A brilliant philosopher and his influence on the rise of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement
“This well-researched and convincingly argued intellectual biography will change the way we think about the ideological foundation of the civil rights movement and its most recognizable leaders.”—Darius Young, author of Robert R. Church Jr. and the African American Political Struggle
“An original and much-needed exploration of the life and ideas of James Hudson, a critically important thinker and activist in the civil rights movement. This book is a must-read for all who are interested in this significant period of American history.”—Christopher Cameron, author of Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism
While intellectual histories of the civil rights movement often center Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings, author Larry Omar Rivers argues that this approach leaves out the scholar-activists who set the path for King. In this volume, Rivers tells the mostly unknown story of James Hudson (1903–1980), a Black philosopher, Florida A&M University professor, activist, and religious leader whose philosophical contributions laid a key piece of the groundwork for the emergence of the civil rights movement.
Drawing on little-used primary source documents and original interviews with people who knew Hudson well, Rivers examines how Hudson’s training at Morehouse College, Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, and Boston University shaped his approach to scholar-activism, including his decision to become a Personalist philosopher. As Rivers shows, Hudson crafted an influential philosophy of life—a blend of Socratic inquiry, moral imagination, African American spirituality, and Gandhian nonviolence—that became an essential foundation for the rise of King, another Personalist philosopher. The book also sheds new light on the connections between the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and the lesser-known 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott, which together helped spark the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
This long-overdue biography is not only an insightful exploration of the intellectual and activist landscape of the Black community from the 1930s to the 1960s but also the story of an unsung hero and his involvement with important scholarly communities that influenced the trajectory of the civil rights movement.
Larry Omar Rivers is associate professor of history at the University of West Georgia.
Publication of this work made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.