By Jonathon Van Maren
“We are not makers of history,” Martin Luther King Jr. told his congregation in 1954, “we are made by history.” King, of course, would in the years ahead, with all his flaws, become a maker of history, too—and precisely because he understood that both his civil rights movement and those they faced off with on the streets from Birmingham to Chicago were shaped by their respective pasts. If one didn’t understand that, one understood nothing.
As America’s racial tensions erupt once again, one viral video making the rounds is giving voice to the historical grievances of many African Americans. Tweeted by activist Matthew A. Cherry and retweeted by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, it shows black author Kimberly Jones (author of I’m Not Dying With You Tonight) wearing a George Floyd shirt, raging with grief and anger. She is standing in front of a building covered in graffiti, speaking to the camera, running through a litany of historical grievances: “You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets…You broke the contract for 400 years.”