A dual biography of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King that transforms our understanding of the twentieth century's most iconic African American leaders
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are the two most iconic figures of the Civil Rights movement. To most Americans, Malcolm and Martin represent contrasting political ideals -- self-defense vs. non-violence, anger vs. pacifism, separatism vs. integration, the sword vs. the shield. The Civil Rights movement itself has suffered the same fate: while non-violent direct action is remembered today as an unalloyed good and an unassailable part of our democracy, the movement's combative militancy has been either vilified or erased outright. In The Sword and the Shield, acclaimed historian Peniel Joseph offers a dual biography of Malcolm and Martin and a more nuanced narrative that pushes us to completely reconsider these two leaders as well as the era they came to define. The Sword and the Shield reimagines Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. not as antagonists, but as two political revolutionaries who confronted the same problem from different perspectives. Examining their political lives next to one another provides a more complicated, but ultimately more satisfying, understanding of these men and the times they shaped. Despite markedly different family histories, religious affiliations, and class backgrounds, Malcolm and Martin found common ground on a wide range of issues. Each inspired the other to engage political views that he had rejected in the past. Malcolm's push to connect pan-Africanism to an international human rights agenda mirrored the multiculturalism that Martin eloquently articulated at the March on Washington. Similarly, the anti-war activism and anti-poverty campaigns of Martin's final years unleashed a stinging critique of racism, militarism, and materialism that echoed Malcolm's impassioned anti-colonialism. In short, King was more revolutionary, and Malcolm more pragmatic, than we've been told. This will stand as the definitive dual history of these two lives for years to come.