Black history has been celebrated in America throughout the month of February since 1976, and 50 years prior in Negro History Week. During this time, classrooms across America typically engage in activities from plays and artwork to writing assignments that highlight the contributions of Black people.
Despite its nearly 100-year history, Black History Month often excludes the contributions of African and Caribbean-born leaders and even some American-born leaders, who get buried beneath staples such as civil rights activists Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. These leaders and activists have earned their rightful place in history, however a disservice is done to countless other leaders from around the world who too fought for Black liberation.
Patrice Lumumba was the first democratically elected leader of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lumumba was a Pan-Africanist who spoke boldly and bravely against the atrocities of colonialism and passionately about a united Congo with full political and economic independence.
The Congo, considered then to be Africa’s richest country, had been a colony of Belgium since the late 1800s, which ruled over it with brutality while plundering its natural resources. Lumumba’s vision for making the Congo the “pride of Africa” through true political and economic independence was a threat to the Belgians and the United States who were not prepared to relinquish full control of the country’s resources and labeled him a communist.
The CIA, acting under the orders of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, conspired but failed to assassinate Lumumba via poisoning. Instead, the United States and Belgium covertly funneled cash and to aid rival politicians headed by Joseph Désiré Mobutu, who seized power and arrested Lumumba.
According to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, on Jan. 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, Lumumba was shot and killed by a firing squad along with his newly appointed ministers Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito.