tv QA Peniel Joseph The Sword and the Shield CSPAN February 22, 2021 5:59am-7:01am EST
watch live coverage at 1 p.m. eastern www.c-span.org. >> congress is back with a busy agenda. major business in the house was the 1.9 trillion dollar covid really package which includes an extension of unemployment benefits, a minimum wage hike, additional funding or individual stimulus checks and help for state and local governments. more action could begin as early as thursday in a final vote is possible friday or over the weekend. democratic leaders aim to have the bill on the president's desk before march 14 which is when current unemployment benefits expire. the senate spends the early part of the week on cabot nominations. today and tuesday, they vote on the nominations of linda thomas-greenfield to be ambassador to the united nations and tom vilsack to be agriculture secretary. the senate would take up the
covid really package after house passage under reconciliation which requires a simple majority to pass and does not allow filibusters. watch the house live on c-span, the senate live on c-span two. ♪ susan: dr. peniel joseph, you and i planned this interview three months back, but we got sideways with the covid lockdown and what a momentous three months it has been. as a historian, how are you processing this time this country is going through? dr. joseph: i have been writing a lot, both op-eds and for a longer piece.
it is an extraordinary watershed historical moment. i think we are living through a third american reconstruction effort to reconstruct democracy so that it is multiracial, multicultural. our first efforts were after the civil war. 1865 to 1877. we did achieve some racial progress. we had 1500 black elected officials. we had a freedmen's bureau. we had the creation of black churches and public schools, but we also institutionalized racial segregation rather quickly by the 1880's and 1890's. we did it through racial violence and public policy. our second reconstruction is the civil rights movement between 1954 and 1965. when we think about public
school desegregation and the voting rights act and the civil rights act of 1964. there was again racial progress, but that was really quickly closed off when we think about 1968. the assassination of martin luther king jr., the assassination of bobby kennedy, the assassination of malcolm x. now, we have another effort. in a way, we are experiencing something we have never experienced before. we have so many white americans who are joining these protests. it is multiracial, multicultural. it is led by young black people, but so many white americans have joined that the very face of the country is being changed every day. susan: what do make of the fact that protests are not just happening in the united states, but globally as well? dr. joseph: we have great historical precedent for that.
that's not unprecedented. things that happen in the united states impact the world. things that happen around the world impact the united states. the united states when we think about the civil rights movement, it was a movement against colonialism. they wanted liberation in india and asia and latin america and the caribbean. it wanted to end apartheid in south africa. we saw all these different networks of activists and human rights and civil rights organizations. certainly, malcolm x and martin luther king jr. were two iconic black civil rights and black power activists who visited the middle east, who visited europe, who visited africa. that is not surprising. the depth and breadth and intensity is really extraordinary, but we definitely have historical precedent. susan: there has been a number of times since the 1960's when
there have been movements for social justice and protests in the united states. what do you think are the elements that make this transformational this time around? dr. joseph: i think covid-19, the pandemic and the fact that african-americans and other people of color are disproportionately vulnerable to covid-19. they died and were diagnosed at higher rates. they were more likely to be public facing employees in meatpacking and the post office and delivery service. the mass unemployment that followed that. really just a breakdown of the way in which our government responds to inequity. there is a rising wealth gap. certainly, the criminal justice system and the tragic killing of george floyd becomes the precipitating event. all of these things have come together and converged at the
same time to produce this really historic moment in american history that is impacting culture. it is impacting politics. it is impacting sports, business. higher education, you name it. it is deeper than the criminal justice system. it is about more than confederate flags and monuments. it is about reimagining american democracy to create what martin luther king jr. called a beloved community that was going to be not only free of racial and economic injustice, but citizens were going to have guaranteed rights, guaranteed income, decent housing. there was not going to be pervasive systemic racism. people what have deep empathy toward each other. the government would reflect that. people are demonstrating in the street in a way that amplifies all of these historic civil
