In Little Rock, Ark., nine black students were due to desegregate Central High School in 1957, national guards lined the entrance of the school barring the Black students any hope for entry. White members of the Little Rock community openly opposed integration, blatantly harassed the nine Black students, and would chant and recite racial slurs among many other racist tactics. Those students, like many others, stood in their Black bodies and walked through that door despite the opposition and oppression Black folks faced, then and now, to ignite a change.
Before his career, Louis Armstrong, was a kid who grew up in the early 1900s amid Jim Crow laws in racially segregated New Orleans and knew what it meant to be at the face of repression. And with that, he knew nothing we did in the world, not anything, could mitigate our Blackness.
For those nine students, they grasped what it meant to be Black as they were escorted inside. Among everything happening that day, their stories have gone to be the representation of kids on the frontline of a social movement rooted in the liberation of Black, fighting for change.
In an 1972 interview, Lucille Armstrong would go on to speak about how heavily criticized Armstrong was during the Civil Rights Movement, often being pitched as an “Uncle Tom.” But Armstrong, like anybody else, had a voice and the right to say something about what was going on at that time. Yet still, his success as a music artist gave critics and other folk a reason to say that he shouldn’t be speaking on politics, but should rather stick to making his jazz music. To no surprise, Black celebrities and public figures still face this problem when they make a point to lend their voice to movement building or criticizing how Black folk are still treated.
More recently, LeBron James’s recent criticism of president Donald Trump landed him a spotlight on a Fox News segment where the reporter commented, “shut up and dribble.” James, just like Armstrong is Black, and Armstrong just like Colin Kaepernick is Black. Those guys and a host of other folk have the right to say something, but too often do people decide how they want to experience public figures by omitting their racial backgrounds and if ever, political motives. There is no prerequisite to talk about issues that directly effects their communities and people.
“He’s never felt, or wanted to be anything other than black,” said Mrs. Armstrong in ’72, and from what I’ve read about Louis it holds true across the board because race was a part of his life.
Even more fascinating, when the clip bellows from the speakers in the dining room of his Queens home, the faces of visitors and long time fans alike drop when they hear the statement.
Louis’s story was about accepting people as whole and not picking apart what you like them for.
And despite criticism and the fame, Louis Armstrong made sure to stand firm in his Black body. And although February, synonymous for Black history, has gone to past, the efforts of those people who’ve stood on the front lines doesn’t go unnoticed. But it’s after February is gone that folk keep on pushing forward the legacy of Black pioneers, along with their political views.