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What's a "love warrior"? Ask Cornel West

Cornel West explains how black artists like John Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan have helped him understand human suffering -- and how to transcend it
What's a "love warrior"? Ask Cornel West 02:32

"I think human history, for the most part, has been a cycle of hatred and revenge and indifference and callousness to the weak and vulnerable. But we're experiencing an awakening."

That's what Cornel West tells 60 Minutes correspondent James Brown on this week's broadcast. The scholar and activist says the work of legendary black artists like John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin have helped him understand human suffering -- and how to transcend it.

"I come from a tradition of a people who have been traumatized and terrorized and stigmatized for 400 years, probably the most hated people in the modern world," he says in the unaired clip above. "And what have we done? We have dished out highest quality of human beings tied to love."

These "love warriors," as he calls them, face hatred and respond with love. They master their craft and then go deeper, he says, tapping into both personal pain and a broader suffering rooted in slavery and oppression.

"I understand the black musical tradition as the greatest tradition in the modern world precisely because it exemplifies sustained compassion and creativity in the face of sustained catastrophe," says West.

West himself is a charismatic figure, known for his passionate speeches and willingness to challenge the powerful, including former ally President Obama. He's also considered a bit eccentric. He's worn the same basic look, for example - a black suit and tie - for more than two decades. Brown, who attended Harvard with West, asked him about it.

Why does Cornel West always wear the same thing? 01:27

"That's my cemetery clothes. I'm coffin-ready," West explains. "All you can do is kill your body. They can't kill your spirit if you're a warrior."

He tells Brown he's worn black suits since his father died in 1994, but says he is also emulating jazz greats and famous black preachers. "Their attire was a reflection of something rich and deep on the inside," he says. "They were love warriors really at the highest level, you see, very much so."

West seems to consider himself a love warrior, too. He refers to everyone he meets, regardless of ethnicity, as "brother" or "sister." Brown asks him about it.

Why Cornel West considers you his "brother" 00:50

"They really are my brother and sister," West says. "When Martin King talked about beloved community, I think what he wanted us to do was to live in the beloved community as if it existed, even though the world itself is so unloving."

West says he's inspired by leaders of every race and religion. "It's never a question of skin pigmentation," he says. "It's never a question of just culture or sexual orientation or civilization. It's what kind of human being you're going to choose to be from your mama's womb to the tomb and what kind of legacy you will leave."

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