“The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” ~bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, 1999
With the Eagles’ heartbreaking loss this weekend, it feels like this Valentine’s Day appeared out of nowhere. All sorrow aside, today is the day to celebrate the people we love.
This year is WURD’s 20th anniversary, and we’re celebrating by bringing joy and power to the people. Today, we want to talk about love as power. It holds power when we transform it into action. When we use our love to create change, we open ourselves to new possibilities and a new world.
Today we want to uplift some couples throughout history whose love brought about much-needed change.
- Octavius V. Catto and Caroline LeCount (Engaged approx. mid-1800s)
Octavius Valentine Catto and Caroline Lecount are both changemakers in early Philadelphia history whose activism brought them together. Catto and LeCount were both educators with a deep passion for learning. While Catto is well known for his fight to desegregate Philadelphia streetcars, Caroline LeCount is often left out of the narrative, though she fought for the rights of Black riders. Read more about Catto and LeCount here.
- Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (M. 1948)
Stars collided when Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis first met on the set of the play Jeb in 1946. They married in 1948 and, side-by-side, broke down barriers on the stage and screen. As fearless artist-activists, Dee and Davis played a significant role in the civil rights movement and fought for positive representation of Black Americans. The two have been honored with numerous awards, including the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame, a National Medal of the Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. Read more about them here.
- Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King (M. 1953)
Before the esteemed minister was a leader in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. was just a man being set up by a mutual friend. Mary Powell slid Coretta’s number to Martin, and after their first date, the rest was history. Both deeply impressed with each other’s intelligence, they went on to lead the non-violence movement of the 1960s and sought to liberate Black Americans. Read more about their love story here.
- Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz (M. 1958)
Malcolm X is well known for his leadership of the Nation of Islam and his instrumental part in the fight for racial justice, but when he was just starting his work as a minister, he met Betty Sanders, a young woman in nursing school. They had long, deep conversations where he asked her about her life and background. Eventually, they got married and had six children together. After Malcolm’s assassination in 1965, Shabazz earned her Ph.D. in education administration and became an educator. In the early 1990s, she played a prominent role in establishing the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Educational Center, which opened in 2005. Read more about Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz here.
- Donna Burkett and Manonia Evans (M. 1971)
Donna Burkett and Manonia Evans are two names you might not recognize; however, they play a huge role in Black LGBTQ history. Burkett and Evans met at a gay bar on the north side of Milwaukee and applied for a marriage license in September 1971. They were refused a license and then filed a federal lawsuit stating that denying spousal benefits was unconstitutional. Their case was dismissed; however, it inspired others to push for marriage equality. They still held a wedding on Christmas Day in 1971 and nearly 40 years later, in 2015, they applied again for a marriage license after same-sex marriage became legal in the United States. Read their full story here.
- Michelle and Barack Obama (M. 1992)
It was love at first sight for Barack Obama when he met Michelle Robinson at the Chicago office of the law firm Sidley Austin LLP. She was assigned to be his mentor, and he soon asked her on a date, to which she said “no.” However, the two eventually went out and even saw Do the Right Thing–which starred Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis–on their first date. They got married in 1992, and just over 10 years later, Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. The rest is history: Barack Obama was elected the first Black president, and Michelle was there by his side as the first Black first lady. Read more about their romance here.
These couples are just a few chapters in the neverending story about Black love. There are so many love stories that inspired change but have yet to make it into the history books. Happy Valentine’s Day to love that inspires everyday action and to the people who love in abundance and with joy and power.
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