Q&A: ‘The Sword and the Shield’ author shares how Malcolm X and MLK had more in common than is often believed

image of author and book coverThe metaphorical meaning behind the title of Peniel Joseph’s new book “The Sword and the Shield” (Basic Books, 2020) may seem obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of the civil rights movement: The shield represents Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent quest for radical citizenship, and the sword represents Malcolm X’s bold pursuit for Black dignity by any means necessary.

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This book has been selected for this fall’s UT Reads campaign! You can read more about it on the Human Resources website.

Yet a deeper look into the personal and political journeys of these civil rights icons shows us a different side of the story. We caught up with Joseph, the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, during his book tour to learn more about the contrasting and, at times, overlapping political ideologies of Malcolm X and King—and how they both brought the sword and the shield to the fight for Black freedom and equality.

Why is it so important to look back at this history to understand what we’re seeing out in the streets?
It’s vitally important because Malcolm X and Dr. King were active in America’s second reconstruction. Now I think we’re entering the third reconstruction, and we need to have an understanding of how we got to this point. The title of this book is a metaphor for Malcolm X being the political sword and Dr. King being the political shield. But really, they’re both; they want to defend lives, and they’re willing to courageously speak truth to power no matter the consequences. Looking back at this point in history helps us reimagine democracy today to push for racial justice.

Did you come across anything new or surprising in your research?

I didn’t know the extent of Malcolm X’s support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act until I further looked into his visit to the U.S. Senate, when he and Dr. King had their first and only meeting during a filibuster. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Penn Warren later interviewed Malcolm X for his book “Who Speaks for the Negro?” and asked him what he thought of Dr. King. Malcolm told him they shared the same goals; they had different methods, but they both wanted human dignity.

I also didn’t know, until doing this research, that Malcolm X actually sat in on a speech that Dr. King gave in Harlem on Dec. 17, 1964, and later praised that speech to his own group. A couple months later, he tried to visit Dr. King in jail during the voting rights protests in Selma. He wasn’t allowed to visit, but he did speak with Coretta Scott King after delivering a speech to let her know that he wanted to help the voting rights act succeed. So there really was much more convergence with them in terms of dignity and human rights.

How, in your opinion, can Black Lives Matter advocates see themselves in both Malcolm X and King?

Malcolm X and Dr. King both faced police brutality and wanted a transformation of the criminal justice system. Malcolm X was in talks with the New York Police Department to stop racially profiling and to stop the no-knock and stop-and-frisk policies. Dr. King fought for this, too, in Harlem and Los Angeles. They didn’t succeed, so you have this whole other generation over 50 years later saying they don’t want to live like this. They don’t want to have this kind of punishment and criminalization at the expense of tens of millions of people.

Dr. King said in his final speech, “The greatness of America is the right to protest for right.” That makes us the country that we are—freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the idea that when there’s a grand mistake, we can correct it collectively.

What would you like your readers to take away from this book?

I want people to better explain the movement and to help others realize we’ve been here before. We’ve had opportunities in the past and movements of real progress, but then we get fatigued. There have been movements of urban rebellions, civil disturbances and race riots, but instead of finding the root origins of these problems, we went in the other direction of mass incarceration and demonization. We chose law and order over the good of the beloved community.

That path that we took brought us here—52 years after Dr. King’s death—where we are racially segregated, impoverished and massively divided. I’d like for people to understand that we were here before, we’ve made the wrong choice, and we have the opportunity now to make the right choice. We have to transform policy, and we have to transform hearts and minds and understand that antiracism and racial justice is a constant lifetime of work.

Dr. King used to say that the civil rights movement was about redeeming the nation’s soul, and I think he was absolutely right. At the core, we are absolutely good, but if we aren’t vigilant, we can do terrible things to each other.

Watch him discuss his new book in this Q&A produced by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.


Jeremi Suri: How to Make America Great Again

cvr9781439119129_97814391191293In a world rife with political and economic turmoil, President Obama’s re-election campaign has been put to the test. From the rolling economic crisis in Europe, to the intensifying conflict in Syria, to the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a daunting array of global issues have complicated the 2012 presidential election.

Recent headlines from around the world reinforce a reality for Obama and any of his successors: Nation-building can only work when the people own it. Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, argues that the United States has too often forgotten this truth over the course of its history of foreign policy.