rights protests we have seen before going way back to racial slavery and abolitionism. we are seeing that come to full force in 2020. we are going to look back at 2020 as this extraordinary watershed year. susan: as a historian, this must be an interesting time to be looking at -- what are you doing to gather all of the elements of the moment so that you and your fellow historians can study this time in future years? dr. joseph: a number of different things. i am interested in both in what is happening locally in austin, texas where i live, seeing the people calling for defunding the police, prison abolition, intersectional justice in the way in which these contemporary movements are intimately connected to public policy. in a way, when we think about
the civil rights movement, people are interested in changing policy. when you think about voting rights act and the civil rights act, i do not think we had a social movement like the black lives matter movement that is interested in policy changes at a granular level. we think about everything from criminal justice to juveniles in incarceration to public school segregation and residential segregation. environmental racism, mental health in black communities, lgbtq lives mattering. as a historian, you are trying to gather as much data as you can and link that data to the archive because the archive is how we make our trade. it is going to definitely be newspaper reports, social media. from many different perspectives, you're seeing this story be told. journalism is going to be the
first draft of history. historians are going to try to connect this to what they call a thicker description. how are these institutional changes people are advocating in 2020 connected to 1958? what we did or did not do as a nation. and in a more immediate sense, how is what is happening in 2020 connected to 2008 when a lot of americans thought we had finally -- fixed what is referred to as the race problem with the election of barack obama? you are trying to gather as much information as possible as a historian, but you have a longer view of these events than most journalists. susan: the 1960's, there was a great deal of focus on the passage of the civil rights legislation. the list you made of the many threads in society seeking changes is really long. how does that broad list with so
many people having things they want addressed in society as opposed to a common focus in the 1960's translate to momentum for change? dr. joseph: i think the civil rights movement was always a human rights movement. i think it still is. it is a movement that wants universal rights but through the lens of black liberation and black history and black people's struggle for dignity and citizenship in the united states. if you end systemic anti-black racism, you're going to free up resources, free up access to dignity and citizenship. scores of different groups whether those are latinx or indigenous and native americans are also people who have mental illness, people who are lgbtq. people who are the most
marginalized in our society by virtue of who they are. in a way, the black freedom struggle has been the most expensive movement for democracy not because black people are so special but because of the historical conditions and socioeconomic conditions they have been in in the united states. they have always been pushing to expand what we think of when we think about american democracy. martin luther king jr. is one of the most eloquent voices. in his letter from the birmingham jail in 1963 when different white faith leaders are asking him to stop the protests in birmingham, he says the young people in birmingham being arrested and incarcerated are going to one day be lionized by the nation as heroes for bringing us back to what dr. king calls great wells of democracy that were dug deep i
-- by the founding fathers. the whole entire black freedom struggle is an effort to expand american democracy so it is broad enough to include black people. even this idea of black lives matter, i think it is extraordinarily eloquent phrase, but it is a testament to the fact that throughout american history, black lives have not mattered. it has been quite the reverse. there is always this push to try to get those lives to matter in law and policy, but also in our culture. i think that is what is so important. we need new policies. we have to change hearts and minds. have a culture that will respect all people. susan: let's spend more of our time on your book. it's told through the eyes of
malcolm x and martin luther king. the book is on display. it is the sword and shield. let's start by hearing these two men in their own words. then we will come back and talk about them. [video clip] >> i do not think when a man is being criminally treated that some criminal has the right to tell that man what tactics to use to get the criminal offense -- off his back. when a criminal starts misusing me, i'm going to use it ever is necessary to get that criminal off my back. the injustice inflicted on the -- my own close sam is criminal. -- on the knee grows in this country by uncle sam is criminal. [video clip] >> somewhere i read of the freedom of assembly. somewhere i read of the freedom of speech. somewhere i read of the freedom of press. somewhere i read that the greatness of america is the right to protest our rights.
