Contrary to popular belief, the late but legendary slain Civil Rights Movement activist and leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., followed in the giant footsteps of a countless number of his African (Black) ancestors. Too many to include in this commentary, only a small number of them will be highlighted to emphasize the point.


Known globally as a man of peace, Dr. King, as well as his hero Gandhi (famous East Indian, who reportedly did little, if anything, to improve the brutally-dismal plight of millions of African-descended Black East Indians known even today as “the Black Untouchables” or the “Dalits”), was preceded by several thousand years by another African (Black) person whose last name was not king but whose title truly was — namely that of “pharaoh”.  Officially named Amenophis IV, this royal head of the ancient African Black empire of Egypt, ruled not with an iron fist but with a gentle hand.  Historically known as Akhenaton but also called “the heretic king”, this royal head of state and ruler of one of the largest, if not the largest, empire of the ancient world was so hell-bent on promoting and preserving peace that he allowed many countries that owed Egypt riches in tribute to stop paying and even break away from the empire. He attempted to avoid war at all cost, and even hated the very thought of it. He has been described as a man who would not even harm a flower. Preaching thirteen hundred years before Christ, what the highly-noted and prolific Black historian J. A. Rogers called “the gospel of perfect love, brotherhood, and truth” (the famed, classic movie The Egyptian is based on his life), he spent much of his time with his family and writing poetry, some of which is said to have inspired some of the psalms of David of the Old Testament.


The late, but legendary psychologist and amateur Egyptologist Sigmund Freud, even wrote a book concerning Akhenaton. Entitled Moses and Monotheism, the book strongly suggests that Moses was a follower of Akhenaton and may have gotten the ancient African idea of monotheism (the belief in one god) from him. Honest students of history must decide that.  Yet, as the great African, Black, scholar-activist, historian, and Ethiopian Jew Dr. Josef ben-Jochanan, among others, has documented, Moses himself was born, raised, and educated in Africa and among African people (Note: the ancient Egyptians were African, meaning Black, people; for Egypt always has been and still is in Africa, and therefore, is an African [Black] nation).  That, makes him African (Black).  According to the King James Version of the Holy Bible, Acts 7:22, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.”  Needless to say, Moses, as a strong man of God and freedom fighter, influential philosopher and historic heroic figure in the minds of the millions of enslaved and formerly-enslaved Africans (Blacks) and their descendants in America, was one of Dr. King’s ancestors and heroes.


So was St. Augustine, another African.  Often called a “Latin Church Father”, because Latin was the official language of the then-Roman-dominated world and Christian (eventually Catholic) Church, Augustine was born and educated in Africa.  In fact, many theologians rank him in importance second only to Paul, as having established the most important and basic principles of the Christian church.  A very prolific writer, St. Augustine is primarily known for two main books.  Still studied today in literature, philosophy, and religion classes (much as Dr. King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is) all over the world, they are The Confessions and The City of God.  The first book is often called the world’s first spiritual autobiography and has greatly influenced Western and world literature ever since.  The second book, huge in size and great in influence, strongly suggests the separation of church and state.


Dr. King quoted St. Augustine in both his writings and speeches.  Arguably, his most famous quote is found in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.  He quotes St. Augustine as saying, “An unjust law is not law at all”, to justify his historic 1963 Birmingham, Alabama campaign against deeply-embedded and physically, psychologically, and economically brutal segregation and racism (white supremacy) there.  Reportedly, King had called Birmingham (also known as “Bombingham” due to the large number of unsolved, anti-black, ku klux klan-orchestrated bombings there) “the most segregated city in America”.


While other examples of Dr. King’s freedom-fighting and philosophical African Ancestors abound, only a few more will be mentioned in short-order here. Without a doubt, they include the brave and bold, but battle-scarred, defiant and victorious Afro-Haitians Boukman, Toussaint L’ Ouverture, Jean Jacque Dessalaines, and Henry Christophe.  They include the freedom-loving, anti-slavery warriors like the African-born Afro-Mexican Yanga and the Afro-Brazilian Zumbi and other Afro-Latinos, past and present, who have fought against racial and economic injustice.  They include lion-hearted but betrayed souls of Denmark Vessey and Gabrial Prosser. They include the Bible-toting and sword-swinging Nat Turner and the “pistol-packing mama” Harriet Tubman and the unbending woman of wise words, Sojourner Truth, and all those who lead the over 250 recorded slave revolts that occurred in the United States before Dr. King’s birth.  How many went unrecorded?  They include the noted runaway slave, abolitionist and orator, Frederick Douglass, who said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress”, and great leaders and educators like Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois.


Dr. King’s freedom-fighting and philosophical African Ancestors include educator Mary McCloud Bethune and pan-Africanist Amy Jacque Garvey. They include the Honorable Marcus Garvey, leader of the largest black mass movement in the world, and the multi-lingual, multi-genius, scholar-activist Paul Robeson, “the real superman”. They include the “Black Socrates” Henry Hubert Harrison and A. Phillip Randolph. They include African American ministers like the 19th century’s Henry Highland Garnett, who, an ex-slave, told a packed house in 1843, regarding racial injustice in America, “Let your motto be:  Resistance, Resistance, Resistance”; Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Garnett’s contemporary and a white-looking black Georgia state legislator, who strived to improve conditions for formerly enslaved Africans both in America and in Africa, and who said that God was “a Negro” (Black), and, of course, the late but legendary Black Baptist minister and congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who, even before Dr. King was born, was using his Black church in Harlem, New York as a wrecking ball against the seemingly immovable wall of racial injustice in the school house, in the job market, and by the police department in the form of unbridled and unjustifiable police brutality. Even the founders of the modern-day “mega church” idea, Daddy Grace and Father Divine, could be included.  And, although they were Dr. King’s contemporaries, both the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X must be included among his “African Ancestors”.  Remember both were older than he was.


Tthis is truly a short list of African (Black) people from various places and times that directly and indirectly influenced the life and times of the late but legendary Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It would not hurt if these and other African people were kept in mind and celebrated whenever Dr. King’s life and legacy are celebrated. It would not hurt either for those persons’ words, actions, and overall lives to be studied with the same, if not greater, enthusiasm that Dr. King’s is.  Doing so would not be a disservice to him but a greater service to him and to us.  For truly, Dr. King’s, as well as our African Ancestors, were the best.  And because he learned from them, he was the best.  And by learning from both him and them we all can be our best and do our best to make our hateful, war-torn, poverty-stricken world better for one and all, the least of these our brothers and sisters.

BC Guest Commentator HAWK (J. D.

Jackson) is a priest, poet, journalist,

historian, and African-centered lecturer

and a middle school teacher and part-

time university history

instructor. Contact HAWK and BC.

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