CULTURE + LANGUAGE

Why Phrases Like "Rest in Power" Belong to the Black Community

And why some are desperately trying to strip it of context

Allison Wiltz
6 min readFeb 27, 2024

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AI-generated painting of a Black woman kneeling near flowers | created by the author

“Rest in power" is a phrase popularized in the black community, a revolutionary eulogy. There are two primary ways it's generally used to honor someone who made significant contributions to society, like in the case of John Lewis, the late civil rights leader and House representative. Or when someone's suffered a great injustice, as in the case of Sandra Bland, a Black woman found hanging in her jail cell, or Trayvon Martin, a teenager fatally shot to death while walking home with an Arizona Iced Tea and Skittles. The phrase "rest in power," is a way of honoring someone who passed away in the black community, promising to keep not just their memory but their hopes and dreams alive.

For instance, in the few years since John Lewis passed away, his motto, "get in good trouble, necessary trouble," has become a slogan among modern-day activists. This quote, which Lewis shared while commemorating Bloody Sunday, the 1965 protest in Selma, Alabama, where he marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other organizers, has become synonymous with his life's work. The takeaway being to never be afraid of getting into what Lewis characterized as "good trouble," of challenging unjust laws, and practices. How could the black community say "rest in peace" when Lewis' work is far from over? It's much more fitting to say, "Rest in power."

In another context, "rest in power" is used in the black community to honor the victims of injustice, those who can no longer speak for themselves. For instance, while the black community may not have profound, direct quotes from Trayvon Martin to keep his memory alive, the injustice he suffered will never be forgotten. Indeed, his name, along with others like Sandra Bland, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, has become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement, inspiring a collective awareness about the prevalence of hate crimes and police brutality targeting Black people. A six-episode series entitled Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story sheds light on this connection on Apple TV.

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Allison Wiltz

Womanist Scholar bylines @ Momentum, Oprah Daily, ZORA, GEN, EIC of Cultured #WEOC Founder allisonthedailywriter.com https://ko-fi.com/allyfromnola