Small Gestures That Had a Big Impact on Black History
How the Fist Bump Changed History
Though we all know the major movements that shaped Black History, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, there are plenty of seemingly small moments that had also had a great impact.
As Black History Month comes to a close we want to take a look at some of the greatest small gestures that had a big impact on Black History.
The flirtation (alleged) of Emmitt Till (1955): Till, was just fourteen years old when he became one of the Civil Rights Movements youngest and most high profile martyrs. Though there are varying accounts of exactly what transpired the day before his death multiple witnesses agree that the Chicago native may have whistled. According to some, Till whistled to aid in communicating with a stutter he was born with. Others have claimed that the Chicago native was simply unaccustomed to the strict segregation he encountered upon visiting relatives in Mississippi and was intending to playfully whistle at a young white woman. Regardless, Till was murdered by the woman’s relatives. His brutal death left him unrecognizable, but it also galvanized a nation. Though his murderers were ultimately acquitted by an all white jury, his torture and murder marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights was no longer an issue that any black American could afford to ignore, because Emmitt Till represented every black American’s son or brother. In essence, a whistle started a revolution.
[ALSO READ: We Can Never Forget John Lewis]
Rosa Parks takes a seat (1955): Months after the death of Emmitt Till, another seemingly small moment would help change America. On December 1, 1955, Parks was seated in the designated “colored” section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama when she and three others were asked to vacate their seats for white passengers. Parks refused and was arrested. Her seemingly small act set off one of the most significant moments in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. It sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted 381 days and introduced the world to an up and coming civil rights leader by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. Parks also sparked the legal challenge which would be responsible for striking down Montgomery’s segregation law. The rest, as they say, is history.
Olympics Black Power Salute (1968): Though many black Americans have won Olympic medals, most are remembered for what they did to win the medal. Few are remembered for what they did when they won. When Tommie Smith won the gold medal for the 200-meter race and fellow American John Carlos won the bronze, the two men would solidify their place as two of the most famous, or perhaps, infamous Olympians in history. Both raised an individual fist, clad in a black leather glove, in the air as the Star Bangled Banner played and in an instant, the two men became a worldwide symbol of the “Black Power” movement. Though cheered by some, the incident would cast a pall over the careers of the men for decades (as well as Australian silver medalist Peter Norman who was ostracized for sympathizing with and defending the men.) But the moment forced the concept of “Black Power” into the mainstream consciousness. Smith would author a memoir titled appropriately, “Silent Gesture.”
The Obamas and the Fist Bump (2008): There are a number of memorable moments from the history making 2008 presidential election, the most memorable being when our nation elected its first black president. But coming in a close second? June 3, 2008, the day then candidate Sen. Barack Obama, clinched the delegates necessary to become the first black presidential nominee of a major party. Coming in a strong third though?
The moment just before President Obama addressed the nation as the presumptive nominee. His wife was wearing what would become one of her most iconic looks, a berry sheath dress when she signaled to the world that we were in for a very different kind of first couple. She and her husband playfully engaged in a fist bump. The “Washington Post” would call it “the fist bump heard around the world,” while TIME Magazine would end up devoting an entire piece to “A Brief History of the Fist Bump.” Though a FOX News anchor faced a backlash for referring to it as “a terrorist fist jab,” the moment remains one of the most enduring, and many believe endearing, of the 2008 election.