop blaming each other for the problems we as black people experience in America.

    There is this tendency for both black Americans and African immigrants to nurture their differences as if these differences really help them in this world of racial discrimination. Sometimes the fight resembles how people, sitting at the table may throw crumbs at those sitting beneath it, and instead of those sitting under fight those sitting on chairs for a place at the table, they are fighting one another under and beneath the table to see who can get the best crumbs, so the guys at the table decide to throw larger crumbs at some of the guys beneath and not at other, and the guys beneath are so busy trying to see who got the greasiest and the largest crumbs, they cannot get enough energy and mind power to remove the guys sitting at the table.

    My African American acquaintances will quickly tell me upon first meeting me for the first time in that distrusting tone, “You people don’t like us or the white people love you better.”

    To that, I often respond, “Which people are ‘you people?'” Or “How come you said that the white people love us better?”

    Usually, if I have the time, I try to explain what I understand the different philosophies I see playing on the two groups to my accuser. I know that the issue is all about the same ‘divide and rule’ that still plagues Africa today, and part of it is ignorance and false teaching. Most African Americans have been fed every negative thing about Africa and Africans for centuries, and most Africans have not even been educated about Racism in America or slavery when they arrive here. Also, instead of teaching the real history of black struggle for justice in the world, including in the US, we are fed movies and stories about black crime and drug problems in the US, which of course is just like teaching Africans another form of ignorance of the real African American.

    These two ignorances usually play a huge part on how we understand one another. That is why when African Immigrants (who were really the elites and royalty) first began to come (before the real poor, destitute from war, not always poor however., and refugees came in the 90s and 2000s), they wanted to be different, and like immigrants, they wanted to be respected and not put in the “category” that America often assigns black people, often, the things they had been fed, and yet, this sort of attitude can cause problems for the home base black. Just like you never see any beautiful places and good things about Africa on TV, we never really got any movies or good stories about blacks in America.

    But whose advantage it is when this sort of thing happens? Who is better off when we believe that “They don’t like us?” and our Black American cousins and brothers also believe that “They don’t like us?”

    If black people stop trying to believe that every new black immigrant is taking away from them, and if immigrants get to understand that no matter our history, we have a common bond and a common root, and that no matter what, we will all face the same discrimination somewhere down the road, and unless we open our eyes to the reality, we cannot make progress both at being one or at making the kind of progress King and all the others we never heard of died for.

    I tell you, when it seems we are liked better because we are Africans, it is before those who think they like us discover that Africans too can fight for their rights and can disagree and can stand up for what they believe. But that comes a long, long time after immigration since the immigrant is often not as well off as the home base due to the nature of travel and the reason for travel. This discussion needs to be a new study of African and African American relations in the US, and we need to learn that those who fought before King and after King did not die for us to fight among ourselves. Thanks, Rudy

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