Excerpt: Upon learning to read while enslaved, Frederick Douglass began his great journey of emancipation, as such journeys always begin, in the mind. Defying unjust laws, he read in secret, empowered by the wisdom of contemporaries and classics alike to think as a free man. Douglass risked mockery, abuse, beating and even death to study the likes of Socrates, Cato and Cicero.
Long after that, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be similarly galvanized by his reading in the classics as a young seminarian. Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired Douglass, King and countless other freedom fighters. Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.
Cornel West is a professor of public philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton. Jeremy Tate is the founder and CEO of the Classic Learning Test.