Note: This month, we will be posting daily items in honor of Black History Month:
Cornel Ronald West (born June 2, 1953) is an American scholar, public intellectual, philosopher, critic, pastor, and civil rights activist. West currently serves as the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University, where he teaches in the Center for African American Studies and in the department of Religion. West is known for his combination of political and moral insight and criticism, and his contribution to the post-1960s civil rights movement. The bulk of his work focuses upon the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their “radical conditionedness”. West draws intellectual contributions from such diverse traditions as the African American Baptist Church, pragmatism and transcendentalism.
West was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The grandson of a preacher, West marched as a young man in civil rights demonstrations and organized protests demanding black studies courses at his high school. West later wrote that, in his youth, he admired “the sincere black militancy of Malcolm X, the defiant rage of the Black Panther Party […] and the livid black theology of James Cone.” After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento, California, where he served as president of his high school class, he enrolled at Harvard University at age 17. He took classes from philosophers Robert Nozick and Stanley Cavell and graduated in three years, magna cum laude in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization in 1973. He was determined to press the university and its intellectual traditions into the service of his political agendas and not the other way around: to have its educational agendas imposed on him. “Owing to my family, church, and the black social movements of the 1960s”, he says, “I arrived at Harvard unashamed of my African, Christian, and militant de-colonized outlooks. More pointedly, I acknowledged and accented the empowerment of my black styles, mannerisms, and viewpoints, my Christian values of service, love, humility, and struggle, and my anti-colonial sense of self-determination for oppressed people and nations around the world.”