ON A DAY THIS WEEK
ON A DAY THIS WEEK, in February, 1965
On a day this week, February 21, 1965, just after he has begun to address an OAAU (Organization of Afro-American Unity) rally at the Audubon Ballroom, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, Malcolm X, Muslim minister, militant black nationalist and radical social critic, is shot several times at point blank range and is pronounced dead at 3:30 pm shortly after arriving at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He has resigned less than 12 months previously (publicly announcing his break, March 8 1964) from the Nation of Islam. He was 39 years old.
Malcolm X (‘The Race Problem’ African Students Association and NAACP Campus Chapter. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. 23 January 1963):
“So you have two types of Negro. The old type and the new type. Most of you know the old type. When you read about him in history during slavery he was called “Uncle Tom.” He was the house Negro. And during slavery you had two Negroes. You had the house Negro and the field Negro.
The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master. He wore his master’s second-hand clothes. He ate food that his master left on the table. And he lived in his master’s house–probably in the basement or the attic–but he still lived in the master’s house.
So whenever that house Negro identified himself, he always identified himself in the same sense that his master identified himself. When his master said, “We have good food,” the house Negro would say, “Yes, we have plenty of good food.” “We” have plenty of good food. When the master said that “we have a fine home here,” the house Negro said, “Yes, we have a fine home here.” When the master would be sick, the house Negro identified himself so much with his master he’d say, “What’s the matter boss, we sick?” His master’s pain was his pain. And it hurt him more for his master to be sick than for him to be sick himself. When the house started burning down, that type of Negro would fight harder to put the master’s house out than the master himself would.
But then you had another Negro out in the field. The house Negro was in the minority. The masses–the field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority. When the master got sick, they prayed that he’d die. [Laughter] If his house caught on fire, they’d pray for a wind to come along and fan the breeze.
If someone came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s go, let’s separate,” naturally that Uncle Tom would say, “Go where? What could I do without boss? Where would I live? How would I dress? Who would look out for me?” That’s the house Negro. But if you went to the field Negro and said, “Let’s go, let’s separate,” he wouldn’t even ask you where or how. He’d say, “Yes, let’s go.””
Born Malcolm Little on 19 May, 1925 at University Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska to parents who were followers of, and activists for, the black separatist and Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey (1887 – 1940) who at that time was promoting ideas of social, political, and economic freedom for black people; “Earl was local leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Louise served as secretary and ‘branch reporter’. Both parents encouraged their children to take pride in their identity as African-Americans in a climate with a criminal disregard for black people. “Malcolm remembered his mother as “an active worker in the Garvey Movement” who was proud of her African blood and heritage and who instilled that pride in her children. Malcolm’s father, however, was the most potent symbol of blackness in the Little family. Malcolm remembered his father as the one who took him to Garveyite meetings in Lansing, Michigan” (James H. Cone)
Malcolm X (‘The Race Problem‘, African Students Association and NAACP Campus Chapter. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. 23 January 1963):
“So now you have a twentieth-century-type of house Negro. A twentieth-century Uncle Tom. He’s just as much an Uncle Tom today as Uncle Tom was 100 and 200 years ago. Only he’s a modern Uncle Tom. That Uncle Tom wore a handkerchief around his head. This Uncle Tom wears a top hat. He’s sharp. He dresses just like you do. He speaks the same phraseology, the same language. He tries to speak it better than you do. He speaks with the same accents, same diction. And when you say, “your army,” he says, “our army.” He hasn’t got anybody to defend him, but anytime you say “we” he says “we.” “Our president,” “our government,” “our Senate,” “our congressmen,” “our this and our that.” And he hasn’t even got a seat in that “our” even at the end of the line. So this is the twentieth-century Negro. Whenever you say “you,” the personal pronoun in the singular or in the plural, he uses it right along with you. When you say you’re in trouble, he says, “Yes, we’re in trouble.”
But there’s another kind of Black man on the scene. If you say you’re in trouble, he says, “Yes, you’re in trouble.” [Laughter] He doesn’t identify himself with your plight whatsoever.”
By 1931, when Malcolm was six – his family having already been forced to relocate twice following racist attacks – his father was dead, allegedly murdered by the white supremacists of the Black Legion (a KKK splinter group) for his political activities. “Malcolm’s father’s absence had a profound effect upon the economic and emotional well-being of the Little family. Louise Little was forced to try to survive with eight children during the depression years of the 1930s. The pain of hunger became a daily experience for the Little family. ‘Our family was so poor,’ Malcolm recalled, ‘that we would eat the hole out of a doughnut.'” (James H. Cone.) By 1938 Malcolm and his siblings were effectively orphaned when his mother, following a nervous breakdown “two days before Christmas, 1938”, was admitted to the Kalamazoo State Hospital where she would spend the next 24 years. Following her loss the children were placed in foster homes, Malcolm himself spending time in 1939 in the Michigan State Detention home. About a year later and after a time spent in various foster homes Malcolm moved to Roxbury in Boston where he was to stay with his paternal half sister Ella Little-Collins (who was to take over the leadership of the OAAU after his death). Working at a variety of jobs including shoe shining, dishwashing, and soda jerking, as well as working off and on for the New Haven Railroad, he also begins his involvement with the underworld criminal activity which would eventually result in his incarceration in Charlestown State Prison, Massachusetts in February 1946 charged with grand larceny & breaking and entering and for which he received an 8-10 year sentence. He was released on the 7th August 1952.