This is one of the five principles of successful nation-building that Suri outlines in his book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” (Free Press, Sept. 2011). In what he calls “the five Ps,” he draws a new model for building successful relationships overseas and abroad.

The book, now available in paperback, combs through more than 200 years of U.S. policy to explain the successes and failures of nation-building operations.

Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discusses the many reasons why American citizens need to dream beyond the world they live in today.

Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discusses the many reasons why American citizens need to dream beyond the world they live in today.

From Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, to the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq, Suri draws lessons from past mistakes and offers a plan for moving forward.

Although “Liberty’s Surest Guardian” focuses on politics and foreign policy, the patterns of change apply to all areas of life, Suri says. In this eight-part Knowledge Matters video series, watch him discuss the importance of nation-building – and why dreaming big is a critical component of societal progress.

Two Faculty Authors Discuss their Works at Game Changers Double Header

game2Watch two distinguished liberal arts professors discuss their research at a Game Changers double header on Wednesday, March 28. The tapings are free and open to the public.

1 p.m. Wednesday, March 28
Paul Woodruff: Are You Ajax or Odysseus?

In his book “The Ajax Dilemma,” (Oxford University Press, Oct. 2011) Paul Woodruff, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies and professor of philosophy, uses a parable from classical Greece to shed light on a very contemporary business dilemma: how to reward outstanding players without damaging the team.

Tapping into his experience as a boss, a professor, an officer and an employee, Woodruff uses his broad perspective to issue an intriguing call for a compassionate approach to fairness.

Meet a Game Changer: Paul Woodruff

Meet a Game Changer: Paul Woodruff

Woodruff is the Darrell K. Royal Professor in Ethics and American Society. He joined the university faculty in 1973 and has been chair of the Department of Philosophy and director of the Plan II Honors Program. He also served on the Task Force on Curricular Reform.

Specializing in ancient Greek philosophy, Woodruff has written a number of definitive translations of works by Plato, Sophocles and others. In addition, he has authored books that interpret classical philosophy for political, business or personal situations in contemporary lives. He won the 1986 Harry Ransom Teaching Award and was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 1997. He holds degrees from Princeton and Oxford.

6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 28
Jeremi Suri: Can America Be Great Again?

After the Second World War, American society benefited from unprecedented peace and prosperity. What was key to this success? Americans were very strategic in their

Meet a Game Changer: Jeremi Suri

Meet a Game Changer: Jeremi Suri

deployment of historical wisdom, drawing upon the experiences, institutions and knowledge acquired in earlier decades to build our nation.

So far, Americans have not shown the same wisdom in the 21st century. Our society is suffering. The time has come for Americans to reawaken their historical wisdom, analyzing the recent past to identify the key ideas and institutions that will allow our society to thrive once more. Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and LBJ School of Public Affairs, will examine our national history and will show how this history should empower citizens to reinvent American greatness again.

Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and professorships in history and public policy. He is the author of five books on contemporary politics and foreign policy including “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” ( Free Press, Sept. 2011). Suri’s research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America’s “Top Young Innovators” in the arts and sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media.

The talks are in Studio 6A at the KLRU studios. Sign up to attend one taping or both. Go to this website for more details.

University of Texas at Austin Faculty Authors Discuss their Books on C-SPAN2 Book TV

This weekend, be sure to tune in to C-SPAN2 Book TV to watch two University of Texas at Austin professors discuss their books.

American Studies Professor Julia Mickenberg will discuss her book “Tales for Little Rebels” on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 12:45 p.m., and on Monday, Nov. 14 at 12:45 p.m.

Little_Rebel_webSynopsis: Rather than teaching children to obey authority, to conform, or to seek redemption through prayer, 20th century leftists encouraged children to question the authority of those in power. “Tales for Little Rebels” collects 43 mostly out-of-print stories, poems, comic strips, primers, and other texts for children that embody this radical tradition. These pieces reflect the concerns of  20th century leftist movements, like peace, civil rights, gender equality, environmental responsibility, and the dignity of labor. They also address the means of achieving these ideals, including taking collective action, developing critical thinking skills, and harnessing the liberating power of the imagination.

Sanford Levinson, professor of law, will discuss his book “Constitutional Faith” on Sunday, Nov. 18 at noon and 7:15 p.m., and on Monday, Nov. 19 at 12 p.m.


