The Philodemic Room
March 17, 2016
The Society gathered to debate Resolved: Malcolm X was a better civil rights leader than Martin Luther King, Jr. On the affirmation, Chancellor Madeleine Ringwald (COL ’16) of New York spoke with Ms. Caroline Provost (COL ’19) of Massachusetts, making her induction. On the negation, Mr. Patrick Musgrave (COL ’16) of Indiana spoke with Mr. James Pennell (SFS ’18) of South Carolina, making his induction.
Ms. Provost opened the debate thanking the ‘grand and eternal’ Philodemic. She described the tough early life of Malcolm X, who was forced to move because of white suprmacists, converted to the Nation of Islam, and was assassinated in 1965. She summed up the central debate as between non-violence and self-defense, not aggression. Malcolm X supported self-defense, was anti-integration, but did not want to exclude non-whites. Ms. Provost argued that Malcolm X sought equality through black liberation, the freedom to have a movement centered on black people.
Mr. Pennell thanked the audience, including two Catholic priests in attendance. He argued that both men were motivated by anger at racism, but Martin Luther King defined the end of man as love, contending that violence is a descending spiral. Even in the midst of violent attacks on black protestors, MLK held to a higher moral law, based on our common humanity. Ultimately this vision, though harder, elevates the human person through the diverse union of all cultures.
Chancellor Ringwald took the stand, aiming to dispel the dichotomy of peace/violence by pointing out that MLK used non-violence as a political strategy. She asked the Society, do black protestors owe white people the other cheek? Arguing that the victories of the civil rights movement resulted in largely toothless legislation, Chancellor Ringwald demanded what the real payoff was. Malcolm X would not accept white violence, grounded in his lived experience of white racism. Malcolm X had a vision of black people in control of black communities, in housing and employment, a vision which the Black Panthers aimed to implement.
Mr. Musgrave defended the genuine anger of MLK at the terrible injustices of segregation. He argued that MLK fulfilled three criteria of a good leader better than Malcolm X, 1) King acted out of principles while Malcolm X’s need for action superseded principles. 2) MLK was both practical and prudent while expressing a groundbreaking vision through his embrace of direct action, which accomplished results. 3) MLK had the courage to carry out non-violence in the face of violent racists.
Opening the floor discussion, Ms. Hernick centered the debate on the question of violence, which she implored the Society to consider in context, as violence is often praised in the American Revolution but condemned in protestors. Mr. Marrow condemned Malcolm X’s anti-Semitism while Mr. Zawora praised X for not ruling out any strategies. Mr. Ernst humorously quoted his mentee while also praising MLK for bringing both inspiration and aspiration to the civil rights movement. Mr. Shuman argued that Malcolm X had a more realistic goal: the defense of black people’s bodily autonomy, especially in inner cities. Ms. Burke used the story of a murder in response to domestic violence to illustrate the futility of violent self-defense against the modern state. Ms. Wilson evoked the justifiable rage Malcolm X validated in the black community, which continues to the present day. She argued that his leadership created the space for black people to be justifiably angry at the terrible reach of racism in society.
In non-member speaking time, Mr. Joshua DeGastyne (SOM ’19) posited debate as between rights and responsibilities, arguing that MLK’s dreams lifted us toward our responsibilities. Mr. Itua Uduebo (SFS ’17) contrasted MLK’s dream, which promised eventual change and depended on whites for validation, with Malcolm X’s dream, which called for black people to defend themselves and their own dignity. Ms. Elizabeth Bujwid (SFS ’18) argued that X’s goal of separation was the way to live together in a country while Mr. Imin (COL ’16) sought to contextualize MLK, who has been ‘disneyfied’ when in actuality the FBI pushed him to commit suicide. He argued that non-violence is a logistical choice, dependent on a violent reaction.
Returning to member speaking time, Mr. Grocki argued that MLK gave people a role model in a way that Malcolm X did not. Taking her prerogative, President Thanki evoked the Indian movement for independence to note how radical leaders often do not live long enough to see their future. Mr. Graff celebrated King’s approach to civil rights through togetherness as opposed to X’s divisive character. However, Ms. Kurek replied that divisiveness actually recognized the problems of the time and sought to give black people communities of their own, where they felt valued. Mr. Perez-Reyes countered that MLK actually used non-violence to illustrate the brutality of oppression, empowering black protestors. Vice President Little noted the power Malcolm X’s activism while Ms. Oster emphasized the importance of not excluding other groups. Chancellor Whelan compared MLK’s message to Obama’s hope and change while pointing out that today Malcolm X’s message is motivating black protestors fighting to fix the country. Mr. Shaughnessy argued that Malcolm X emphasized human rights, internationalizing his struggle while MLK provided an alternative to Malcolm X’s violence. Mr. Fletcher evoked the need for disruption today to combat pervasive institutional racism, and he argued Malcolm X better incarnated that disruption.
Returning to the stand, Mr. Musgrave recalled the year 1776 as the “greatest broken promise” in history when the words ‘all men are created equal’ were written. MLK demanded that the United States be true to its promise and grounded his ideals on equality in higher things, in principles. Chancellor Ringwald asked the Society to consider the burden placed on black protestors, who are told not to show any emotion, to be passive in the face of hundreds of years of oppression. She argued that Malcolm X was vindicated in history through the implementation of his ideas by the Black Panthers, and more broadly in society. She closed by evoking the righteous anger embodied by Malcolm X by reading a poem by Langston Hughes.
Mr. Pennell argued that Malcolm X’s ‘eye for an eye mentality’ would leave the whole world blind. He recalled the Christian vision of God as coming into the world to sacrifice Himself and heal the hearts of man. Mr. Pennell held that the love which endures through all things was missing from Malcolm X’s vision. In contrast, MLK’s articulation of love heals evil and ensures real and sustained freedom.
Closing out the evening, Ms. Provost contended that violence came not only in physical form but also in the form of words. Malcolm X recognized that violence will always exist and that it was imperative to fight back and take back black people’s voices. She described the homogeneity of her own neighborhood as an example of the extent of white privilege in society today, which Malcolm X demanded that people recognize. Ultimately, X sought to bring to light voices which are not heard.
The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the most eloquent speakers of the evening:
1 point – Thomas Shuman
2 points – Danny Graff
3 points – Symone Wilson
4 points – James Pennell
5 points – Madeleine Ringwald
This brings the current Merrick totals to:
- Mr. Andrew Shaughnessy – 21
- Chancellor Madeleine Ringwald – 11
- Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes – 9
- Mr. Danny Graff – 9
- Chancellor Michael Whelan – 9
- Mr. Patrick Musgrave – 8
- Sergeant Ashley Burke – 6
- Ms. Anna Hernick – 5
- Mr. Thomas Shuman – 5
- Mr. James Pennell – 4
- Mr. Samuel Kleinman – 4
- Mr. Joseph Laposata – 4
- Ms. Lauren Finkenthal – 4
- Ms. Kathryn Li – 3
- Ms. Symone Wilson
- Mr. Kyle Rinaudo – 3
- Mr. Adam Gonzalez – 1
- Ms. Laura Kurek – 1
With a vote of 31 affirming, 1 abstaining, and 36 negating, this resolution is negated.