Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, Pernille Joseph discussed on Fresh Air


This is fresh air. I'm Terry Gross. There is no way to understand the history struggle and debate over race and democracy in contemporary America without understanding Malcolm X and Martin Luther King's relationship to each other their own era. And most critically do our time. That's what my guest Pernille Joseph Rights. He's the author of the recently published book, The Sword and The Shield, the Revolutionary lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Joseph says that the mythology surrounding their legacies typically portrays King as the nonviolent insider, while Malcolm is characterized as it by any means necessary political renegade. It's King's. I have a dream versus Malcolm's the ballot or the bullet. Joseph's book braids their lives together, looking at how the past they took in their fights against white supremacy and for racial justice, diverged and converged. Malcolm X, was assassinated in 1965. King was assassinated three years later. O'Neill. Joseph is the founding director of the LBJ School's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas Austin. Before that, he founded the Tufts University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. His previous books include Stokely, a biography of Stokely Carmichael, who became Kwon tour and popularized the term black power and was a leader of that movement. And the book Dark days Bright nights from black power to Barack Obama. O'Neill, Joseph. Welcome to fresh air. Why did you want to braid together? The lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King? Why? I've always been fascinated by Malcolm X and Dr King. And the more I did research into the black power movement, and I wrote several books about black power and civil rights. The more I was both interested in them. It's and dissatisfied in how they're usually portrayed both in books and in popular culture. You both fought for racial equality, But they have different visions of the world They wanted to see. I think they have convergent visions, but they have different strategies on how to get there. So Malcolm X is really scarred by racial trauma at a very early age. A King, in contrast, has a very gilded childhood. And he's the son of upper middle class African American family, prosperous family that runs one of the most important churches in black Atlanta Ebeneezer Baptist Church. So Malcolm and Martin are shaped by both the historical circumstances that that Presented to them but also by their own personal histories. So they both want these goals of human rights and human freedom and human dignity. But they're goingto have different strategies and tactics, especially initially on how to achieve that goal. Compare their initial tactics. When we think about Malcolm X, But Malcolm X is the most important black working class hero and leader and activist of the 20th century and by that, I mean that Malcolm is coming from the lower frequencies of the black community. He's born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. His mother and father are political activist followers of Marcus Garvey, the Universal Negro Improvement Association. They're black nationalists and Pan Africanist. Who believe in radical political self determination, and Malcolm's father is going to be killed by white supremacists in 1931 in Lansing, Michigan. His mother is going to be placed in the psychiatric facility for most of his adult life. He's a foster child for several years, and then he lives with his older sister, starting at the age of 15 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. And really over the next 56 years, he's going to be engaged in both working menial jobs and participating in the underground economy, which means extra legal or criminal activity. And in prison. He sentenced to 11 years in prison. He's going to serve 76 months between 1946 to 1952. Hey, has an epiphany. He comes to believe in the Muslim religion as articulated by the nation of Islam, which is really a religious slash black nationalist group that's coming out of the Garvey tradition of the 19 teens in 19 twenties. And he comes to believe that Elijah Mohammed, who's the former Elijah Poole from Georgia, is actually the honorable Elijah Mohammed, who's the messenger of Allah himself? So Malcolm is goingto transform himself in prison by 1948 49 50 and really become somebody who imbibes black history. He imbibes religious history. But he comes to have his own critique of both structural racism but white supremacy and he's going to argue. That were black people need is political liberation that they craft themselves. So he comes to believe that the reason why black people are marginalized in the United States is because they have imbibed Western traditions. Christianity. And they refused to look for the last place that they would ever look for their own liberation is within that black people don't understand their identity. They think of themselves as Negro and not his black. They don't have a love or appreciation of African history. And so what Malcolm is going to do has become really this political leader who critiques white supremacy and also argues that black people should pursue dignity in their own history, their own culture, their own values, and that leads to a pretty separatist vision. Yeah, And you know what's interesting. This idea of separatism is really interesting to deeper. I investigated Malcolm X. The more I understood where he met and with the nation of Islam that bi racial separatism. It wasn't segregation. It wasn't segregation. It was separatism, they argued, and Malcolm does this in a Siri's of debates against fired Rustin against Jim Farmer. Against James Baldwin Lewis Lomax. He says that racial separatism is required because white people do not want black people to be citizens and have dignity. And if they did You wouldn't have to protest and experience police violence and police brutality. Small Children trying to integrate little rock high school young people trying to integrate lunch counters and they're arrested and brutalized. Sometimes people were killed, of course. So what's interesting about this idea? Separatism? Malcolm argues. Separatism is black people having enough self love. And enough confidence in themselves to organize and build parallel institutions because America was so infected with the disease of racism they could never racially integrated into American democracy. Marley, The King and Malcolm X initially disagreed on the role of violence and Nonviolence. King, of course, was in America's leading advocate of nonviolent civil disobedience. How would you describe Malcolm X is vision when he says, by any means necessary. Well, Malcolm is making the argument that one black people have the right to self defense. On DH to defend themselves against police brutality. It's really striking when you follow Malcolm X in the 19 fifties and sixties, the number of quarter parents is he's making. Whether it's in Buffalo, New York or Los Angeles or Rochester, New York were members of the nation of Islam have been brutalized at times killed by police violence, So Malcolm is arguing that one black people have a right to defend themselves. Second part of Malcolm's argument because he travels to the Middle East by 1959 travels for 25 weeks overseas in 1964 is that because there's anti colonial revolutions raging across Africa in the third world in the context of the 19 fifties and sixties, he makes the argument that the black Revolution in the United States Is on Lee going to be a true revolution. Once black people start utilizing self defense to end the racial terror they're experiencing both in the 19 fifties and sixties. But historically, and one of the reasons Malcolm makes that argument obviously, is because his his father and his family Had experienced that racial terror. But one thing that's important to know is that we think about Nonviolence versus self defense. It's very, very complex because even though Martin Luther King Jr is is America's apostle and a follower of Gandhi and believes in Nonviolence, there are always people around King who are trying to protect him and in demonstrations who actually are armed. They're not armed in the same way that say the Black Panthers would arm themselves later. But they're armed to actually protect and defend peaceful civil rights activists from racial terror and, of course, King famously had had armed guards around him in Montgomery, Alabama. After his home was firebombed during the bus boycott, 1955 56 inspired Rustin, who famously told him he couldn't have those armed guards if he wanted to live out the practice of Nonviolence, so King usually does not have his own people being armed. But when he's in the deep South, there are civil rights activist who actually are armed and at times protecting him. They're not necessarily connected to his Southern Christian leadership conference. But the movement always had people were trying to protect peaceful demonstrators against racial terror. We need to take a short break here, So let me reintroduce you for just joining us. My guest is Pernille Joseph, author of the Book, The Sword and The Shield, the Revolutionary lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. We'll be right back. This is fresh air..

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