Synopsis: In this intriguing book, Levinson examines the history and the substance of our ‘civil religion’ of the Constitution. Echoes of this tradition are still heard in debates over whether the constitutional holy writ includes custom, secondary texts and history or is restricted to scriptural fundamentalism. Of equal age and intensity is the battle over the proper role of the priests. Is the Constitution what the Justices say it is or does it have a life of its own?

Interviews scheduled for broadcast the following weekend include:

· Steven Weinberg, professor in the departments of physics and astronomy, will discuss “Lake Views” on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12 p.m.

· Lewis Gould, professor emeritus of history, will discuss “My Dearest Nellie” and “Theodore Roosevelt” on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 10:30 a.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12:30 p.m.

· Robert Auerbach, professor of public affairs, will discuss “Deception and Abuse at the Fed” on Nov. 20 at 10:40 a.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12:40 p.m.

A C-SPAN film crew interviewed the faculty members in the university’s Main Building on Oct. 24 following a weekend of covering the annual Texas Book Festival in Austin. Broadcast dates and times for the other faculty members interviewed for the C-SPAN2 Book TV program will be announced later.

The other faculty members are:

Martha Menchaca, professor  in the Department of anthropology, discussing “Naturalizing Mexican Immigrants”
James Galbraith, professor in the Department of Government and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussing “The Predator State”
Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussing “Liberty’s Surest Guardian”
Ami Pedahzur, professor in the Departments of Government and Middle Eastern Studies, discussing “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Toward Terrorism”
Neil Foley, professor in the Departments of History and American Studies, discussing “Quest for Equality”

“Liberty’s Surest Guardian” Author Draws New Model for Nation-Building

suri_newsreleaseSince the days of the American Revolution, nation-building has been deeply embedded in America’s DNA. Yet no other country has created more problems for itself and for others by pursuing impractical reconstruction efforts in war-torn nations, argues Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

In his new book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama,” Suri examines more than 200 years of U.S. policy to explain the successes and failures of nation-building operations. From Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, to Japan and Germany after World War II, to the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq, he draws lessons from past mistakes and offers a plan for moving forward.

According to his analysis, the key to successful nation-building is to follow five principles:

Partners: Nation-building always requires partners; there must be communication between people on the ground and people in distant government offices.

Process: Human societies do not follow formulas. Nation-building is a process which does not produce clear, quick results.

Problem-solving: Leadership must start small, addressing basic problems. Public trust during a period of occupation emerges from the fulfillment of basic needs.

Purpose: Small beginnings must serve larger purposes. Citizens must see the value in what they’re doing.

People: Nation-building is about people. Large forces do not move history. People move history.
Suri recently sat down with ShelfLife@Texas to discuss the book and its implications for American politics at home and abroad.


Why is nation-building a part of American DNA?

The founding of the United States in the late 18th century was a radical nation-building project. A small group of people living in British North America sought to create a new kind of government in a vast territory that was representative, free and unified. Their success became the expectation for all American politics at home and abroad to this day. Americans continue to assume that others want to live with a similar kind of government. Americans continue to believe that a world with similar governments will be safer and more prosperous. From the late 18th century to the present, the basic American vision of change is nation-building on the American model.

In your book, you provide examples of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. What do you hope your readers will take away from the concept of starting small to serve a larger purpose?

In a time of deep partisanship and difficult economic circumstances, too many people (especially students) believe that change is impossible. Too many people think they have to accept the world as it is. That is wrong! The record of history shows that people, especially young people, can improve the world by bringing diverse citizens together to work on common problems. This has been the American experience with nation-building, when it has worked best. We need serious nation-building at home and abroad today. I remain optimistic that our young citizens are poised to become another generation of nation-builders.

Could you give me an example of a mistake that is often repeated in America’s history of nation-building? And what we are getting right?

A common mistake is to seek simple shortcuts to nation-building. This often involves empowering a “good dictator” who Americans hope will push a society to change. That almost never works. “Good dictators” are quickly corrupted, they inspire resistance, and they always lose touch with the world of their citizens. Nation-building is a slow process, it requires the kinds of patience and institution-building that Americans often neglect.

