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Unfinished Legacies


ImageDarakshan Raja is a founding member of Falling Walls. As a researcher and an advocate who seeks to improve criminal justice responses for victims of crime, Darakshan is currently a Research Associate at the Urban Institute where she evaluates criminal justice policies with a focus on victims of crime for federal and state government agencies.

As the country celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day and President Obama’s inauguration for his second term, I hope as a nation we can remind ourselves of the unfinished legacies of the Civil Rights Movement.  As we remember our past and look towards the future, the Civil Rights Movement provides an inspirational focal point for any human rights activist as it demonstrates a victorious step towards the end of injustice.  It is a reminder of the millions who marched to Washington DC in solidarity to demand equality for all, the thousands of activists who took part in resistance through sit-ins, boycotts, and were arrested, tortured, raped, and killed for demanding their rights.  It is the unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement within the larger work towards ending human rights abuses -a framework that Malcolm X and Dr. King applied to the Civil Rights Movement by positioning it within a global struggle against oppression. 

For me personally remembering the unfinished legacies of the Civil Rights Movement is to pay homage to the struggles of Black women during the Civil Rights Movement – women such as Rosa Parks who worked with NAACP and documented acts of brutality, unsolved murders, racial injustices, and had been organizing for years before she sat in the front of a bus, and led to one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement.  A moment that wouldn’t have occurred if it wasn’t for the years of organizing and injustices carried out for centuries.  It is a reminder of the brutal gang rape of Recy Taylor in 1944, and others who were raped as black women’s bodies became the battleground for the opponents of the civil rights movement to establish control (Wilson, 2012).  A statement that was backed by the countless stories that Black women sent to the NAACP and the Justice Department who recited their painful stories of being sexually exploited, of being raped and humiliated in the public square, in buses, train stations, taxis, cars, and on the streets(McGuire, 2010).  These unsung and often left out icons provide powerful examples of the unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement.

The unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement for our generation includes tackling the indiscriminate killings of innocent individuals in the form of wars, occupations, drones, and support of oppressive governments.  It includes acknowledging the existence of slavery and exploitation.  It means facing the truth that people are still killed because of their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, or because the status quo labeled them the “other.”   While these forms of violence are presented as violence that occurs abroad, the reality is they happen here at home as well.  We witness extrajudicial killings in the form of police brutality and vigilante justice against minority communities in America.  According to a recent study, researchers found every 36 hours someone who is Black is murdered (http://mxgm.org/report-on-the-extrajudicial-killings-of-120-black-people/).   This number doesn’t include the murder committed against other minorities. We also must acknowledge on the domestic front that even if Jim Crow Laws were outlawed, mass incarceration, racial profiling, institutionalized racism, and structural poverty filled that gap.  Even with the protections of the Constitution, our government is very clear with the passage of the NDAA, indefinite detention, and the existence of Guantanamo that our rights can be stripped.   With all of these issues, the most tactful way for addressing these human rights abuses is to acknowledge the intersections between them.  After all the justifications for extrajudicial killings of black males paved the way for the justification of extrajudicial killings of innocent males through the use of drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Do we understand how our mass incarceration policies led to the creation of a supermax prison such as Guantanamo Bay, black sites, rendition sites, and the justification of policies such as torture when we have a history of lynching slaves for running away, or the stories of the brutal gang rapes of black women? These experiments of dominance were all perfected at home and then were exported abroad.  As Dr. King stated in his powerful quote “Injustice is a threat to justice everywhere.”These legacies of oppression and justice are still with all of us, and it’s our debt to those who died to continue the struggle in whatever form and ways we can. 

Wilson, J. (2012). A Forgotten Battleground: Women’s Bodies and the Civil Rights Movement. Accessed from http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/blog/entry/a-forgotten-battleground-womens-bodies-and-the-civil-rights-movement

McGuire, D. (2010 ) At The Dark End of The Street. Black Women, Rape, and Resistnece-A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. Page 1-352. Random House 



  1. Jeff Nguyen says:

    I agree that the civil rights movement accomplished much but is still unfinished. Your essay was very thought provoking.

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