James Baldwin and Malcolm X Syllabus

Frank Leon Roberts

By Any Means Necessary: The Political Philosophies of Malcolm X and James Baldwin
New York University
Fall 2015

Prof. Frank Leon Roberts

Fall 2015 Office Hours: By Appointment

Room 429, 1 Washington Place (The Gallatin School)

This course considers the overlapping lives and legacies of two revolutionary figures whose influence on the American civil rights movement was profound and far reaching: Malcolm X and James Baldwin. Though the American public rarely imagined them as political bedfellows in their time, a closer inspection of their lives reveals striking autobiographical similarities. Both were born as the sons of Baptist ministers. Both left Christianity behind in favor of spiritual affiliations that they felt were more favorable for black Americans (for X/Shabazz it was Islam, for Baldwin it was agnosticism). Both were legends in New York City’s Harlem community. One lived in France (Baldwin), while the other was publican banned from that same country (X). Both were deemed by the media as angry “spokesmen” for Black America in the 1960s. Moreover, it was an early screenplay on X’s life written by Baldwin that formed the basis of American director Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed 1992 film, “Malcolm X.”


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.

Required Reading
1. Alex Haley and Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
2. George Breitman, Ed. Malcom X Speaks (1994)
3. George Breitman, Last Year of Malcom X: Evolution of a Revolutionary (1970)
4. James Cone, Malcolm, Martin, and America: Dream or Nightmare (1991)
5. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
6. James Baldwin, Another Country (1962)
7. James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain (1952)

Meeting Schedule

Part I:  The Art and Lives of James Baldwin

Frank Leon Roberts

 

9/3 Introduction
Opening Lecture: “Malcolm, Baldwin, and America”
• Screening: “The Negro and the American Promise” (WGBH, Boston. 1963) (25 Min. Excerpt Only)
• Screening: “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” (American Masters, 1989) (25 Min. Excerpt Only)

9/10 Malcolm and Baldwin’s Black Prophetic Fire: What It Was and Why It Matters
Reading (Short Essays):
• Cornel West, “Revolutionary Fire: Malcolm X” in Black Prophetic Fire (2015)
• —————, “Why Malcolm X Still Speaks Truth to Power,Smithsonian Magazine, (June 15, 2015)
• Henry Louis Gates, “The Fire Last Time” in James Baldwin, Ed. Harold Bloom, (2006)
• James Baldwin, “JamesBaldwin-InSearchofaMajority” (1960)


9/17 Baldwin and Malcolm’s Harlem (Harlem Walking Tour)
Course meets at 4pm on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue
Reading:
• James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1952) (First Half)

9/24 James Baldwin’s God
• James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain (Second Half)
• Clarence Hardy, “James Baldwin as Religious Writer” in James Baldwin: A Historical Guide

10/1 Keeping the Casket Open: Baldwin, Democracy and the Blues
• In-Class Lecture (Frank Roberts): “Keeping the Casket Open: Baldwin, Democracy, and the Blues”

Read: James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie (1964)

10/8 Baldwin’s Bluesmen
• James Baldwin “Going to Meet the Man,” (Short Story)
• James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues” (Short Story) (1965)
• First 50 pages of Another Country (1965)

10/15 Baldwin, Jazz, and the Unexamined Life
• In-Class Lecture (Frank Roberts): “Another Country and the Unexamined Life”

Read: James Baldwin, Another Country (1965)

10/22 James Baldwin and the American Civil Rights Movement
• James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

Part II: The Life “Stages” of Malcolm X

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10/29 Why Malcolm’s Early Black Life Matters  

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• Malcolm X/Alex H., The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Chs. 1-10
• Robin Kelley, “The Riddle of the Zoot: Malcolm Little and Cultural Politics” kelley_-_riddle_of_the_zoot.pdf
• In-Class Excerpt of first 45 minutes of Malcolm X (Dir. Spike Lee)

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11/5 Becoming Malcolm X: Incarceration and Early Ministry
• Malcolm X/Alex H., The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Chs. 11-15
• Guest Lecture: Zaheer Ali (Columbia University)

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11/12 Malcolm X and the American Civil Rights Movement
• George Breitman, ed. Malcolm X Speaks (Excerpts)
• In-Class Excerpt of 45 minutes of Malcolm X (Dir. Spike Lee)

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11/19 Malcolm, Martin, and America
• James Cone, Malcolm, Martin, and America: A Dream or Nightmare
• In-Class Excerpt Viewing: Baldwin and Malcolm Debate (1963)

 

12/3 Becoming El Hajj Malik Shabazz: Malcolm’s Evolution
• George Breitman, Last Year of Malcom X: Evolution of a Revolutionary (first-half)
• Course Meets at The Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Center in Harlem

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12/10 Becoming El Haji Malik Shabazz: Malcolm’s Evolution
• George Breitman, Last Year of Malcom X: Evolution of a Revolutionary (continued)