The life and times of some of the greatest Black leaders ended abruptly due to a number of assassinations, and even though the tactic is gruesome, some see it as a necessary action to take against leaders who challenge their views or popularity. Ironically, the murders have turned many slain leaders into timeless heroes. With several influential Black leaders having been assassinated in recent history, here are the 10 icons and their respective legacies.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an African-American leader born in January 15, 1929, as the second child of Martin Luther King Sr. (1899-1984). A Baptist minister and social activist, Dr. King Jr.played an important role in the history of the AmericanCivil Rights Movement. A brilliant and dogged fighter, he advocated — up to his death — equal rights for all, no matter the color or race. Dr. King preached for an egalitarian society but adopted a peaceful and nonviolent approach to the struggle. He later became a thought leader and was the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis. In his honor, the Ronald Reagan Administration signed a bill to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy every January.
Amilcar Cabral was one of the greatest thinkers and revolutionary leaders Africa produced in the 20th century. A leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, he fought against imperialism in all its forms and advocated for the freedom of his people to deliver them from the yoke of colonial vestiges. Unfortunately, Cabral didn’t live long enough to see the independent Guinea he fought so hard for; he was allegedly assassinated by the Portuguese colonialists outside his home in Conakry, where his party had his headquarters.
Photo: Socialist Alternative
Malcolm X was an African-American, Black Nationalist leader who dedicated his entire life to freeing Black people of the world from the bondage of segregation and racism. Unlike Dr. King, Malcolm X encouraged Blacks worldwide to reject racism by any means necessary and didn’t support non-violence. Before he became an icon, Malcolm was sent to jail for 10 years on charges of larceny. It was during this period that he read several books that irrevocably changed his thinking. When he left prison, he joined the Nation of Islam and embraced the ideology ofBlack Nationalism. He promoted the ideals of the organisation and later became its spokesmen. He was later assassinated by three members of the Nation of Islam on February 21, 1965.
Thomas Sankara will always be remembered as one of the greatest leaders of Burkina Faso. Born in 1949, Sankara grew to become a fine military officer and adherent of Pan-Africanism. He learned his trade from Madagascar and France, where he attended a parachute academy and became exposed to left-wing political ideologies. His decent character ensured that he was always useful in one government position or the other but his hard stance against corruption ruffled feathers and subsequently lead him to prison. He became the president of Upper Volta — now Burkina Faso — through a military coup led by his friend and allyBlaise Compaore. As president, he initiated people-oriented programs and became a popular globally recognized public figure. Internal conflict in the country led to his assassination in 1987 by the aforementioned Compaore.
Patrice Lumumba was born in Onalua in 1925 and was the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A celebrated writer and accomplished essayist, Lumumba was widely traveled and gifted in speaking different languages. He abhorred the colonial system and did everything possible to free his people from the shackles of despondency and colonial bondage. Consequently, Lumumba fought against the African oppression perpetrated by the Belgian colonial system. At 35, he became the country’s first prime minister. The incursion of the military into Congolese politics led to his assassination in 1961 to international outrage and anger.
The only woman on this list, Agathe Uwilingiyimana served as the prime minister of Rwanda from 1993 until her assassination in 1994. She was one of the most powerful politicians in Rwandan history. Her active participation in politics secured her a post in Rwanda’s government as Minister of Education. She later became the Prime Minister in the subsequent election, a post she held until she was assassinated by the presidential guard during the tragic episode of the Rwandan genocide. She was one of the few influential female political figures in Africa and a national figure.
Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume was a political leader and icon who became the first president of Zanzibar. When the United Republic of Tanzania was founded, Karume became the first vice president of the Republic alongside the courageous Julius Nyerere who became the president. Karume had little formal education and worked as a seaman before joining politics. Widely traveled, one of his journeys exposed him to international affairs and politics and to African thoughts and ideals. Karume was shot by four gunmen and assassinated in April 1972 in Zanzibar. His son later became the president of Zanzibar.
Samuel K. Doe, far left. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Samuel Doe was the 21st president of Liberia and ruled his nation with an iron fist from 1980 to 1990. He joined the army at the young age of 18 and rose to master sergeant by 1979. After killing President William R. Tolbert and many of his True Whig Party supporters, Doe promoted himself to general. A strategic ally of the United States during the Cold War, the United States changed their attitude toward him once Doe’s government became seriously corrupt. In the Civil War that broke out in Liberia, Doe was brutally killed by Prince Y. Johnson’s gang who broke away from Charles Taylor‘s National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
Joao Bernardo Vieira was president of Guinea Bissau from 1980 to 1984, 1984 to 1999, and from 2005 to 2009, making him the longest-serving president in the history of modern Guinea Bissau. He ruled for 19 years. He was a key player in his country’s agitation for independence from the Portuguese, joining Cabral’s African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Vieira was assassinated by soldiers in March 2009.
(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was the prime minister of Somalia from 1960 to 1964 and later president of Somalia from 1967 until his assassination in 1969. Shermarke obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Sapienza University of Rome and was elected a representative in the legislature upon his return in 1959. When Somalia became independent in 1960, he was appointed prime minister. He survived previous assassination attempts until he was killed by his personal bodyguard while paying an official visit to the northern town of Las Anod.