Zach Silver
How did African American authors use their voice to promote change from the early 1800s-1960s?

Exercising one’s freedom of speech is vital to progress and this tool has never been more utilized than by African-American writers. In the early 1800s, Sojourner Truth was a writer who used her voice to promote change. Another example of a progressive writer is 1920s Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes. Also, in the 1960s, Malcolm X used his speech to try to transform the United State’s culture. Throughout history, oppressed individuals have proven that the power of voice is mightier than the strength of any oppressor.

In the late 1700s  Sojourner Truth was an escaped slave. She used her skills as a writer to bring to light the mistreatment of women, especially women slaves. Her speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” was a pivotal part in the women’s right movement. She used the rhetorical question “Ain’t I A Woman?” to grab people’s attention as well as parody the male perspective of women slaves. She wrote, “Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights?”. The white male perspective on African-Americans and women was that their brains were not developed enough so they needed the men to make all the decisions for them. This effectively mocks the white males’ justification for oppressing African-Americans and women. This perspective allowed white males to continue to mistreat and abuse African-Americans and woman. During this time African-Americans were slaves and women were housewives. The idea that during this time period an African-American woman could write such a profound piece was unheard of.

Similar to Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes used his writing to promote equality. Hughes wrote during the 1920s that there was a lack equality in America. He did this through his poetry. During this time there was a lot of racial oppression and segregation. However this was also during the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural awakening throughout the US and Harlem, New York was no exception. This time created many African-American artists, writers and poets who used their voice and art to create change. In one of his poems, “Theme For English B” Hughes wrote, “Being me, it will not be white. But it will be a part of you, instructor.You are white– yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.That’s American.” This was a clear portrayal of the equality that Hughes was yearning for during the 1920s.

A more contemporary example of an African-American writer who used his voice to promote change was, Malcolm X. He was different from Sojourner Truth and Langston Hughes because he used violent protests to facilitate change which made him a main component of the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s. This was during a major upswing of the Civil Rights movement. This was a big push for racial equality in the US. This was a time in which the African-American voice was pivotal to the change that occurred. Malcolm X said, “In my little humble way of understanding it, it points toward either the ballot or the bullet.” (Malcolm X). This shows that the only way that Malcolm X thought that the only way society will change is by using violence and legislature. He was fighting for racial equality throughout the US and used speech to spread his message. He used his speech to show the inequality in not only the governments legislative actions but also their “racial equality” attempts. He used this as a call to action for the African-American population.

In summation, speaking out has been a tool for change and this practice has worked throughout history–it worked for Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes and Malcolm X. Although it is a slower way of making a change in the world it is a much more peaceful alternative. The alternatives would be war, protest, violence and in this media-filled day it seems the only way people make change is through death. In modern times, the only way to create swift up-rise is through aggression and war. However, public speaking is a much less violent and more evolved way of promoting change. Voices are a key and necessary component of human progress.