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2021 National Book Festival Presents Series Opens With “Giants of Racial Justice”

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The following post was written by Marie Arana, Library of Congress Literary Director. It originally appeared on the National Book Festival Blog.

Promotional image for National Book Festival Presents "Giants of Racial Justice"
On Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. ET, Peniel E. Joseph (“The Sword and the Shield”) and Tamara Payne (“The Dead Are Arising”) will discuss their books on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. with Eric Deggans, NPR’s TV critic and media analyst-contributor for MSNBC and NBC News.

At the Library of Congress, we are always looking to celebrate the ways that books connect past to present, and right now we are graced with two superb new books on civil rights heroes whose voices changed how we think about racial justice. I am speaking, of course, of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who couldn’t have been more different in temperament, yet shared a passionate mission to expose America’s grave social injustices, its long history of institutional racism, and the corrosive effects bigotry has had on our foundational principles of democracy.

And so, we open the 2021 season of our National Book Festival Presents series with a spirited celebration of African American History Month. On Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. ET, we’re delighted to present “Giants of Racial Justice,” a conversation about two books that focus on two civil rights leaders who tested America in profoundly different ways. “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” by Les Payne and Tamara Payne, is an epic biography based on thirty years of research and hundreds of interviews. Peniel E. Joseph’s “The Sword and the Shield” is a dual biography that describes the stark contrasts and surprising similarities between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. This virtual program will premiere with closed captions on the Library’s Facebook page and its YouTube site, and will be available for viewing afterward at those sites and on the Library’s website.

Like the men they portray, these books came into being in very different ways. Les Payne, a veteran journalist who dedicated much of his life to following and meticulously recording the life of Malcolm X, died before his project was finished. Payne had built an illustrious career, first as an investigative reporter and ultimately as an accomplished managing editor at Newsday, winning numerous Pulitzers for himself, his teams, and his newsroom. Upon Payne’s death in 2018, his daughter Tamara—his primary researcher—took it upon herself to complete the book and see it through publication. “The Dead Are Arising” subsequently won the 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction. It is, without a doubt, a monumental work on a groundbreaking American life.

Peniel E. Joseph is a historian, a leading voice on race issues, and the founder of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin. Joseph’s scholarly investigations into Black Power Studies, a subfield of history he founded and developed, have been noted for their fresh and incisive views on the African American experience and its many aspects—Africana studies, women’s history, social hierarchies, politics and the law. Joseph is best known for his clear, accessible analyses of Black history and the ways it exposes the deep, abiding racism in this country. “The Sword and the Shield,” his dual portrait of the inveterate fighter Malcolm X and the pacifist preacher Martin Luther King Jr. gives us a vibrant account of two sides of that civil rights struggle. In the end, Joseph says, for all their differences, Malcolm X and King were two sides of the same revolutionary coin.

I think you’ll enjoy the refreshingly candid conversation between these two skilled observers on race matters. Moderated by Eric Deggans (NPR’s TV critic and media analyst-contributor for MSNBC and NBC News), who has written and spoken extensively on race himself, the session reminds us why it is important to look hard at this difficult passage through history. Be sure to stay until the end of the program for a very brief introduction to the vast holdings on civil rights that reside here at the Library of Congress.

We greatly look forward to having you join us as we roll out the 2021 National Book Festival Presents series! We promise many stimulating conversations on a variety of subjects throughout the coming year.


  1. Looking forward to joining the the presentation as a part of our organization’s Arts and Letters program.
    Bobbye Taylor

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