Book Review: The Sword and the Shield

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) The Sword and the Shield – Peniel E. Joseph

As someone with only a passing knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I found this book to be fascinating and completely compelling. Like many people my age (40 something) I grew up celebrating MLK Day and learning the history of the Civil Rights Movement as MLK and his ‘good’ non-violent strategies vs. Malcom X and his ‘bad’ radical/violent strategies. Clearly, this version of history is extremely limited if not simply untrue and most certainly does not capture the complex and nuanced nature of these men and the Civil Rights Movement in America. 

I recently listened to the Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley and found that hearing his own words and perspective allows for a much more in-depth understanding of the man and his motivations. Peniel E. Joseph continues in this tradition of discussing both MLK and Malcolm X’s experiences and understandings of the world to better grasp the underlying reasons for their particular strategies throughout the Civil Rights era. I also appreciated that Joseph allowed and documented the changes in philosophy of both leaders throughout their lives. These men were complex, imperfect, and learned from their life experience (both good and bad) thus, they were not the monoliths that our history makes them out to be, but rather they were humans, doing the best they could with the resources they had to bring more justice to the people they loved. 

I found this history to be very readable, never dull, and full of insights that caused me to stop and think about my own perceptions of MLK, Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as my own complicity in the systems of harm that continually allow and encourage injustice in our society.  I have no reservations about recommending this book to everyone! 

Read on my friends!

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