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Famous Thinkers Essay

This paper consists of a comparison of two famous thinkers. Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for being an symbolic individual in the improvement of civil rights in the United States and around the world. King is often shown as a courageous guide in the history of present American free-thinking (Clayborne). Second is Cornel West, who is known as an important and stimulating democratic scholar. He is best known for his classic Race Matters, Democracy Matters, and his new memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud (Biography.com).


Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the world’s best known activists of non-violent social change tactics. He combined ideas drawn from many different cultural traditions. King was rendered as the pre-eminent black speaker and civil rights activist. Due to his excellent debating skills and personal courage he achieved national fame. King also helped fund the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) where he stressed the goal of black voting rights (Clayborne).

Cornel West is an American Philosopher, a scholar of African American studies and a political activist. West’s work is typically wide-ranging, diverse, original and preemptive. He wrote several books that analyze issues of race, class and justice, tracing the history of social democracy, a Christian moral sensibility, and a philosophical orientation informed by the tradition of American practicality. West has participated in demonstrations, lent his name or even his presence to causes he feels are just (Biography.com).


Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His origins were in the African-American Baptist church. His grandfather was a pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church and a creator of Atlanta’s NAACP chapter, and his father followed his grandfather as Ebenezer’s pastor and also became a civil rights leader. Although, from an early age, King questioned literal readings of scripture, he still deeply admired black social gospel supporters such as his father who saw the church as a tool for advancing the lives of African Americans. Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays and other followers of Christian social involvement influenced King’s decision after his junior year at Morehouse to become a minister and thus serve society. His continued suspicion, however, shaped his following theological studies at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and at Boston University, where he obtained a doctorate in systematic theology in 1955. Declining offers for academic jobs, King decided while completing his Ph. D. requisites to return to the South and accepted the pastorate of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (Clayborne).

Cornel West was born on June 2, 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. West’s father was a civilian U.S. Air Force commissioner and his mother was a school teacher and ultimately a principal. Throughout West’s childhood, the family lived in an African American working-class community in Sacramento, California. There West often went to church at the local Baptist church, where he listened to moving declarations of poverty, fight, and faith from congregations whose grandparents had been slaves. Another inspiration on West during this time was the Black Panther Party, whose Sacramento headquarters were near the church he attended. The Panthers daunted upon him the significance of political involvement at the local level and familiarized him to the writings of Karl Marx (Biography.com).

Problems they sought to solve:

Martin Luther King was trying to solve the racial equality problem. In the 1950’s, the egalitarianism of man intended by the Declaration of Independence was far from existence. People of all colors were shown prejudice against in many ways. The 1950’s were a unsettled time in America, when racial obstacles began to come down due to Supreme Court decisions, like Brown v. Board of Education; and due to an surge in the activism of blacks, struggling for equal rights (Mount).

Cornel West is trying to make people aware of the crisis of black leadership in the United States. West tackles the difficult issue of race headlong. He tangibly and unwaveringly look at the problems afflicting the black community and America’s dealings with it, and gives respected ideas on plans for liberal action. West even warned President Obama that the quality of life is defined by its moral commitment, that his legacy will be determined by his willingness to defy the cruel assault by the corporate state and the financial elite against the poor and working men and women, and that justice must never be sacrificed on the altar of power (Hedges, 2011). Solutions:

Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to bring together a great march on Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. The march was for jobs and freedom and included other religious leaders, labor leaders and black organizers. The accumulated masses marched down the Washington Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial; they listen to songs from Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and heard speeches by actor Charlton Heston, NAACP president Roy Wilkins, and future U.S. Representative from Georgia John Lewis. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was the last event and was carried live on major television networks. This speech was credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Mount).

Cornel West has been a political activist as well as an academic. He doesn’t hesitate to participate in demonstrations or to appear for a cause he believes in. His best work, Race Matters, is a collection of essays that was published. The book discusses the widespread despair and negativism of African Americans in poverty and criticized African American leaders for pursuing approaches that West believed were thoughtless, narrow-minded, or self-serving. Soon West will be starting the Poverty Tour, he will be going on a road trip to highlight the dilemma of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or portrayed invisible during this difficult and dangerous time of economic deficiency and political weakness (The Poverty Tour).

Creative Process: Martin Luther King v. Cornel West

| Martin Luther King, Jr.| Cornel West|

First Stage:Searching for challenges| Push for racial equality in the 1950’s and 1960’s| Push for the importance of political activism, and the crisis of black leadership in today’s world| Second Stage:Expressing | How can I protest non-violently for the equality of man?| How can I show the importance of political activism in today’s world?| Third Stage:Investigating| Synthesized ideas drawn from many different cultures, and used Gandhian non-violent strategies| Used his educational background and was influenced by the Black Panthers and the writings of Karl Marx| Fourth Stage:Producing Ideas| Mass marchesSit in’sSpeeches| Wrote several booksPolitical activistParticipate in demonstrationsPromote just causes |


After reviewing these two men and their ideas I have to ask myself, “what could they have done differently?” I believe Martin Luther King, Jr. was on the right track. He wanted to push for racial equality for all men and he wanted to do this peacefully. He did not want to fight fire with fire, so when opposing parties would shoot the peaceful demonstrations with water guns he would stand his ground and stayed non-violent. Even after his house was bombed and he was physically beaten, King still stayed true to his cause. He did not back down. He got important figures involved in his cause to bring it to light more and more. King was a great man and I do not think he could have done too much differently.

I think Cornel West also has a just cause. He is pushing for political activism and this is especially important in today’s world. More and more political figures are liars and we the people as a nation need to stand up and do something about this. If we continue to let these people rule us, then we are responsible for the state we end up in. I think that West could try to get more popular faces to support his cause to get the cause more out in the open. I, for one, had never even heard of Cornel West before this paper, and I feel that he truly has a point. If he could get more publicity I think he will go down in history like Martin Luther King, Jr., and be remembered as an iconic figure for his role in the turn of events that our economy now faces.

Cornel West. (2011). Biography.com. Retrieved 03:08, Jul 31 2011 from http://www.biography.com/articles/Cornel-West-9528216 Dr. Cornel West Biography. (2005, January 13). Retrieved July 31, 2011, from peralta: http://www.peralta.cc.ca.us/laney/laney-opacs/Cornel%20West%20Biography.htm Clayborne, C. (n.d.). Biography of Martin Luther King Jr. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from Martin Luther King Online: http://www.mlkonline.net/bio.html Hedges, C. (2011, May 16). The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from truthdig: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_obama_deception_why_cornel_west_went_ballistic_20110516/ Mount, S. (n.d.). The I Have a Dream Speech. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from The US Constitution Online: http://www.usconstitution.net/dream.html The Poverty Tour. (n.d.). Retrieved July 31, 2011, from The Poverty Tour: http://www.povertytour.smileyandwest.com/

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