susan: you write in your introduction that the idea of a dual biography as these two men have germinating has been with you for a long time. why did you take it upon yourself to study these two men and how they both approached the goal of civil rights in the united states? dr. joseph my whole scholarly : trajectory, my career as an academic and as a citizen and activist has been based on civil rights and human rights, the connection between race and democracy and black freedom in the united states and globally. i have written books on the black power movement. i've written books on barack obama. i have written a biography of stokely carmichael. through that research, i became increasingly fascinated with malcolm x and martin luther king jr. i started reimagining what their
roles in transforming american democracy was through study and finding out more about them in great biographies. looking at their papers, the at -- looking at their speeches and i came to the conclusion that we think of them as dueling opposites. as polar opposites. one is talking about nonviolence. one is talking about self-defense. one is saying by any means necessary. the other is talking about a beloved community. one is harlem's hero, the other is america's apostle. i came to the conclusion they are both revolutionary. they are dual sides of the same revolutionary choline. -- revolutionary coin. when we think about the sword and the shield, we think about malcolm x as the political sort -- sword of the black community and dr. martin luther king jr. as the shield of the black
community. they both served those roles simultaneously in the book. by doing a dual biography, you are able to see what each was doing simultaneously. as you see in the sword and the shield, a lot of times, they are thinking about each other even if they use surrogates to debate each other. really towards by 1963, a lot of what they are doing is in tandem and they are going to meet at the united states senate in 1964. they are going to cultivate a relationship that is less adversarial. less rivals than at times complementing each other in this pursuit of radical black dignity and citizenship. susan: you write in the book that at the time malcolm x was
seen as dr. martin luther king's evil twin. what were you saying about that? dr. joseph: malcolm -- we heard the clip. malcolm is black america's prosecuting attorney. he is charging white america with a series of crimes back from racial slavery to the present. malcolm x is one of the innovators of his own 6019 project where he is talking -- project where he is talking 1619 about 400 years of racial oppression in the 1950's. he is contrasted with martin luther king jr. especially in the 1950's and early 1960's. martin luther king is defending black humanity to the white mainstream. he is defending white humanity. malcolm x is different. he takes black humanity as a
given and he is not going to try to defend lack humanity to -- black humanity to whites. malcolm is viewed as martin luther king's evil twin because malcolm is a muslim. he is not a christian. malcolm is a former prisoner. he is an ex-con. at a time when that is not something that was glorified in our society. malcolm is incarcerated for 76 months in three different prisons. he is an unusual civil rights leader, an unusual black liberation leader to get that kind of political celebrity and achieve that kind of celebrity. his denunciation of white supremacy are so bold he both enthralls white media. but he also turns people off because he is such a vociferous critic against structural racism. against white supremacy. and he is willing to name names.
he is a big critic of president eisenhower, kennedy and johnson. in the way that my luther king junior is trying to get a political rapprochement with the establishment. susan: building on that point, as your book evolves, you tell us that dr. king evolved in his thinking, and that toward the end of his life, he rethought the use of violence as a tactic. is this a new thesis? dr. joseph: dr. king never moves away from nonviolence. what he really rethinks is using massive disobedience in a way that is more coercive than birmingham or selma. king becomes a revolutionary because he is no longer willing to sit quietly about the vietnam war. he connects the vietnam war to the shortcoming and the failures of the great society in terms of
eradicating poverty, eradicating racial segregation. the urban rebellion, hundreds of civil disturbances. king says these are not just riots that are the language of the unheard and the oppressed. he says the united states has to get to the root of the oppression. what we see with king, he starts talking about using nonviolence as early as 1965 after the los angeles rebellion to paralyze cities, to leverage nonviolent civil disobedience to transform american democracy. malcolm x had called for the same thing at the march on washington, which malcolm criticizes because he wanted a display of civil disobedience that was going to be muscular enough to end the racial status quo in the united states of america.
we think about king between 1965 and 1968, he is the biggest critic of white supremacy after malcolm x's assassination. that is what is so extraordinary. king is talking about white racism running wild in the halls of congress. king speaks to audiences by 1967 and says the biggest impediment to racial justice in the united states which is unleashing chaos in the streets, yet whites are in a kind of perpetual denial. they say they will only commit to a racial justice once there is peace in the city even though dr. king points out they are the reasons why there is chaos in the city. this is not the martin luther king jr. we think of annually. king becomes a man on fire between 1965 and 1968. he breaks with the lyndon johnson administration. there are no more photo ops.
there is only truth. that truth is a radical truth. it is a hard truth. when he speaks at the riverside church in new york city in 1967, he calls the united states the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. those are hard truths. king says we can have a beautiful struggle to achieve our country. a beloved community where instead of spending tens of billions of dollars on vietnam and american imperialism, we transform rural america in a way that is racially and economically just for all people. he becomes this extreme era figure. that is the revolutionary king i argue people do not know about. people who are contemporary activists, they do not know how deep of a revolutionary figure martin luther king jr. was because we sanitized king.
