Chelsea Manning is Thankful for Malcolm X, MLK Jr., and Harvey Milk

The former army private is reluctant to celebrate Thanksgiving because she believes its origins lie in the slaughter against the Pequot.

By Aura Bogado Nov 27, 2013

Every year before Thanksgiving, TIME asks public figures to write about what they’re grateful for. This year, there are some surprising contributions, including Ai-Jen Poo and Kid President. But one of the most poignant is from Chelsea Manning, who’s serving 35 years at Fort Leavenworth for leaking classified documents while she served in the Army–including video that illustrates U.S. forces targeting and firing upon children and innocent adults in Baghdad. Manning begins her statement with a clear understanding of why she’s reluctant to observe Thanksgiving:

I’m usually hesitant to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. After all, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony systematically terrorized and slaughtered the very same Pequot tribe that assisted the first English refugees to arrive at Plymouth Rock. So, perhaps ironically, I’m thankful that I know that, and I’m also thankful that there are people who seek out, and usually find, such truths.  I’m thankful for people who, even surrounded by millions of Americans eating turkey during regularly scheduled commercial breaks in the Green Bay and Detroit football game; who, despite having been taught, often as early as five and six years old, that the "helpful natives" selflessly assisted the "poor helpless Pilgrims" and lived happily ever after, dare to ask probing, even dangerous, questions.

Manning goes on to explain that she’s grateful for Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk and others who put their lives on the line for social justice:

I’m also grateful for having social and human justice pioneers who lead through action, and by example, as opposed to directing or commanding other people to take action. Often, the achievements of such people transcend political, cultural, and generational boundaries. Unfortunately, such remarkable people often risk their reputations, their livelihood, and, all too often, even their lives.

For instance, the man commonly known as Malcolm X began to openly embrace the idea, after an awakening during his travels to the Middle East and Africa, of an international and unifying effort to achieve equality, and was murdered after a tough, yearlong defection from the Nation of Islam. Martin Luther King Jr., after choosing to embrace the struggles of striking sanitation workers in Memphis over lobbying in Washington, D.C., was murdered by an escaped convict seeking fame and respect from white Southerners. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in the U.S., was murdered by a jealous former colleague. These are only examples; I wouldn’t dare to make a claim that they represent an exhaustive list of remarkable pioneers of social justice and equality–certainly many if not the vast majority are unsung and, sadly, forgotten.

You can read Chelsea Manning’s entire statement on TIME’s website.