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A leadership vacuum

Melvin B. Miller

The Civil Rights Movement launched a number of black heroes who will be long remembered. Leading the list is Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who demonstrated great courage as well as extraordinary diplomatic and political skills. Also well recognized during this period was Malcolm X. While both men had different philosophical perspectives, they nonetheless had much in common.

Strangely enough, they were both only 39 years old when they were assassinated. Both had attained national prominence when still young. Since their deaths, no one except Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam has been able to mobilize the massive attention and support of African Americans.

Some analysts believe that both men died because they had pushed beyond the tolerable limit for social change. Malcolm X planned to bring a human rights complaint to the United Nations because of the abuse of blacks in the U.S. That would be embarrassing to the country and could potentially result in the imposition of sanctions. And King had become a leader of the Poor People’s Campaign to combat economic disparity in the U.S. Attacks on the economic system are not well received.

It is believed that both protests, by Malcolm X and King, exceeded the limits tolerated by those in the seats of power. Perhaps the silent message has been received. In almost 50 years since King’s death, no prominent leader, except for Minister Farrakhan, has emerged. There are still many issues to be resolved, but one wonders whether African Americans are responding productively.

A good example is the growing concern about removing monuments extolling the Confederacy. Ever since Dylann Roof shot to death parishioners of the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina in 2015, many whites have become aware of the negative influence of Confederate monuments. In fact, it seems that whites have been even more ardent than blacks in removing them.

New Orleans, with a black population of 61.2 percent, was able to remove three monuments last May when Mitch Landrieu was mayor. Last December, Jim Strickland, the mayor of Memphis, Tenn. was able to remove Confederate monuments in that city with a black population of 64.1 percent. Both Landrieu and Strickland are white.

While it is encouraging that some white politicians in the South understand the harmful effects of glorifying the Confederacy, one must wonder why blacks were not more prominent on those issues. African Americans have not yet attained the status in this country to justify any tolerance of disrespect or any violation of their rights.

King and other black leaders emerging from the Civil Rights Movement era were sustained by adamant followers. In this new era, the tactic of protest will be inadequate. The new leaders will have to be more sophisticated, and the people will have to realize the necessity of staying acutely informed.

Sociologists assert that meaningful social change rises from the bottom. Where is the new Martin Luther King, sustained by an enlightened populace?