Descendants Of Iconic African Americans Often Struggle To Manage Stories Of Their Famous Relatives

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Iconic African Americans
At a rally outside the U.S. Courthouse October 29, 1969, Dr. Benjamin Spock, background, listens to Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party. It was part of a protest against the trial of eight persons accused of conspiracy to cause a riot during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. (AP Photo/stf)

African Americans have contributed immensely to key sectors of the U.S. as scholars, activists, entertainers, scientists and other fields but some of their descendants are now struggling to manage their stories of fame.

Descendants of civil rights activists Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Emmett Till and Fred Hampton are some of those grappling with the legacy and how to control the image and names of their famous relatives, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

They face a unique burden of how to respectfully maintain the image of loved ones who gained fame for roles in the social justice struggle.

Some have learned that their family icon’s name is being used by organizations they have no affiliation with.

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Misuse of iconic African Americans

At times these individuals see posters, murals, causes and events based on their famous loved ones that they didn’t even know about, said Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Wells-Barnett and the spokeswoman of her family.

“There are people out here that love Ida and they want to make clothes and wear things with her image on it,” Dusters told the Chicago Tribune.

“I never thought I needed to protect Ida’s name. These situations are making us say, ‘Wow, we need to be more formal about things.’”

The same goes for Emmet Till, a 14-year-old who was lynched by two white men in Money, Mississippi in 1955.

His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, fought to keep her son’s story in the spotlight, but sometimes found that people used his name on projects without informing the family. Till-Mobley died in 2003.

“Eighty-five percent of the time our family isn’t contacted for projects in memory to quote-unquote honor him,” said Airickca Gordon-Taylor, a cousin of Till-Mobley.