Tamika Green, from Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives, explains the history of the clenched fist
The clenched fist has been associated with Black Lives Matter for a number of years. But where did the symbol come from? And why do we use it?
According to National Geographic magazine, the first known instance of the raised fist was when it was used by Bill Haywood, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World during the Paterson silk strike in New Jersey in 1913.
Later, in Germany, in 1926 the Red Front Fighters adopted the clenched fist as part of their uniform. They fought to protect Communist Party meetings from far-right attacks, lobbied against the Iron Front and fascists in the ever-thriving Nazi Party.
Opposition to Nazi atrocities across Europe created an alliance of communists, socialists and liberal democrats called the Popular Front. Like the Red Front, they fought against persecution. In London in 1936, the British Union of Fascists tried to march through Jewish neighbourhoods in the city, but were prevented by 100,000 dockworkers, children and members of the Jewish community, who all stood together with their fists raised.
The raised fist would eventually return to the United States after the Spanish Civil War. The Catholic Nationalists and fascists, who were supported by Hitler and Mussolini, attempted to topple the Popular Front government. Approximately 45,000 anti-fascist volunteers fought the Spanish Republicans in the International Brigade. These numbers included 2,800 Americans who formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
Among the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were 90 black soldiers who, at home, faced Jim Crow (racial segregation) laws and inequality. The anti-fascists lost the Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade returned home to America, but its black members took what they had learnt and used the fist in protests and posters.
Racial segregation and inequality were other battles to be fought. Some of the Lincoln Brigade battled to desegregate swimming pools and register voters, among many other things. Their views fit the Black Panther Movement and the fist became synonymous with Black Power and the Panthers.
At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos wore single black gloves and raised their fists on the podium. In the days and weeks that followed they faced huge backlash, death threats and negative headlines in the press.
Today, the fist has become associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement both here and in the US. It is a symbol of solidarity, strength, power and resilience in the face of struggles that people of colour must overcome. Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives use the fist because of its history, because it has been used for years by different groups, because of its meaning. It has been adopted by minority groups for various causes and we are proud to use it.
Afrika, a board member for Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives, talks about the fist. She says: “It’s a very humble symbol and it makes me think of the achievements we have accomplished. When I think about the athletes who bowed their heads and raised their fists silently – that’s power.”
Evelyn, the founder of BSE4BL, says: “The raised fist symbol is so strong. There’s no need for words – it is universally recognised.”
Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives is a peaceful group who want to enrich the community. We aim to create a unified community, work within schools to help educate staff and young people, and begin to make a change in the local area.
Social Media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – @BSE4BL
Tamika Green Social Media: Instagram @Tamikagreen98