Alma Sheppard-Matsuo artwork

James Baldwin and Malcolm X Syllabus

In this interdisciplinary seminar we will closely examine the convergences and confluences of these two men’s political ideologies—and well as the worlds that shaped them. How did Malcolm X’s “version” of America differ from Baldwin’s, and in what ways? In what ways can we imagine Baldwin as X’s literary “brother”? How have the legacies of X and Baldwin shaped contemporary debates about the ethics of black rage, resistance, and/or protest? How did spirituality and faith (or a lack thereof) influence these men’s entry into the black freedom movement? Also, given that both of these men are often thought of as “revolutionaries” (albeit in different registers)—we will move through this course searching for an answer to a deceptively simple question: how did each of their definitions of “revolution” differ from one another? Lastly, what lessons do their writings offer us for considering the continued crisis of American race relations?

Our reading material will include The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X); Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary: The Writings and Speeches of Malcolm X (Malcolm X), The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin), Go Tell It On the Mountain (James Baldwin), Going To Meet the Man (James Baldwin) and James Cone’s Malcolm, and Martin, and America: Dream of a Nightmare. Our course will also include atleast two field trips—a walking tour of Harlem, as well as a visit to the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in the former site of the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm was assassinated in 1965.

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