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The Making of Black Lives Matter

A Brief History of an Idea, Updated Edition

Christopher J. Lebron

Publication Date - 01 June 2023

ISBN: 9780197577356

264 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches

In Stock


A condensed and accessible intellectual history that traces the genesis of the ideas that have built into the #BlackLivesMatter movement in a bid to help us make sense of the emotions, demands, and arguments of present-day activists and public thinkers.

Started in the wake of George Zimmerman's 2013 acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has become a powerful and incendiary campaign demanding redress for the brutal and unjustified treatment of black bodies by law enforcement in the United States. The movement is only a few years old, but as Christopher J. Lebron argues in this book, the sentiment behind it is not; the plea and demand that "Black Lives Matter" comes out of a much older and richer tradition arguing for the equal dignity--and not just equal rights--of black people.

In this updated edition, The Making of Black Lives Matter presents a condensed and accessible intellectual history of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and expands on the movement's relevancy. This edition includes a new introduction that explores how the movement's core ideas have been challenged, re-affirmed, and re-imagined during the white nationalism of the Trump years, as well as a new chapter that examines the ideas and importance of Angela Davis and Amiri Baraka as significant participants in the Black Power Movement and Black Arts Movement, respectively. Drawing on the work of these revolutionary black public intellectuals, as well as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Anna Julia Cooper, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King Jr., Lebron clarifies what it means to assert that "Black Lives Matter" when faced with contemporary instances of anti-black law enforcement. He also illuminates the crucial difference between the problem signaled by the social media hashtag and how we think that we ought to address the problem. As Lebron states, police body cameras, or even the exhortation for civil rights mean nothing in the absence of equality and dignity. To upset dominant practices of abuse, oppression, and disregard, we must reach instead for radical sensibility. Radical sensibility requires that we become cognizant of the history of black thought and activism in order to make sense of the emotions, demands, and argument of present-day activists and public thinkers. Only in this way can we truly embrace and pursue the idea of racial progress in America.


  • This updated edition includes a new introduction that examines the movement's core ideas since 2017, as well as a new chapter on the ideas and importance of Angela Davis and Amiri Baraka
  • Presents a concise and accessible history of the rhetoric and activism that has laid the foundation for the modern #BlackLivesMatter movement
  • Argues for a renewed focus on the idea of equal standing in society for African Americans, rather than the current focus on policing and laws
  • Draws from a number of fields, including African American studies, philosophy, and political science to trace the intellectual foundations of contemporary protest strategy

About the Author(s)

Christopher J. Lebron is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice in Our Time, and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the Boston Review.


"Injecting historical and philosophical perspective into the country's contemporary racial quagmire, Lebron offers readers a glimpse of the intellectual roots of African Americans continual fight for respect and equality. His call to join a historically momentous generational force demanding change also offers readers direction on how to become part of a solution."--Library Journal

"If you want to understand the urgency of #BlackLivesMatter you need Christopher J. Lebron's excellent The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea, a nimble, passionate, and far-ranging intellectual history. Through testimony in art and in letters, Lebron presents radical political philosophy for our times."--Nell Irvin Painter, author of The History of White People

"The Making of Black Lives Matter offers a powerful, timely, and necessary intellectual meditation on the roots of the most important social movement of the 21st century. Christopher Lebron's cri de coeur challenges activists, institutions, and Americans of all backgrounds to reimagine the contours and possibilities of racial justice from antebellum slavery to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri."--Peniel E. Joseph, author of Stokely: A Life

"Lebron takes a deep, compelling dive into the intellectual and cultural background of the Black Lives Matter movement."--Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

"Christopher Lebron's short, incisive book examines the racialised violence that defines US history: from the overt violence of slavery to the racial segregation of Jim Crow legislation, from white supremacist lynchings to the covert white privilege of society today. Lebron never sets out to provide a historical assessment of Black Lives Matter but contextualises the movement within black political and ethical thought, while lauding the achievements of people who have maintained their morals and dignity in the face of oppression and violence."--Times Higher Education

Table of Contents

    Introduction to the Updated Edition

    Introduction to the First Edition: Naming the Dead in the Name of the Living

    1. American Shame and Real Freedom

    2. Cultural Control against Social Control: The Radical Possibilities of the Harlem Renaissance

    3. For Our Sons, Daughters, and All Concerned Souls

    4. Where Is the Love? The Hope for Americaâs Redemption

    5. The Radical Lessons We Have Not Yet Learned

    6. Black, Blues, and America: Amiri Baraka and Angela Davis on The Freedom to Be Black

    Afterword: Nobodyâs Protest Essay



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