On the Shoulders of our Black Elders: Powerful Images from our Past (Black History Month: Civil Rights in America)

In honor of Black History Month, the Diverse Elders Coalition is featuring stories relevant to black aging during February. A new story will be shared every Wednesday, with additional posts shared throughout the month. Be sure to visit diverseelders.org regularly during the month of February.

February is Black History Month, also commonly known as African-American History Month—a time for us all to reflect on and remember the important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. The theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Civil Rights in America.”

It’s no secret that when the Civil Rights Movement, the fight against racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S., reached its height during the turbulent 1960s, it was one of our country’s most difficult times. Many of today’s black elders risked their lives and courageously led the movement to fight against racial inequality and bestow upon us the many freedoms we enjoy today. We at the Diverse Elders Coalition publicly thank our black elders and encourage you to take a moment to share this post and thank the black elders in your life.

Images hold power. The media’s role in bringing many of the significant events of the civil rights movement to light helped the nation progress towards more equality. These images were often difficult to view, but were necessary to show the people of the United States the inhumane and often violent acts committed against African Americans.

According to the Alabama Public Radio, “One of the turning points [of the Civil Rights Movement] many believe is when Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times came down to Birmingham and he covered or he talked about the hatred, talked about the segregation, talked about the problems that was happening here in the city.”

Today, many images of the Civil Rights Movement are iconic: Images of black protesters being sprayed viciously with fire hoses or police dogs attacking peaceful demonstrators in 1963 Birmingham.

Below are some of the most powerful images you will ever see from the Civil Rights Movement. As you view these images, remember who the people in these photographs are today. They are your mentors, your elder neighbor, your teachers, your parents, your grandparents, or your great grandparents.

Click on the hyperlinks to see the iconic photos.

  1. In 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas became the first battleground in the fight to integrate public schools. On a September morning, nine African American students tried to enroll for class at a local high school and were confronted by the National Guard as well as an angry, vocal mob.

In the last 50 years, we have made progress. We have elected President Barack Obama, our nation’s first black president, and gaps in life expectancy and high school graduation rates have all but been eliminated.

The fight for equality, however, continues. There is more to do, especially for our black older adults. According to the Administration on Aging (AOA), the poverty rate for black elders living in the U.S. is more than twice the rate for all elders. Additionally, the New York Times states that 1 in 3 black Americans said they were treated unfairly within the last year because of perceptions of their race, compared to 1 in 10 white Americans who believe they were treated unjustly.

Help us put a spotlight on black aging, by amplifying the voices and stories of black elders. We know that our elders have a lifetime of stories to tell -stories that must be shared. Visit us at diverseelders.org every Wednesday throughout the month of February for additional posts relevant to black aging. Additionally, you can like us on Facebook (facebook.com/diverseelders) or follow us on Twitter (@diverseelders) and share our posts there.