This week a brawl featuring a Black man wielding a folding chair against an unruly group of white people broke the internet.
The Montgomery Riverfront Brawl, which was captured on video and uploaded to social media, erupted between a Black dock worker and several white men after he tried to get them to move their boat because it was parked in a space designated for a popular river boat, Harriet II.
Instead, of moving their pontoon boat, the white men assaulted the Black man.
The optics—a group of white men pummeling a Black worker—appeared to have hit too close to home for Black onlookers who have had to witness both historic and modern day racist violence and abuse. The instinct to protect was clearly triggered.
Within moments, other Black people descended on the scene (one young man even swam over from nearby) and an all out brawl across racial lines ensued. Punches and kicks were thrown and one man was even tossed into the water like a rag doll. Still, no one could’ve anticipated that the melee would end with a Black man wielding a folding chair against two white people. That’s when the cops finally stepped in to shut the fight down.
Many applauded those who stepped in to defend the man from the attack. Through their eyes, the white mob that attacked him received a long-awaited, much-deserved comeuppance. According to the riverboat Harriet II’s captain, this was not the first time the men had been in trouble over that boat and he believed the attack was racially motivated.
The scourge of white violence had finally met its match: A folding chair.
And it instantaneously became an icon of Black freedom fighting, spurring the creation of countless memes. Images of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and even Harriet Tubman with folding chairs flooded the internet. The collapsible piece of furniture was heralded as an unlikely antidote to white violence.
Then, days later, yet another video of a Black man using a folding chair in a fight against a white man went viral.
“DETROIT, MICHIGAN – A young Black man was forced to defend himself from yet another SUSPECTED WHITE SUPREMACIST, using a yellow folding chair,” Sir Maejor, candidate for Congress in Ohio, tweeted along with a video of the fight on Thursday. “This incident took place in downtown Detroit, Michigan. Let this be a message to Jason Aldean and the rest of the suspected white supremacist and anti-black non- FBA people, DONT TRY THIS IS A SMALL TOWN, BIG TOWN, MID SIZE TOWN or ANY TOWN.”
“Damn, I guess the folding chair is a racists kryptonite,” Twitter user Luckyiam tweeted.
“The era of the folding chair has started,” declared one Twitter user.
It is hard to miss the fact that the folding chair is having a moment. However, the truth is that the collapsible furniture has long been an iconic weapon of choice for Black people both literally and figuratively.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) reportedly said before her untimely passing in 2005. In 1968, she was the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress, overcoming immense racism and sexism.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) shared the quote, along with a photo of herself wearing earring folding chairs, in the moments after the Alabama Brawl, paying tribute to the revolutionary woman and chair.
An even deeper dive into the history of the folding chair reveals just how powerful it is as a symbol of Black power and resistance.
In 1911, a Black man named Nathaniel Alexander patented the design of his folding chair, which included a book rest on the back of the seat. In the context of a time when Black people faced constant white violence and the threat of lynching; could not fairly exercise the right to vote, get an education, or participate in society as full citizens; the act of being an inventor and patenting an invention boldly resisted the narratives and status quo that sought to dehumanize Black people. Alexander proved Black people were both intelligent and innovative.
It is this spirit of resistance that the folding chair has come to represent. And the hope that justice will prevail against the violence Black people face far too often.
“Justice will be served,” Montgomery May Steven L. Reed said in a statement last Sunday.
Since then, the three white men responsible for starting the brawl have been charged with assault for attacking the dock worker and inciting the brawl. While authorities said they would not be able to charge the men with a racially motivated hate crime, it is impossible to deny this event was extremely racially charged and triggering.
It is also impossible to deny that the folding chair has now officially become a symbol of the Black fight for freedom.