The politics of interracial friendship | OUPlog

There have been instances of interracial friendship even in the worst of times—from the ill-fated efforts of Benjamin Banker and Thomas Jefferson to the more optimistic stories of James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem.

Explore five of these noteworthy friendships, which have served as windows on the state of race relations in the United States and often as models for promoting racial equality.

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass

May 18, 1943
Activist and leader Mary McLeod Bethune and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt speak before a National Youth Administration meeting.
(Image credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8b29202)

Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt met in 1927 at a conference of women’s club leaders. Bethune’s relationship with Roosevelt brought her to the White House and she wielded significant power and influence as the first black woman to serve as an advisor to the president. Under her leadership, the National Youth Administration has provided training and employment to thousands of black Americans. Roosevelt played a greater role in the racial justice component than the president, who needed to maintain political considerations and support the white South. As with any interracial friendship of the time, their relationship had its limits, however, the two women worked together on many endeavors to advance the standing of black Americans and provided a symbol of what might be possible nationally.

For more than a decade, Bethune and the First Lady have engaged in a political dance that has sought to advance mutual and sometimes conflicting goals. On the other hand, Python fought to increase the numbers and influence of African Americans in government. Likewise it sought to empower black institutions, while enhancing their economic status.” – Read more about their friendship in Chapter 4 of stars and shadows.

James Baldwin and Marlon Brando

August 28, 1963
James Baldwin, famous black radical writer, and Marlon Brando, actor and activist, at a civil rights march in Washington, D.C.
(Image source: US Information Agency. Press and Publications Service / WikiMedia Commons)

Marlon Brando and James Baldwin, two influential figures and activists of the 20th century, met in 1944 in New York, probably via art and their personal struggles. Both attended the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. Their friendship influenced their work and their views on race throughout their lives and were of great importance to both men. He reflected what would have been possible in post-war America.

For Baldwin and Brando, the March on Washington was just part of a decades-long journey—but in a sense, August 28, 1963 was the culmination of the forces of cooperation between them. Was it enough—for either? Much to be achieved?” – Read more about their friendship in Chapter 6 of stars and shadows.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
December 7, 1965
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, theologian and scholar, presents the Judaism and World Peace Prize to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Image credit: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photography Collection / WikiMedia Commons)

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met at the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race in 1963. They shared a strong moral sense of justice based on their spirituality. Heschel was at King’s side during the 1965 Selma March and when he delivered his Riverside speech condemning the Vietnam War in 1967. Their friendship also provided an important example for overcoming historical tensions in relations between blacks and Jews.

Their bond, which was directed at a great democratic enterprise, raised the nation’s attention to moral courage in the face of deep injustice. It has not quite ended discussions of what the nature of right or justice is – even among friends and people of shared political visions.” – Read more about their friendship in Chapter 8 of stars and shadows.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama

Barack Obama and Joe Biden
25 June 2015
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office
(Photo credit: Phil Souza/WikiMedia Commons)

Barack Obama was 44The tenth President of the United States and the first black president, with Joe Biden serving as Vice President. Their shared value to family enhanced their friendship and emotional connection. Much public attention and academic discourse focused on their friendship, including several viral memes. Joe Biden is 46The tenth The current president of the United States. Their friendship played a vital role in his rise to the presidency.

Although Biden and Obama’s friendship carries great symbolic weight, its authenticity remains undoubtedly. Part of the reason is that the relationship developed from real gaffes along with personal and personal differences.” – Read more about their friendship in Chapter 10 of stars and shadows.

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