Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr. On The Fire This Time
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because big thoughts have a tendency to come from even bigger thinkers.
By Joshua Eferighe
Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., a Princeton professor whose work takes a wide look at race in America and the challenges our democracy faces, is an award-winning author with a master’s degree in African-American Studies and a Ph.D. in religion, who frequently panels shows on MSNBC and is often considered one of the world’s big thinkers. You want to hear what he’s got to say? Of course you do. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.
On Getting Into Politics
Carlos Watson: I love politics. I love history. I’m also the son of a political junky. How did you get into it? Are you the son of political people? Do you come from folks who love politics and history?
Eddie Glaude: No. I’m a country boy from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. My mother had her first baby in the ninth grade.
My daddy delivered mail and was the second African American hired at the post office in Pascagoula, Mississippi. And when he realized he had precocious kids, took a second job delivering flowers. The only books I had in my household, the only reading that really happened in my household was the newspaper. So politics didn’t come to me through my parents or my environment.
I just kind of gravitated to it and I was involved in local campaigns in my town, in my hometown. I was involved with the YMCA youth legislatures. The YMCA would invite students from all over the state to take over government, and I was elected the first Black youth governor of the state of Mississippi. And you know Carl, just a real quick, short story. I actually went as a special guest of the Democratic party of Mississippi to the Democratic National Convention when Mario Cuomo delivered the Tale of Two Cities speech.
Watson: So Jesse Jackson thought I was a stalker because I memorized that speech. And I ran up to him at an airport and his security literally started surrounding me because they were like, “Who is this weird kid reciting his speech back to him?” But I thought that speech was so powerful, so human, so encouraging of all of us to think about what we could be. I remember that. That was a special speech.
Glaude: In Jesse’s latest book, I write an introduction, an epilogue to the book. And I describe bumping into him because I was only 15 years old, 15, 16. And I bumped into him in an elevator. And Jesse’s towering and a former football player. He treated me with such generosity, and told me to dream these huge dreams. I never forgot it. I remember his delegates bullying Andrew Young and Coretta Scott King. I remember the Gary Hart signs and the Walter Mondale signs, and all those others. So politics kind of took its root in those early days, but not because of my family but because of those experiences.
Watson: Talk a little bit about your father’s rage: how did you realize that your father’s rage was maybe not the norm, and how did you manage it?
Glaude: One of the reasons why I’ve been so attracted to James Baldwin is precisely his own vexed relationship with his stepfather. Understanding and reading the life of Baldwin, and how his judgment of his father matured, it developed over time. And the same thing happened with me. My dad deposited fear in my gut in early age. I guess I was afraid before I even started remembering, given the stories my mother told. He wasn’t physically imposing. It was the context of our living. You were just afraid of him because his anger, he could give you a glance, a look that would literally make me shiver, right? He could scare me into tears just by looking at me.
And I just remembered the silences in the house. Before he came home from work, the house was jovial. We were playing, my brothers and sisters, we were running all around. But as soon as we heard the garage door open, and remember, he worked for the post office, so that’s high cotton back in the day. That’s the middle-class life.
So as soon as that garage door started coming up, everybody went to their corners. We had to leave him alone; we didn’t know what kind of mood he was in. But the rage was really expressed in his views of race, Carlos. He’s the second African-American hired at the post office in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He realizes he has precocious kids, so he moves us into another neighborhood up on the hill, where all of the elite Black folk are. Right?
He is this high school guy, married to this woman who had her kids early, this baby, when she was in the ninth grade. All of these elite Black folk are saying, “These folk aren’t going to make it.” The first time he moves into that house, the white family behind him shoots out the window, the back window. My dad responds with a 12 gauge shotgun, blows off the limb of their oak tree, and says, “Shoot back here again.”
The white neighbor comes and starts digging up flowers, and says, “I gave this to the neighbor before you.” My dad said, “Well, I bought the house. Those flowers are mine. You need to move.”
Or when I got called the N-word for the first time in my memory, he went over to the neighbor’s house and confronted that neighbor with a .38 in his back pocket. When we watched the Eyes on the Prize for the first time, he would literally jump up, walk out, and start cussing. He didn’t suffer white people.
That’s the rage. There is the man, who scared the living hell out of me, but the rage was about growing up in a world circumscribed by the reality of race. He grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi. He went to the Navy, fought in Vietnam. But my dad, he has these hands, these Glaude hands…he knew how to throw them.
The Big Breakthrough
Watson: When did you start breaking through, Eddie?
Glaude: Well, one of the things that I did is, I was very clear that I had to establish myself as an intellectual. I’ve been doing the work in the vineyards as a scholar for a long time. My first book, Exodus, won the inaugural William Sanders Scarborough book prize, right? I edited an important volume on African-American religious thought with Cornel West. I did something around Black power. So I’ve been doing this work in the vineyard so that I could get tenure at Princeton.
It has nothing to do with the public-facing work. But I was always thinking that the scholarship had to have an impact on the lives of people I cared most about. Cornel West is one of my closest friends. He’s the godfather of my son. He found me, in some ways, and asked me to come study with him. Right? Corn was doing the State of the Black Union with Tavis Smiley.
Corn, one year, asked me to come with him. Then suddenly I found myself doing the State of the Black Union stuff. And then I was doing Tavis’s radio show with him. I had a regular commentary on his radio show. Then I helped him with The Covenant with Black America. Then I helped him with the second book. We went on tour together.
While I was on tour with Tavis, I was writing my book, In the Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. I wrote that while I was on the road with Tavis. And so, it’s in that space that suddenly I become public-facing, but I had already established all of my scholarly bonafides. I’ve become elected the president of the American Academy of Religion. I’m doing my thing. I get an endowed chair at Princeton, and dah, dah, dah, dah. Then suddenly, the world gets to know me, right?
And then one piece I wrote, Carlos, that really struck, “The Black Church is Dead”. I wrote an essay entitled “The Black Church is Dead” for the religion page of the Huffington Post. It got pulled into the New York Times. Suddenly, I get an agent who says, “I think you can write a book for a broader audience.” Boom.