Today, Americans honor the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who fought for justice, liberty, and equality for black and Africans worldwide. He grew up in a stable, middle-class home in Georgia, his is father was an NAACP organizer, and he credits the loving atmosphere of his youth for his belief in non-violent, civil disobedience to attack racial prejudice in America. Dr. King went on to lead marches and non-violent protests, and changed the course of history.
His message was especially impactful to the millions of young people in America who were fighting against oppressive regimes in the Jim Crow South in the United Stated, where laws at the local and state level enforced racial segregation.
One of those young people was Babatunde Olatunji, a student from Lagos State, Nigeria, who become a Grammy award winning drummer, percussionist, producer, civil rights activist, educator, and recording artist after meeting Dr King. He's one of few Nigerians (and Africans) to get the chance to meet both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. Babatunde first rose to prominence in the late 1950's. He received a Rotary scholarship to study at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and went on to become a diplomat and performing artist.
When Dr. King delivered his historic I Have a Dream speech in August 1963 after the March on Washington, Olatunji was one of the 200,000 people at the event. As president of the Morehouse student body in the 1950s, he was able to personally meet nearly every civil rights leader who visited the campus, including Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X (who surprisingly only met once). Even before Rosa Parks would spark the Montgomery bus boycott, Olatunji was already staging protests on public buses with some of his fellow students.
The percussionist, social activist and educator performed many times for the NAACP and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On July 21, 1979, he appeared at the Amandla Festival along with Bob Marley, Dick Gregory, Patti LaBelle and Eddie Palmieri, amongst others.
Olatunji was known for making an impassioned speech for social justice before performing in front of a live audience. Olatunji composed music for the Broadway theatrical and the 1961 Hollywood film production of Raisin in the Sun. He also created music for Spike Lee's joint She's Gotta Have It. His most famous album, Love Drum Talk, was nominated for the Best World Music Album in the 1997 Grammy Awards, but did not win.
In the late 1950s, as African nations were seeking and gaining independence from their colonial masters, civil rights leaders in the U.S. were watching. In November 1960, Martin Luther King traveled to Lagos, Nigeria to attend the inauguration of Nnamdi Azikiwe as Nigeria’s first governor-general of African descent. Azikiwe was elected the first president of Nigeria in 1963, but was removed from office by a military coup in 1966.