5 Peaceful Black Movements Throughout The Diaspora That Changed History
These five movements were integral to changing the course of history for millions of Black people across the globe.
December 04, 2019 at 9:16 pm
So many of history’s most impactful peace movements have been organized and led by Black people across the world.
These five Black-led movements changed the lives of millions and inspired a new generation of activists eager to uphold their legacy.
1. Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace
After living through more than 14 years of civil war, the women of Liberia took matters into their own hands in 2003 when they spearheaded a peaceful protest movement led by Leymah Gbowee, Comfort Freeman and Crystal Roh Gawding. The three led thousands of Muslim and Christian women fed up with the rampant abuse of women and nonstop war.
They wore white as a symbol for peace and protested relentlessly outside of the mansion of President Charles Taylor. Their endless badgering helped force him to the negotiating table with his rivals at the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and Movement for Democracy in Liberia. When talks between the three competing sides broke down, the women staged a mass sit-in, with women from all economic classes and ethnic groups right outside of the presidential palace.
The women’s movement became so politically powerful that they’re part of why the civil war ended. They didn’t stop there either. Their movement is part of what propelled Ellen Johnson Sirleaf into the presidency in 2006. With her win, Sirleaf became the first female head of state in Africa and used her perch to promote and enforce the rights of women across Africa.
2. U.S. Civil Rights Movement
When people talk about the civil rights movement, they immediately picture Martin Luther King Jr. and the thousands of peaceful protesters who descended on Washington, DC, in 1963. However, the civil rights movement in the U.S. dates back to the end of the Civil War, when Black communities were finally emerging from slavery and attempting to secure their rights as Americans. The economic and social strides made during Reconstruction at the end of the 19th century helped lay the groundwork for a generation of Black activists who would lead the labor movement in the early 1900s.
Powerful activists like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey commanded huge followings and led successful peace movements that slowly but surely improved the country. Protests and collective action was spearheaded by labor organizations and teachers across the nation.
With the end of Reconstruction and the creation of “separate but equal” laws that plunged Black citizens back into racial terror, activists redoubled their efforts. The protests got larger and more sophisticated, all while movements used the power of rare court victories to support their message. Black groups protested segregation in innovative new ways to bring attention to the unfairness of rules enforced by certain states. These peaceful movements, which organically evolved over almost 100 years, changed the U.S. forever, and so many of the laws Americans now cherish are a direct result of the actions of Black protesters.
3. Caribbean Decolonization Movements
Caribbean countries were still struggling with colonialism deep into the 20th century, unable to loosen Europe’s grip on their land and money. However, World War II set off a cascade of peaceful decolonialism movements that took shape on many Caribbean islands between 1940 and 1960.
Even before that, dating back to World War I, states across the Caribbean began to question colonialism and reframe their understanding of the region’s place in the world order. So much of colonialism was based on the idea of Europe needing to “civilize” the Caribbean, but this began to erode as more colonies looked to the example of Haiti.
The irony is that many of these wildly successful, peaceful decolonization movements gained some of their inspiration from the decidedly not-peaceful actions of Haiti nearly 100 years earlier. After taking their independence by force from France in 1804, Haitians prodded other colonies to think of themselves as equals to Europeans and look to their revolution as proof that white supremacy was a myth — which largely worked.
Activists, artists and academics in Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad began local, peaceful protest movements that prioritized indigenous pride and championed labor reforms. Many of these peaceful movements in places like Jamaica and Trinidad led to a new crop of leaders, who managed to secure independence and replace a rapidly decaying generation of autocrats supported by colonial powers.
4. The Anti-Apartheid Movement
Nelson Mandela became one of the world’s most famous activists and civil rights leaders due to his efforts in ending the Apartheid government in South Africa.
After being elected president of the African National Congress Youth League in 1951, Mandela led dozens of peaceful protests against the discriminatory government. Students and adults joined the protests hoping to bring down the all-white government which had been in power for decades. They held boycotts and sit-ins across the country, calling for equal rights and democracy. Mandela managed to continue his movement even from prison. His detention, and graciousness toward those detaining him, turned him into a worldwide figure and galvanized other governments to step in.
The anti-apartheid movement became a global phenomenon and is a clear example of the effect collective action can have. Consumers across the world boycotted or threatened to boycott companies that did business in South Africa while continuing to protest and call for Mandela’s release. Everything eventually came to a head in 1994, after Mandela was finally released and the country was allowed to have its first truly democratic election. With his peaceful resistance movement behind him, Mandela easily won the presidency, becoming the country’s first democratically elected president.
5. Black Lives Matter
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi kicked off the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2013, after spreading #BlackLivesMatter across social media in response to George Zimmerman's acquittal for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. What started as just a hashtag became so much more; the phrase took on a life of its own, morphing into a worldwide political movement aimed at addressing systemic oppression and ending police brutality. After the tragic deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in 2014, Black Lives Matter organizers led peaceful protests through cities across the country that brought media attention to the plight of Black people unjustly shot and killed by police.
Garza, Cullors and Tometi specifically wanted the movement to be decentralized, shifting focus away from a handful of senior leaders to more localized efforts. One of the first to take viral success into the real world, BLM gained notoriety for its modern take on the peaceful protest tactics popularized during the civil rights era of the 1960s. The group has since organized thousands of protests, and now has 30 chapters in five countries. It continues to be a major peaceful organizing force, now spotlighting important issues on an international scale.