Americans are idealists about cultural cooperation. Almost alone, Americans tend to assume that culture is not destiny; that diverse citizens can work together. Most other societies assume otherwise. Americans have consistently sought to build pluralistic nations of diverse peoples at home and abroad. That is the positive side of nation-building. It is the best alternative to cultural ghettoization.

In your book, you examine the failures of American nation-building in Vietnam during the Cold War. Which of the “Five Ps” (the five principles of nation-building) went missing during this turning point in history?

Many scholars, especially at The University of Texas at Austin, have written great books on Vietnam. I draw on their work to argue that Americans were intoxicated with their perceived power in the 1950s and 1960s. They thought they could change societies unilaterally. American efforts in Vietnam failed because Americans neglected the needs, desires and capabilities of the Vietnamese living in both the North and the South. This was nation-building doomed to failure.

As one of your “Five Ps,” you state that problem solving is an essential part of nation-building. How does this principle factor into the United State’s nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

In Afghanistan and Iraq the United States was not prepared to solve the problems that dominated the lives of most citizens. The people of both societies wanted security and an improved standard of living. The United States overthrew the oppressive governing regimes, but it did not improve security or living standards in the first years of both occupations. In fact, things initially got worse for most citizens in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Which principle do you think President Barack Obama should focus on as he works to extricate U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan?

As the United States withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan it must build productive partnerships with local groups and regional powers in both areas. The United States must re-double its efforts to support institutions that will contribute to stable, participatory and uncorrupt government. The United States must support nation-building, led by local and regional actors.

Watch a video on YouTube about the concepts explored in Suri’s new book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian.”

About the Author:
A leading scholar of international history and global affairs, Suri is the first holder of the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. “Liberty’s Surest Guardian” is his fourth book.

A reading with Nadine Eckhardt

Nadine Eckhardt will read from her memoir Duchess of Palms on March 31 at 5:30 p.m. in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

In her funny and honest memoir, Eckhardt tells the remarkable story of a “fifties girl” who lived through the politically powerful men in her life, acclaimed political novelist Bill Brammer and, later, U.S. Congressman Bob Eckhardt.

From her beginnings as a teenage “Duchess of Palms” beauty queen, to her entrée into the political and literary circles of Washington D.C. and Austin, Eckhardt lets the reader in on the private journey of a woman who was able to come into her own as a writer, restaurateur and assistant to beloved columnist and political commentator Molly Ivins.

Nadine Eckhardt

Nadine Eckhardt

Joining Eckhardt will be her daughter Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County Commissioner and LBJ School alumna. Following Eckhardt’s reading, they will discuss the political roles and opportunities that have expanded for women since the time of LBJ when Nadine Eckhardt came of age.

For more information on the event with Nadine Eckhardt, visit the Center for Politics and Governance’s web site.

For an interview with Nadine Eckhardt, visit the Austin American-Statesman.

Professor Discusses the Economic Crisis and the Road Ahead

Last August, LBJ School of Public Affairs Professor James K. Galbraith’s prescient book “The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too” was published by Free Press.

Less than a month later, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG stunned a nation already reeling from the government takeover of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Galbraith, who will discuss his book tonight in an event co-sponsored by the College of Communication Senior Fellows honors program and the LBJ School, answered a few questions for ShelfLife about his book, the ongoing financial crisis, his opinion on the Obama stimulus plan, and what we can expect for the future.

Q: In light of economic developments that have arisen since the publication of “The Predator State,” what do you think you got right?

A: Basically everything. I basically called the crisis and the cause of the crisis quite accurately. Not to say that it was by any means accidental. I was quite prepared for the crisis and saw it coming.

Q: What are your thoughts on President Obama’s proposed stimulus plan?

A: I think the bill should pass and it should pass quickly. However, people shouldn’t look to it to solve the crisis by itself. I think it would be a good step taken in short order by Congress, but we are going to need a much deeper faction on a broader scale to solve this problem.

Q: If you were to write a sequel to “The Predator State,” what would the central themes be?

A: I think it probably will be the great crisis we are experiencing now and the dismal science of economists and their professional definitions of economics. Also, I want to answer the question of why they were all so totally out to lunch when all of this was taking place.

Galbraith will discuss his book and the current economic outlook tonight at 7 p.m. at the Thompson Conference Center. Visit the calendar for more information.