Tommie Shelby: Prisons of the Forgotten: King on Ghettos and Economic Justice


Monday, October 3, 2016, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Tommie Shelby, Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy, Harvard University.

I consider Martin Luther King Jr.’s account of the injustices ghettos represent. In particular, I highlight the strengths and limits of his conception of economic justice.

To do so, I explain how he understood the problems of the ghetto and outline the activism and policies he believed were necessary to remedy these problems. I delve into the political morality, the specific principles, that he took to justify his practical prescriptions.

I close by considering the relevance of his theory for understanding and combatting contemporary ghetto poverty.

About the speaker

Tommie Shelby is the Caldwell Titcomb Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies and the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University, where he has taught since 2000. He first became interested in philosophy (and in the world of ideas more generally) at Florida A & M University. He earned his  Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh (1998). 

Shelby is the author of Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016) and We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005). Derrick Darby and Shelby co-edited Hip Hop and Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reason (Open Court, 2005).

Shelby's research and teaching interests include social and political philosophy, Africana philosophy, philosophy of law, critical philosophy of race, history of black political thought, and philosophy of social science. He writes that the thinkers who have most influenced him include Martin Delany, Karl Marx, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, John Rawls, and G.A. Cohen. "In terms of subject matter, philosophical style, and approach to the questions I address, my work seeks to emulate and build upon the writings of Bernard R. Boxill and Kwame Anthony Appiah."

See also: Fall 2016