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Reaching Out to the Post-Civil Rights Generation

The decade of the 1990s saw the emergence of a number of Black scholars whose speeches and writings on race reached a broad audience of Americans and were hailed as public intellectuals. This decade, Black intellectuals, representing the most recent generation of scholars and public figures in their 30s and 40s, have begun to make themselves heard on a variety of topics, including post-civil rights politics, the impact of hip-hop culture and race relations.

Any serious list of these newly influential Black public intellectuals should include Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. Although Glaude may be best known as a collaborator with Dr. Cornel West and talk show host Tavis Smiley on the efforts that launched the Covenant With Black America, his writings and speeches on post-civil rights politics, including In A Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, stand to definitively shape the thinking of Blacks and others born during and after the civil rights movement.

Glaude’s In A Shade of Blue, published in 2007, urges African-Americans to be mindful of the civil rights experience, but avoid “fixed ideas and categories of the past” that could limit the impact of Black political action. He contends that the ideas of pragmatism elaborated by American philosopher John Dewey are appropriate to the renewal of African-American politics.

A native of Moss Point, Miss., Glaude says his career owes much of its current prominence to mentorship by leading senior scholars, rigorous self-study and intellectual discipline, and good fortune. Raised in a working-class family, Glaude credits his parents with making education the highest priority for Glaude, his brother and two sisters.

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve been in the right places to connect with people who’ve helped and influenced me enormously,” he notes.

There’s currently an all-star cast of Black scholars based at Princeton that includes two of Glaude’s former mentors. They are West and Dr. Albert Raboteau, a professor of religion and African-American studies, who now count themselves as friends and colleagues of the young scholar.

West helped recruit Glaude, who had been in the African-American studies Ph.D. program at Temple University in the early 1990s, to Princeton where Glaude eventually earned his doctorate in religion. Glaude had originally gone to Temple because of the inauguration of its African-American studies Ph.D. program, the first such program in the United States. At Princeton, Glaude’s intellectual interest in Black nationalism, which had been his preoccupation while at Temple, led him to document its U.S. roots in Black religious practices from the early 19th century. In 2000, Glaude saw the publication of Exodus!: Religion, Race and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America, the culmination of his research on Black nationalism’s basis in African-American religion.

“What Glaude has done is to locate Black nationalism much more centrally in the mainstream emergences of the Black churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal church. … He broke new ground in the understanding of Black religious thought and identity. I see widespread references to that book,” Raboteau says.

A political science major at Morehouse College, Glaude initially encountered theology and Black nationalist politics while studying those subjects in religion and African-American history courses. It was also at Morehouse where Glaude would form friendships with fellow students who are the founding members of The Jamestown Project, a Massachusetts-based action-oriented think tank of diverse young leaders.

Prior to joining the Princeton faculty, Glaude spent six years teaching at Bowdoin College in Maine. His SUNY Stony Brook sociologist wife, Dr. Winnifred Brown-Glaude, was teaching at the University of Southern Maine then. “It was a wonderful time. My wife and I were raising our son. I was researching and improving my teaching skills,” he recalls.

Glaude says his move to Princeton coincided with West returning to Princeton from Harvard in the fall 2002. Since then, the two as well as Raboteau have closely worked together and collaborated on projects that have brought attention to the scholars.

“He’s been a student of mine, and he’s been a student of Cornel West. He has the same breadth of interests as West, the same eloquence; he’s a charismatic teacher. These are qualities that allow him to have a public forum,” Raboteau says.

Title: The William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University

Education: Ph.D., Religion, Princeton University; M.A., Religion, Princeton University; M.A., African-American Studies, Temple University; B.A., Political Science, Morehouse College

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