Cornel West is a different kind of civil rights leader. He doesn't lead an organization or have an entourage but he has the respect of young activists at the heart of new civil rights efforts, especially the Black Lives Matter movement so prevalent today. The former Princeton professor sits down with James Brown at this critical time of racial awareness in America for a story to be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, March 20 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
The police involvement in the deaths of unarmed black men and women in the U.S. has begun a debate about race not seen since the sixties. It led to the Black Lives Matter movement protests. "I think that's a marvelous new militancy that has to do with courage, vision," says West. "The fundamental challenge always is will their rage be channeled through hatred and revenge or...through love and justice. You got to push them toward love and justice."
A year ago the police in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. The death led to huge protests that West attended. He was arrested along with many of the protesters. "When I go to jail in Ferguson and say quite explicitly, 'I'm old school and I want the new school to know that some of us old folk love y'all to death,'" he says. "And they hear that and say, 'Well, dang, you know, we might not always-- agree with this brother, but this Negro looks like a fighter for justice.'"
The 62-year-old West's message seems to resonate with young protesters. "I think a lot of young people really gravitate towards him not only because he's a giant of an intellectual, he is somebody that you want to be around," says Nyle Fort, a 26-year-old activist and religion PhD student at Princeton.
Even when West harshly criticizes President Obama, Fort says he may not agree with everything the professor says but "I think it's important for us to listen to the substance of his argument."
West -- who is currently a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York -- has called the president "a black puppet of Wall Street." Watch the video in the player above. He explains, "I was really talking about the degree to which Wall Street had a disproportionate amount of influence on his policies as opposed to poor people and working people," But why so harsh?, asks Brown. "I'm very much a part of the tradition of a Frederick Douglass or a Malcolm X, who used hyperbolic language at times to bring attention to the state of emergency."