Cornel West is an American philosopher, activist, academic and intellectual; he is also the first African-American to have graduated from Princeton University with a PhD in Philosophy.
Cornel Ronald West was born on June 2, 1963 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His family moved to Sacramento, California during his childhood, where he attended the John F. Kennedy High School. West was class president at John F. Kennedy, and he used this position to organize marches and protests against the school so that they would provide courses in black history.
West was accepted at Harvard University in 1970 where he majored in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. He also took courses from highly eminent philosophers, including Robert Nozick and Stanley Cavill.
In 1980, West became the first African American to earn a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. His dissertation was titled “The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought”. After his graduation, he returned to Harvard as a W.E.B. Du Bois Fellow, later he taught as an Assistant Professor at the Union of Theological Seminary. In 1984, he accepted a teaching assignment at the Yale Divinity School. However, he was soon imprisoned after he was charged for heading protests that demanded divestment from an apartheid South Africa. After his release, West returned to Princeton to serve as a Professor of Religion and as a Director of African American Studies from 1988 to 1994. West then served the same position at Harvard after 1994; however, he resigned from the position in 2002 after a debate with the University President, Lawrence Summers. West then returned to Princeton in 2002, after which he created “one of the world’s leading centers of African American studies” according to Shirley Tilghman, who was Princeton’s President in 2011. West retired from his position at Princeton in 2012 as a Professor Emeritus and he now regularly teaches at the Union Theological Seminary.
Cornel West is mostly famous for his racial views and activism. He is credited to have called the United