Brief Book Note: James Cone’s “Martin & Malcolm & America”

I haven’t been reading as much as I used to, what with this administrative appointment, but I’m still reading and I still want to share something about what I’m reading with you all, gentle readers. However, I don’t have time to write up a proper review that could go into the “What Am I Reading?” series, so I’ve decided to write up a few shorter “Brief Book Notes.” Here’s the first one. (And yes, some of my students may have got me going with bitmojis...)

James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Orbis, 2012).

Sadly, my education was incredibly light on the African American experience, much less black theology, so I knew very little about Malcolm X and not much more about Martin Luther King, Jr. before I read this book. I did know, however, that James Cone (now, sadly, of blessed memory) would steer me right, having read a number of his books previously to my great benefit. And he didn’t disappoint.

In addition to simply learning a great deal about both these men, I really appreciated how Cone was able to trace their similarities, differences, and intersection. I gained a new appreciation of the disconnect between the Civil Rights Movement’s very real and positive achievements for African Americans in the southern states, and its virtual irrelevance for those in northern urban areas. This disconnect is very important, and Cone shows how King became alive to it especially after X’s death. I couldn’t count the number of times while reading this book that I was forced to reflect on parallels to our contemporary situation. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And I still find it amazing that King survived a decade and more as the Civil Rights Movement’s primary spokesperson, only to be assassinated once he became critical of capitalism and its war in Vietnam.

I’ll leave you with Cone’s own closing from the book (emphasis is mine):

We must declare where we stand on the great issues of our time. Racism is one of them. Poverty is another. Sexism is another. Class exploitation is another. Imperialism is another. We must break the cycle of violence in America and around the world. Human beings are meant for life and not death. They are meant for freedom and not slavery. They were created for each other and not against each other. We must, therefore, break down the barriers that separate people from one another. For Malcolm and Martin, for America and the world, and for all who have given their lives in the struggle for justice, let us direct out fight toward one goal – the beloved community of humankind. (318)


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