we say malcolm was the revolutionary. and he was. but we sanitized king because we want a king that is like a teddy bear we can all hug. that if he were alive today, he would give all of america one big hug and ask us to love each other. that is not the true martin luther king jr. he is deeply empathetic, but he is also deeply critical of inequality wherever that inequality may be. susan: one of the most interesting facts found in your book is that these two men whose spheres of influence overlapped, both committed to the same cause, only met in person one time. was that intentional or was it simply coincidental? dr. joseph: i think it is both. they met march 26, 1964. right before they met at the u.s. senate, -- one of the most interesting parts about that meeting, they are both at this -- at the senate while the senate is filibustering the
civil rights act. they both are supporting the 1964 civil rights act. they both say that unless this is achieved, there might be racial violence. malcolm said that even if the bill is passed, it is going to lead to a civil war in the south and a race war in the north because white supremacy is so powerful, has such a powerful grip on the country. dr. king says if it is not passed, there may be racial violence because black america's patience is at an end. when we think about that meeting, that meeting showed by 1964, they're both making overtures. malcolm x had been speaking to a pulitzer prize-winning journalist. he says him and dr. king have the same goal. robert penn warren is taken aback because he is a conventional white liberal.
he thinks of malcolm x as a scary guy who does not like white people. it's really not continent with what dr. king is trying to do. he says dr. king wants human dignity and i want human dignity. we might have different methods, but we have the same goal. when you think about that year, 1964, malcolm x listens to dr. king do an entire speech in harlem on december 17, 1964 after dr. king has won the nobel peace prize. he ends the evening in harlem. there are over 8000 people at the 369th armory. malcolm x is sitting next to andy young who is later the mayor of atlanta. malcolm and andy young knew each other. malcolm is impressed by king's speech. a few days later, he praises dr. king. a couple of months later,
malcolm tries to visit martin luther king jr. in selma. he ends up not being able to see dr. king because he is in prison. he is in jail because of a voting's rights demonstration. malcolm meets up with andy young and caretta scott king. he does a speech to student activists. he personally tells coretta scott king how deeply he admires her husband, the work he is doing and he is in selma not to cause problems but to make sure that people know that if dr. king's voting rights initiative is not passed, there are going to be other alternatives. he tells the press that as well. we do see his evolution as well where he comes to speak. you see on the ballot or on the speech that we need to transform democratic institutions as part of that revolutionary front. susan: we will not have much
time to spend on it, and i invite people to read more details in your book, but i wanted to do a little bit about the biography of each man. to understand what brought them to their leadership skills. malcolm x was born in 1925. we are going to watch a little bit of the lost tapes. that's from it's from the 1962. smithsonian channel in 2018. then we will come back and learn about his early years. [video clip] >> who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? who taught you to hate the color of your skin to such an extent that you bleach? who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? who taught you to hate your self from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? who taught you to hate your own kind? who taught you to hate the race you belong to? so much so that you do not want to be around each other. before you come asking mr. mohammed, does he teach hate,
you should ask yourself, who taught you to hate being what god made you? susan: his parents both suffered tragedies. what happened to him in his youth that gave him the leadership and communication skills we saw on display? dr. joseph: malcolm has a traumatic childhood. he experiences racial trauma at an early age. he is born in omaha, nebraska. his father and his mother are both political activists. they are followers of marcus garvey. he is the jamaican pan-african who founded an organization called the universal need -- negro improvement organization, which becomes the largest black mass movement in american history in the early 1920's. between three and 5 million on
several continents in the caribbean, the united states, africa, latin america. this is this idea of black nationalism, cultural pride, political solidarity, political self-determination. racial solidarity. malcolm's parents moved to lansing, michigan. his father is going to be killed in 1931. the little family is going to argue that his father was killed by white supremacists. a white supremacist group called the black legion. the police report says malcolm's father died in a streetcar accident where a streetcar basically sliced him in two and the family never believed that. that is one tragedy. by the age of six, he loses his father who he never forgets.
