Posts tagged activist
Aretha Franklin

Nina Simone is remembered as the “High Priestess of Soul” because, the consummate musical storyteller, she could weave a spell so hypnotic your heart would pound and you would lose track of time listening to her. But she never liked that moniker.

“…I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a…technique influenced by cocktail jazz…I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs…identified with the folk movement.”

Simone could not be easily classified, nor did she want to be. She was a musical revolutionary with more than 40 albums of original songs in her discography.

Still, you may not have heard of her until now. And that is because her lyrics were so honest and so uncompromising, she was feared by the very monster she stood up to: Jim Crow America. With her songs, Nina Simone became a spokeswoman for a culture in upheaval.

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Nina Simone

Nina Simone is remembered as the “High Priestess of Soul” because, the consummate musical storyteller, she could weave a spell so hypnotic your heart would pound and you would lose track of time listening to her. But she never liked that moniker.

“…I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a…technique influenced by cocktail jazz…I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs…identified with the folk movement.”

Simone could not be easily classified, nor did she want to be. She was a musical revolutionary with more than 40 albums of original songs in her discography.

Still, you may not have heard of her until now. And that is because her lyrics were so honest and so uncompromising, she was feared by the very monster she stood up to: Jim Crow America. With her songs, Nina Simone became a spokeswoman for a culture in upheaval.

Continue reading…

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Fela Kuti

Few things are typical about the Nigerian-born son of a Protestant preacher and school principal named Olu'fela' Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Except this one thing: like many of our history heroes, his genius was only recognized in retrospect by the regime he spent his adult life bravely and actively resisting. This he did not with violence, but with music.

Music was Fela Kuti's weapon.

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Rigoberta Menchú

In the summer of 1990, I blundered into a bloody civil war that few people outside of Guatemala knew or cared about. I was in the country to learn Spanish, but after finding the beautiful colonial town of Antigua choking with Anglophone gringos – not the cultural experience I had in mind – I made my way to the out-of-the-way hill-town of Huehuetenango, the last stop before the Mexican border. 

There, I found myself in the heart of the Guatemalan Highlands, home to indigenous Mayan villages, each one a different orgy of color thanks to the residents' traje, or local dress. In addition to its own homespun costume, each village had a unique agricultural tradition, whether harvesting salt to growing maize to managing livestock to cultivating garlic. They traded amongst each other on designated market days of mostly women and children – able-bodied men were notably few. I vowed to visit every village I could in the three months I would be living there. I wanted to learn everything about the indigenous Maya and their way of life.

What I learned, immediately, was that they were on the verge of extinction. For over 30 years, the indigenous people of Guatemala had suffered violence under a succession of repressive, dictatorial governments – all propped up and trained by the United States.

That’s also when I learned how today’s hero accidentally brought three decades of genocidal crimes against humanity to the attention of the international community. She was only three years older than me, but she'd already witnessed extremes that most of us can never even imagine.

Here’s her story, and the context in which her journey would eventually lead to the Nobel Peace Prize…

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Harvey Milk

This is Gay Pride Week in London, where I currently reside. This coming Saturday, 7 June 2018, the city's ancient streets and notoriously gray skies will be awash in the light of thousands of rainbow flags. If you look at the Gay Pride Calendar -- as I just did -- you will see that celebrations of the LGBTQ community are happening all year round, all over the world, in cities both large and small. It's not possible to pin down a single day, week, or month when this community, and it's supporters, are not cheering their hard-earned rights to live their truth, openly and with acceptance from the general population. But it was not that long ago when discrimination and fear of homosexuality and bisexuality caused far too many people to retreat from their true identities to live unfulfilled, dishonest, but "acceptable" lives.

As I type this, I'm reminded of the line in the musical Hairspray when the main character, Tracy Turnblad, says, "Every day should be Negro day." Well, today's History Hero spent his life advocating that gay individuals be openly, publicly proud of their birthright. Sadly, he lost his life in the battle he waged for Gay Rights. But thanks to him everyday is Gay Pride day today.

Meet Harvey Milk...

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Fred Korematsu

Fred Korematsu is a civil rights hero. He’s also an American, though his government attempted to suggest otherwise. He preceded Rosa Parks by 15 years but his actions failed to have the same seismic impact because he didn't have a whole movement ready to rally around him. Indeed, US civil-rights leaders at the time refused to touch his case.

He pursued justice on his own. Patiently. And he got it. But it took four decades. Here’s his little known story…

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