How three moms shaped the civil rights movement

Have you ever wondered about who influenced Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin? The answer might not surprise you, their mom’s were all a huge influence on them.

In the book The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs, she discusses how these three mothers each had an extraordinary influence on their sons, who then went on to impact the United States of America and the rest of the world. Anna gives these three women the recognition that they deserve and haven’t yet received.

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. The mothers had a huge influence on their sons
  2. Not really acknowledged (outside their family)
  3. Their legacy lives on

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

I would encourage you to read the book to learn even more!

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Mothers had a huge influence on their sons

The book specifically focuses on the mothers of three very influential men — Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. The three mothers are:

  • Alberta King – mother of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Louise Little – mother of Malcolm X
  • Berdis Baldwin – mother of James Baldwin

All three sons credit their mother with shaping who they became and encouraging their personal development. Since the three sons also had a huge impact on the USA and the rest of the world, it makes sense to understand who shaped them.

Without their mothers, they would not have become the people we learn about and wouldn’t have made the impact that they did.

Even though each mother was unique, they all shared some common areas of influence on their sons. They all taught their sons a sense of morality to live by and ensured that each son saw their own personal value (especially in a world that doesn’t value black men).

About the mothers

All three mothers were hugely influential in their sons’ lives. Each mother had a unique influence on their son:

  • Alberta:
    Alberta was a teacher and reinforced the importance of education. She encouraged Martin Luther King Jr. to pursue his PhD. She may have also affected who he respected and was attracted to, as he ended up marrying Coretta, a teacher who was also passionate about education.
  • Louise:
    Louise showed tremendous strength in the face of opposition. She was fearless and stood up for herself despite numerous threats to her family. She also encouraged her son to think critically and speak his mind.
  • Berdis: Berdis was artistic and a writer/poet. She strongly encouraged James to pursue his writing and education. She knew he was talented, and stood up to her abusive husband to make sure James got the experience and education he needed to pursue his writing and creative endeavours. She was also a source of inspiration for him through her eloquence and writing abilities.

Not really acknowledged (outside their family)

Like most women of colour, their contributions have largely gone unnoticed, despite the monumental achievements of their sons.

It’s interesting how these three men are some of the most talked about individuals from the civil rights movement era, but the most influential person in their lives is rarely mentioned.

Throughout all the content that has been made or written about these three men, their mothers have gotten rarely any recognition. The three mothers have barely been mentioned and almost no effort has been made to ensure the details about them were accurate.

As Anna was writing this book, she found very little information available on the mothers. When there was information about the mothers, it was typically in footnotes or as an aside, without any clear focus on who they were or what they had accomplished. She also found that the information on the mothers was often contradictory or when checked with the family was simply false. All of this shows a clear disregard for their importance and disrespect for them as individuals.

To be fair, they are acknowledged and loved within their family. But the problem is that those who admire the work of these three influential men don’t seem to consider how these men became so significant.

There’s so much focus on how much these men have influenced others, without any consideration for how they developed as individuals.

Their legacy lives on

All three mothers buried their sons and outlived them. Two of the sons were assassinated and one passed away from stomach cancer. All three outlived their sons.

Each of the mothers may have lived their life partially in the background, but all had a profound impact on their family and the entire world. All that their sons have accomplished speaks to their personal legacy.

Even though they’ve barely gotten any recognition, it’s clear that the mothers shaped their sons into the men they became. The mothers were instrumental in shaping both their sons lives and then the rest of the country’s. That legacy lives on through their sons.

Their personal legacy also lives through the rest of their family. They continue to be respected and their goodness is carried forth through the rest of their family.

One of the mothers made sure their entire extended family got together every other year. Even though she’s passed away now, they still make sure to gather every two years in her name. This ensures the familial ties remain strong and in tact.

Now through this book, they are getting some of the recognition they deserve.

Final thoughts

What a brilliant book.

I loved hearing about the mothers of these influential people. I loved the fact that they were finally getting the respect and acknowledgement that they deserve. These men did have a profound impact on the world, but none of that would have been possible without their mothers. They would not have been themselves without the loving impact of their mothers, and no one develops in isolation.

I think far too often we (as the western world) have become so individualistic that we forget how much people are influenced by those around us, especially those who have raised us. We glorify individuals without considering how they came to be.

This erasure of people’s influences are even more extreme when we consider how black women have been historically treated, without any kind of consideration for their circumstances. We repeatedly stereotype the strong black woman who overcomes all odds to take care of their children (and possibly some others too), without giving them the support they need to avoid such a hard life.

People don’t want to be strong, but they can when they need to be. Just because they are capable of being strong in adverse situations, doesn’t mean they need to continue being strong. That’s not a goal in and of itself. The goal is to get to a point where they no longer need to be so strong.

Anyways, it was great to understand the mothers and more of these men’s lives along with how they were shaped into men that changed the world. These three mothers deserve to have their story told and for people to understand how much they contributed to the civil rights movement.

I would highly recommend this book. There is also so much more information available within the book, so much about the women and their lives both before and during their children’s lives. If you’re at all interested in this, please read this book.

And go call your mom, she probably wants to hear from you.