his mother is going to be institutionalized in a psychiatric institution because she does not have a great way to make a living. his siblings are going to be scattered and in foster care. malcolm is going to spend several years in foster care. at the age of 15, he is going to move in with his half-sister because his father had been previously married and had three children. he is going to move in with his half-sister in roxboro, boston. from 1940 to 1946, malcolm becomes what he describes as a hustler. he is in harlem. he works odd jobs, but he also sells marijuana to jazz musicians. he lived a life of perpetual crime. he is going to be arrested and charged with being part of a burglary ring in boston.
he is going to spend almost seven years in prison. it is while he is in prison he reconnects with a side of himself that has been traumatized. that is the side that was looking both for a father figure, which he finds in the honorable elijah mohammed and the nation of islam. he was also looking to be politically active. malcolm wanted to be a lawyer, but at his dominantly -- predominantly white school in michigan, they told him because he is black, he cannot be a lawyer. it is important to remember malcolm x was light-skinned with red hair and freckles. we heard in that clip he is talking about antiblack racism and the way in which white supremacy contoured the way so many black people and black communities thought of themselves because they were not thought of as beautiful. they were not thought of as intelligent. they were not thought of solely -- fully three-dimensional,
empathetic human beings. malcolm pushes back against that. malcolm's mother was from grenada and was so light she could pass for white, which is something malcolm always talked about and felt he was treated better by his dark skinned father because he was the latest of their children. -- the lightest of their children. it is interesting the way in which race plays a role in malcolm's conception of politics. he is a brilliant debater. he is a prison activist while he is in prison for muslim rights. he is a voracious reader. he goes to one of those prisons in massachusetts, and experimental prison that provides college-level education. i argue that malcolm x gets a college degree and more while he is in prison. by the time he leaves prison, he is paroled on august 7, 1952. he really becomes this political activist. he becomes this organizer.
he is also an intellectual. he is constantly reading. he has a great quote saying he could spend all day in the library because he is a voracious polyglot of a reader, speaker, thinker and writer. he is not just an organizer and debater, he is an intellectual. i think dr. king is an intellectual too. this book treats them as activists but also as intellectuals. their political thoughts continue to resonate all the way into the present. susan: his platform and mentorship came through the mission of islam. that relationship afraid. -- that relationship ultimately frayed. what was the cause of the dissolution of the relationship? dr. joseph: the dissolution is going to be deeply political and personal. i would start with the political. over time, malcolm is trying to transform the nation of islam, which is a sectarian religious nationalist organization.
it is a very unique interpretation of muslim philosophy. parts of it are radical. parts are very conservative. malcolm over time tries to politicize the nation of islam. make them part of the civil rights movement. for a time, elijah mohammed allows this to happen because malcolm joins the group from prison. the group only has 500 or 600 hard-core members. in large part due to malcolm's organizing skills, the group is going to have 35, 40, 50,000 members by the time he exits. he transforms that group that is a wealthy group making millions of dollars through publishing the nation of islam's newspaper but also the creation of different small businesses and also through real estate purchases they do over time.
when we think about that relationship, the more political malcolm becomes, the more attention there is between elijah mohammed and malcolm x. and also, malcolm becomes the face of the nation of islam. part of this is due to his talent and elijah mohammed saying you will be our national representative starting in 1957. the press he gets proved to be too much for elijah mohammed and the nation of islam. malcolm becomes the first black radical global celebrity who is a black nationalist and a pan-africanist. he has this very famous global figure who can go to the middle east, which he does in 1959 and 1964. he gets to african universities. because he is this champion of lack liberation and black pride.
after a while, that proves too much. personally, malcolm finds out that the honorable elijah mohammed has some personal failings. there have been extramarital affairs. there are things malcolm finds unseemly. all of that is going to come out by 1964 and lead to the break. this idea of chickens coming home to roost. when malcolm says chickens come home to roost, elijah mohammed silences him for 90 days. that is not why he is forced out of the nation of islam. he is forced out because there is a power struggle between elijah mohammed and malcolm x. malcolm x wants that group to be something different. elijah mohammed wanted to be a religious organization that is not involved in politics. malcolm x oncewants to be a
political organization that has deep religious faith. susan: martin luther king, you write that his childhood cannot be more of a contrast. his father was the highest-paid black minister in atlanta. he and his son toward europe and the middle east. he was a graduate of morehouse college. what were the major influences in martin luther king's life that had him develop his own personal philosophy on how to achieve change? dr. joseph: martin luther king jr. he is the son of the black petty bourgeoisie. his father's people were sharecroppers. his mother was part of the black bourgeoisie. ebenezer baptist church is a very important church.
