In his 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote these prophetic words: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.” More than five decades later the chaos is all too apparent: When we look around we are faced with a raging pandemic with its mounting death toll, acute economic distress, a climate in peril and the fury of the January 6th insurrection and all that was behind it. We are at a proverbial crossroads. Collective action can address these problems. We can choose. Will it be chaos or community?
The Lost Cause is rooted in the South’s search for justification and the need to find a substitute for victory in the Civil War. In attempting to deal with defeat, the South created an image of the war as a noble epic fought by brave men. The war, the mythology goes, wasn’t about preserving slavery it was about Southern values. Monuments to Confederate soldiers and the naming of military bases not only glorifies militarism but are everyday reminders of white supremacy and the subordination of slaves. Slavery, free labor for centuries, created huge wealth for the plantation master class. To heal and repair we need an honest accounting of history. Some monuments have come down and military bases may be renamed. We can’t continue to mythologize the past.
James Baldwin was one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. In this moment of racial reckoning, his life and work are being discovered and rediscovered. He was born in 1924 and died in 1987. He graduated from high school in New York but was otherwise self-taught. He said, “I love America more than any other country in the world.” That's why I reserve “the right to perpetually criticize her.” And criticize he did. In his classic essays such as The Fire Next Time and Notes of a Native Son and his novels Go Tell it on the Mountain and Another Country, he wrote about the white power structure, systemic racism, police brutality, sexism, homophobia, inequality and predatory capitalism.
Michael Eric Dyson, a globally renowned scholar of race, religion and contemporary culture, is the Centennial Chair and University Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. A dynamic speaker, he lectures widely. Among his many books are April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King’s Death and How it Changed America, Tears We Cannot Stop, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, and Jay-Z: Made in America.
Jeffery Robinson is a deputy legal director and the director of the ACLU Trone Center for Justice and Equality.
Eddie Glaude Jr. is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton, where he is also the Chair of the Center for African American Studies and the Chair of the Department of African American Studies. He is the author of Democracy in Black and Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.
Cornel West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard. He has been called “the preeminent African American intellectual of his generation.” With his preacher-like cadences and passionate delivery, he is much in demand as a speaker. Among his many books are Race Matters, The Rich and the Rest of Us and Black Prophetic Fire.