Black People And Our Fascination With Following Dead Leaders

Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” Luke 24:5

We love to worship the dead. We wait till our good leaders die then we name a street after them and/ or put up a symbolic picture and claim that was my man… I follow him.

Meanwhile, the living leader is ignored while we quote the words of a dead leader, marvel over his deeds and wonder what he would do if he was present. We can speculate all day but will never know how they will respond to present conditions.

Once the[in the present] ignored living leader is dead we give him his props, put up a picture, name an alley after him and the cycle continues when a new living leader comes among us.

While I am speaking of this as an issue within the context of the black community there is evidence of this being a universal phenomenon. In the spiritual traditions, we find that when the living man Jesus came along the people favored the dead Moses to a living example in their midst with Jesus. When Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) came along the people preferred the physically non present Jesus to the present living man in their midst. We still failed in modern times, because the Muslim world rejected the living Elijah Muhammad in favor of the deceased Prophet Muhammad(PBUH).

It was not until Malcolm X was dead, buried and white America said it was alright that the majority of black people embraced Malcolm. However, while Malcolm was alive walking the streets of Harlem, NY black people would jump off the sidewalk to avoid him. But now its okay?

The same with Martin Luther King. Many of Dr. King’s fellow preachers/ministers shunned him, because they said he was stirring up trouble. Even our government worked against him while he was alive. In one city he visited the black preachers met him at the bus station and told him to “get back on and leave.” But now that he is dead everything is alright? Oh, the good Dr and we have streets, holidays and statutes in his honor while hypocritically we uphold the same evil he went to his grave fighting.

I guess The Honorable Brother Minister Farrakhan will have to be dead and buried before we, collectively, show him his due respect and honor? Once they, you know who they are, say it is safe we will embrace Farrakhan, put a picture on our wall, name a street for him and marvel how great he was. He has dedicated near 60 years of his life to the progress of our race, yet we treat him like a stranger. He was responsible for the largest and most peaceful gathering in this nation with the Million Man March. That is leadership influence to be able to get over a million men in one place, of different backgrounds, but for one purpose. Who else could do that? Most couldn’t even call a “Ten Man” March and get 10 people to show up.

I wonder how many of our deceased leaders that we worship would we follow if they were present today? To follow a man means you strive to match up your actions to his. We claim Malcolm, but how many who claim him are getting a X to replace the slave name, dropping the pork, becoming Muslims and adopting a revolutionary posture?

See it is so easy to say you are following someone when they are not here to check your steps. A living leader will challenge you. A living leader will correct you. A living leader will require of you excellence. A living leader will have expectations of you.

Dr. King was a preacher, but he got out of the pulpit and worked in the streets for social change. He said he was against the triple evils of “racism” “poverty” and “militarism”. We claim to follow him, but most have reduced him to “I have a dream”, so they can keep on dreaming and not follow him. If Malcolm and Martin were here they wouldn’t be quiet in the face of much of their same societal issues still being present.

So, back to the original observation… Why do we obsess over dead leaders and leave a present man hanging by himself? Are we that mentally dead that we can only relate to dead men and women? I love all of the “heroes” and “sheroes” who have gone on before and I draw deep inspiration from their struggles to make life better for the black family, but inspiration is not leadership. I show my honor and respect to them by walking with the present man on the scene who is trying to exemplify the principles for which they lived and ultimately died for.

Your leaders or advocates need your help while they are living not your praise after they are dead.

Thank you for reading these few words!



Brother Mustafaa Abdul Muhammad is a Black Man who is a follower of the Islamic faith. Through independent religious studies developed an ecumenical view of the world’s religions and the people of God.

He has been public speaking since 1999 and writing since 1997.

He has been featured on the Radio, Newspapers, public speaking events and at Mosques/Churches telling his story and offering his understanding of Almighty God’s plan for salvation.

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