when you think about martin jr., his father is a huge influence. people like benjamin mays who is president of morehouse college, the theologian howard thurman, they know so many different famous black people who are part of the social gospel. this is the interpretation of christianity that connects christianity to social justice. saying that we can write wrongs, end poverty, end racism in our own times. that is very influential for king. king does experience racism. one of the convergences between malcolm and martin as they are both upset about "gone with the wind." a very racist film in 1939 considered a classic that is a
sepia-toned division of slavery in the antebellum south. malcolm says he wants to crawl under a rug when butterfly mcqueen is prissy in "gone with the wind." constantly being hectored by vivian leigh's character and smacked in the face. those were the images they saw. king remembers the premier in atlanta and being shocked by finding out what that film was about and how it depicted black people. so they both have that convergence. king was 10 and malcolm was 13. when you think about dr. king, he goes to morehouse college, which is the best college for a young black man in the united states. i would say then and now. he goes to a theological
seminary and as part of an interracial group of seminarians. then he gets a phd from boston university in 1956. he has a very unusual pedigree. i would argue the reason why king initially has more hope for the ability of american democracy to reform themselves is because of that history. malcolm has been not just in prison, but racially traumatized starting at the age of six when his father was killed. he really experiences america in a different way. that is why malcolm is always saying american democracy is nothing more than american hypocrisy. king never says that, but by 1965, 67, 68, when king is saying things like the greatness
of america lies in the right to protest for rights, he is acknowledging this chasm between democratic ideals and the reality of democracy. they come to converge in terms of skepticism about american democracy. although malcolm always has the classic quip about democracy being nothing more than hypocrisy. susan: i want to fast forward to 1963. it was so full of momentous events. john f. kennedy, the president at the time, you write about malcolm's views on john f. kennedy. what did he think of the president's approach in the early days? dr. joseph: he did not think kennedy did enough. he did not think kennedy empathized deeply enough with black people as human beings. kennedy would undergo an evolution, and i right about that. -- write about that. by june 11, 1953, kennedy makes
what i think is the finest speech of his presidency. dr. king is critical of jack kennedy. kennedy had sought the king endorsement. dr. king is in jail for nine days in atlanta. he didn't endorse anybody in that election. john f. kennedy and bobby kennedy are instrumental in getting dr. king released. they used that to help them win more black support. that really helps tip the election in their favor. king and kennedy are tied politically. john kennedy until the spring of 1963 is too cautious. he does not know what to do about civil rights and racial justice. he does not want it to take over his agenda. and martin luther king jr. is very critical. susan: we have a short clip from that speech from the jfk library
where the president speaks to the nation about civil rights issues. let's listen. [video clip] >> the fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, north and south, where legal remedies are not at hand. redress is sought in the streets. in demonstrations, parades, protests, which create tension and threaten violence and threaten lives. we face a moral crisis as a country and people. it cannot be met by oppressive police action. it cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. it cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. it is a time to act in the congress, the state and local legislative body and above all, in all of our daily lives. susan: why was that as you write, one of the most important dates in america's civil rights history? dr. joseph: that is an
extraordinary speech. it is reminiscent of what is happening today outside our windows. june 11 is going to be the day george wallace, the governor of alabama, makes his infamous stand at the schoolhouse door. he had vowed to not let the university of alabama be integrated. but it is going to be integrated. we get two african-american students there. kennedy does his speech at 8:00 p.m. that night, which is an extraordinary speech where he says civil rights is a moral issue. he also says those who do not think about the revolution happening invite shame and violence. those who act boldly recognize right as well as reality. it is the best speech on racial justice a president has given since abraham lincoln. the next morning, a few hours after kennedy's speech around 1:00 a.m., jackson, mississippi
time, the naacp secretary, one of the most important activists in his generation, medgar evers is going to be killed by a white supremacist. he is going to be shot in the heart right after he has driven into his driveway. his wife and kids are going to be right there while he dies. that is going to be one of the big civil rights assassinations. medgar evers is a martyr who joins malcolm x, martin luther king jr., the kennedy brothers. that june 11 speech is really important. in that speech, kennedy is following dr. king's lead. dr. king has always made the argument the kennedy administration should not think about black citizenship as something that was peripheral to the united states of america and american democracy. dr. king made the argument it was central.
