Culture Brief

The Purdue Black Cultural Center is focused on the past, present and future. Through the Culture Brief research series, we present a closer look at the people, places and events that have impacted the African American experience.

Number 15, Summer 2016

Jesse Williams and the New-Age Civil Rights Movement

Baraka Corley

The original Civil Rights Movement encompassed social movements in the United States whose goals were to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans. Methods used in the Civil Rights Movement to further the cause were boycotts, civil disobedience, passive resistance, and marches, to name a few. The methodology used in the fight for freedom and justice sometimes served as points of contention between participants who would emerge as prominent figures within the movement. What cannot be argued is the importance of recognizable figures from varying walks of life, who used their platforms to bring attention to the very important issues being raised by the Civil Rights Movement.

Many of these influential figures had found success in varying sectors of society. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and Malcolm X were ministers; Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were iconic sports figures; and Mary McLeod Bethune and Shirley Chisolm were educators, the latter becoming the first woman to run for President of the United States. There were many other prominent leaders who emerged from grassroots efforts to lead a collective effort for social justice and freedom.

Nearly 60 years later, there have been some positive changes as a result of the efforts put forth by the Civil Rights Movement, yet there are still instances of police brutality, mass incarceration, discrimination, and social injustice for people of color. With a new generation, 60 years removed from a violent, turbulent time for African Americans in American history, many associate the fight for civil rights with the few black and white pictures they viewed and learned about (and almost immediately forgot) in history class.

But recent atrocities and instances of social injustice against African Americans have surfaced and forced a new generation to stand up and speak out. As was the case with the movement in the 50s, different participants are beginning to emerge as prominent and influential figures for social justice and freedom in the contemporary civil rights movement.

Recently, actor/activist, Jesse Williams, used his BET Award platform to reintroduce the need for self-reflection, introspection, and the responsibility to continue the demand for justice and freedom by people of color for people of color. Williams stated, “There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t levied against us – and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. ‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us. But she [Sandra Bland] would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.”

Williams referenced, in his speech, victims of police brutality such as Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd and Eric Garner, imploring that people of color hold public servants accountable for their actions. Jesse Williams’ speech immediately went viral and became popular on multiple social media outlets. Social media and technology are two of the more powerful tools used to provide the people with a voice. Interestingly enough, Jesse Williams has recently executive produced the documentary, Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, also referred to by many as the new-age civil rights movement. In using his BET award platform, combined with social media, Jesse Williams was able to bring attention to the very important issues being raised by the Black Lives Matter Movement for freedom and justice in America.


Lasher, M. (2016, June 27). Read the full transcript of Jesse Williams’ powerful speech on race at the BET awards. Time. Retrieved from


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