This talk examines the way in which the political thought and activism of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. helped to transform American democratic political culture during the 1960s and beyond. Malcolm and Martin, the two most enduring historical icons of the postwar black freedom struggle, did more than just transform black political culture. Their critiques of institutional racism, white supremacy, poverty, war, the legitimacy of state-sanctioned violence, segregation, democracy, and citizenship had long range implications for the relationship between the U.S. nation-state. Their political thought and activism, widely remembered in polarities of Christianity vs. Islam; non-violence vs. self-defense; integration vs. racial separatism — contained as well, remarkable but still widely overlooked symmetries.
Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Professor of Political Values and Ethics at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, where he serves as founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, and professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. A frequent national commentator on issues related to civil rights, race, and democracy, his essays have appeared in The New York Times, Journal of American History, The Washington Post, CNN.com, and The Guardian. He is the author of the award winning Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America; Dark Days, Bright Night: From Black Power to Barack Obama; Stokely: A Life; and editor of The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era and Neighborhood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level. The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. will be published by Basic Books in April 2020.