king is making the argument racial justice should be the beating heart of american democracy. that day, president kennedy says the same thing. that is what is so important. kennedy says that because of all these demonstrations. kennedy speaks at the midway point of a 10 week period at a time where 15,000 americans were arrested for civil rights demonstrations. when kennedy says there is a revolution happening, he is not kidding. he is showing leadership by saying, this revolution can be violent or peaceful. because we are the united states of america, we have to remember who we are, what our core values are. this issue of systemic racism and white supremacy should have been over 100 years ago. 1963 is the centennial of the emancipation proclamation. kennedy showed extreme leadership after being pushed by martin luther king jr..
all these large gatherings. dr. king speaks in front of 35,000 people in los angeles in may. he speaks in front of 125,000 people in june in detroit. he speaks in front of 250,000 people in 1963. there is what kennedy calls a rising tide of discontent. i would say 1963 starts the generational opportunity that happens in the 1960's. we could argue it ends in 1968 with martin luther king jr.'s assassination. without 1963, there is no civil rights act of 1964. there is no voting rights act of 1965. it is not just selma. it is 1963 it is what sets the nation up for the progress it is
going to make in the 1960's. susan: by november 22, john f. kennedy was assassinated. it fell to his successor, lyndon johnson, to carry the civil rights legislation across the finish line. how important was he to the ultimate passage of the legislation? thinking about the larger question, how important our -- are presidents in terms of cementing the change the public is asking for? dr. joseph: presidents are important, especially in that time. that is going to be a time where the president had arguably more power in terms of transforming legislation than our own time. this is a time without the same pressures to campaign and raise money, without the same concentration of wealth and power that impacts politics even though it existed in 1963 and 1964. lyndon johnson is very
important. lbj starts out as someone who civil rights activists were very wary of. he was from texas. he had been senate majority leader when they passed the civil rights act of 1957 that did not have teeth and was kind of a compromise. when we think about lyndon johnson, people did not expect lyndon johnson to be the antiwar, civil rights president he became. he really uses and leverages kennedy's assassination and also the civil rights movement and social movements that are happening on the ground to make an argument that civil rights legislation is needed for the functioning and the health of american democracy. that is his argument. certainly in 1964, the election of 1964 gives him a sweeping
majority in the house of representatives and the senate. over the next two years when we think about civil rights legislation, we will see transformative legislation in terms of the voting rights act. during the first year, we see the civil rights act is passed. what is so extraordinary about lbj and martin luther king jr. have a professional relationship the first couple of years of that presidency that is very important in terms of 1964 and 1965. that starts to fray pretty quickly. -- pretty quickly after watts. they become adversaries rather than collaborators. susan: we have just eight minutes left. malcolm x was assassinated february 21, 1965. you say that the the debate over his legacy continues due to -- as do the conspiracy theories over his killer. what do we know about how he met
his end? dr. joseph: he is going to be assassinated on february 21, 1965 at the audubon ballroom in washington heights in new york city. when we think about this idea of conspiracy, we know that the fbi and the new york bureau of special services, the nypd, both have informers in the nation of islam. we know the nation of islam had people who wanted malcolm killed because malcolm had not only exited the group, but he also spoke harshly against elijah mohammed. we have a confluence of different people. we have three people who were sentenced to prison, and there were allegedly five shooters. the first shooter who shoots malcolm with a gunshot through
his heart. that is going to be the fatal wound. there has always been controversy over who actually did it. there is a serious who killed malcolm x, that inspired new york state to reinvestigate the murder of malcolm x. there are still unanswered questions about who exactly killed malcolm x. i would say there are many different people who wanted malcolm x out of the way. that is going to include people connected to the nation of islam but also people connected to the fbi and the new york police department as well. susan: in short time, john f. kennedy was assassinated. medgar evers was assassinated. malcolm x was assassinated. how did this change martin luther king? dr. joseph: i think those assassinations helped turn king into this pillar of fire he
becomes in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968. the black power movement comes about. king is critical of the black power movement, but he is supportive of black power activists including carmichael, including smith. he starts to connect to racial and economic justice. he makes the argument materialism, racism and militantism are the triple evils facing humanity. he is very critical of white supremacy. he is very critical of racial segregation. the best example of where his politics are is when you think about the poor people campaign. he starts the poor people campaign with marian wright edelman. they are inspired by bobby kennedy saying bring poor people to washington, d.c. bobby kennedy goes to being a
critic of king to being someone who is more supportive. even though their personal relationship is never necessarily fully repaired. we think about the poor people's campaign, king makes the argument he is going to bring native americans, african americans to washington, d.c. and stay in washington, d.c. until all those people who are representative of the poor people in america have a universal basic income. i think that is truly extraordinary. he is assassinated on thursday, april 4, 1968 at 6:00 p.m. memphis time on the balcony of the lorraine motel, which is a civil rights museum. he was helping 1100 black sanitation workers on strike for a living wage. dr. martin luther king jr. to talk about his radicalism, he organizes the first occupy movement in the united states.
it is occupy washington, d.c. it is dr. king who try to organize a radical rainbow coalition of people of all colors and backgrounds to come to washington, d.c. and demand justice in a policy way. what is so extraordinary and this is one of the most moving parts of the book i think is when dr. king visits one of the poorest zip codes in the united states. it is segregated, black. the kids have no shoes. the parents are telling them they have no jobs. they have a little antipoverty headstart money. people are in bad shape. king had seen this throughout his career. king is in tears and weeping when he sees this. he says he is going to change this because this is a crime. he starts to speak in the language of malcolm x.
malcolm x had said the way in which black people are treated a -- was a crime. he says the next several weeks, constantly telling everybody, talks about marston, mississippi. he is in new york city, he talks about marston, mississippi. he is at the national cathedral in talks about marston, mississippi. he says the black poverty you see should be the shame of the nation. but that it can be repaired because the united states can achieve greatness. the deeper we look at martin luther king jr. and his politics, how they evolve, the more impressed we become because he become somebody willing to speak truth to power, who is deeply empathetic to poor people. these are people who society has deemed as worthless and not worth caring for. dr. king says not only are these
the people we should embrace, these are the people who should be central to our conceptions of american democracy. it becomes more impressive the deeper you read about it. susan: i'm going to play one last clip, which is from martin luther king in 1967. it brings a lot of these themes to bear. let's listen. [video clip] >> in the final analysis, it is the language of the unheard. what is it america that has failed to hear? it has failed to hear the plight of the negro has worsened. it has failed to hear the promise of freedom and justice has not been met. it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.
our riots are caused by our nation's records of delay. as long as america postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. susan: as we close, what should americans today think about the legacy of these two men? dr. joseph: i think they offer the chance of looking at our last generational opportunity to transform american democracy, to end institutionalized racism, to defeat white supremacy. i think they offer us hope, because for a few years, the united states was on that path. that opportunity receded and the country went in a different direction. the importance of dr. king and malcolm x is this idea of dignity and citizenship.
we can only talk about achieving our country and reimagining american democracy when we achieve black dignity and citizenship. by doing that, we reverberate human rights for all people. they give us an opportunity to think about human rights, to think about citizenship in an expansive way. they also show us what happens when a generational opportunity is missed. over the last 53 years, we have missed that opportunity. i think we have another one in front of us. they give us real historic lessons of what happens when opportunities are found and lost and how we can use this current opportunity to promote human rights through black dignity and citizenship for all people. susan: the book is the sword and shield. dr. joseph teaches at the university of texas. thank you for spending an hour with c-span. dr. joseph: thank you for having
me. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast at c-span.org. >> president biden's nominee for attorney general, judge merrick garland testifies before the senate judiciary committee today for his confirmation hearing. watch our live coverage at 9:30 a.m. eastern on c-span and c-span.org or listen live on the c-span radio app. coming up, wall street journal justice department reporter sadie german previews the
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