Malcolm X (‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’, 1965):
“I think that an objective reader may see how in the society to which I was exposed as a black youth here in America, for me to wind up in a prison was really just about inevitable.”
Unlike his contemporary Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – April 4, 1968), Malcolm’s early experiences had drawn him to the black urban working class and those on the margins as opposed to the middle class and allegiance to the ‘underdog’ and the ‘dis-respectable’ would stay with him his whole life. “Impoverished African Americans could admire Dr. King, but Malcolm not only spoke their language, he had lived their experiences—in foster homes, in prisons, in unemployment lines. Malcolm was loved because he could present himself as one of them.” (Manning Marable) Nevertheless in 1948 Malcolm was introduced to the Nation of Islam teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad by his brother Reginald. The goal of the Nation was to “teach the downtrodden and defenseless Black people a thorough Knowledge of God and of themselves, and to put them on the road to Self-Independence with a superior culture and higher civilization than they had previously experienced.” Elijah Muhammad, was to become his “spiritual father”. Muhammad was a disciple of founder Wallace D. Fard, who set up the first Temple of Islam on 4 July 1930.
Malcolm X (‘The Ballot or the Bullet’, April 3, 1964, Cleveland, Ohio):
“No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver—no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
“While in prison in Boston for burglary from 1946 to 1952, Little joined the Nation of Islam. He was influenced by his brother, Reginald, who had become a member in Detroit. Little quit smoking, gambling and eating pork, in keeping with the Nation’s practices and dietary restrictions. He spent long hours reading books in the prison library. He sharpened his oratory skills by participating in debating classes. Following Nation tradition, Elijah Muhammad ordered him to replace his surname, “Little”, with an “X”, a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their surnames to have been imposed by white slaveholders after their African names were taken from them.”
Malcolm X (Letter, February 15, 1950):
“My confinement is of a different type; I’m just completing my fourth year of an 8 to 10 year term in prison … but these four years of seclusion have proven to be the most enlightening years of my 24 years upon this earth and I feel this ‘gift of Time’ was Allah’s reward to me as His way of saving me from the certain destruction for which I was heading.”
On the 8 July, 1952 Malcolm Little, now Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam was paroled from the Massachusetts state prison. Following this he heads to Detroit to his brother Wilfred, securing a job as a furniture salesman and begins attending Nation of Islam meetings. It is around about this time that the FBI began to keep surveillance on him. Shortly after, he moves on to Chicago where he lives with Elijah Muhammad while studying for the ministry. Four months later he is named the assistant minister at the Nation’s Detroit Temple No. 1.
The years 1953 – 1956 are spent organising for the Nation of Islam, at the end of this period he begins to become aware of Elijah Muhammad’s exploitation of his female secretaries…
Malcolm X (‘The Ballot or the Bullet’, Speech at Cory Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964):
“In Asia or the Arab world or in Africa, where the Muslims are, if you find one who says he’s white, all he’s doing is using an adjective to describe something that is incidental about him…. There is nothing else to it. He’s just white. But when you get the white man over here in America and he says he’s white, he means something else. You can listen to the sound of his voice when he says he’s white. He means he’s boss.”
By April 1957 Malcolm X‘s leadership role is consolidated within the organisation. When NOI member Hinton Johnson is beaten by New York police and jailed it is Malcolm who organises a contingent of Muslims from Temple No. 7 outside the 123rd Street police station. He successfully demands that Johnson be taken to hospital and then sends the NOI members home. “He keenly felt, and expressed, the varied emotions and frustrations of the black poor and working class. His constant message was black pride, self-respect, and an awareness of one’s heritage. At a time when American society stigmatized or excluded people of African descent, Malcolm’s militant advocacy was stunning.” (Manning Marable)
Malcolm X (‘The Ballot or the Bullet’, April 3, 1964, Cleveland, Ohio):
“I don’t mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do. And that’s the way every Negro should get. Any time you know you’re within the law, within your legal rights, within your moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for what you believe in. But don’t die alone. Let your dying be reciprocal. This is what is meant by equality. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
In 1958 he proposes to fellow NOI member Betty Sanders (Betty X) calling from a gas station in Detroit; she says yes and they are married two days later by a Justice of the Peace in Lansing. They drive back to New York and take up residence in “three rooms of a two-family flat in East Elmhurst, Queens.” They would have six daughters between 1958 and Malcolm’s death in 1965. Betty Shabazz would die in 1997 from injuries sustained in a fire at her apartment.
All these years his power as an orator and his ability to connect with people helps build the Nation of Islam into a formidable organisation from its position of relative obscurity: “highly influenced by Malcolm X’s membership, the Nation claimed a membership of 30,000.” (Wikipedia) “For years, the Bureau had monitored what it still described derisively in internal documents as the “Moslem Cult of Islam” (MCI). Its surveillance now indicated that an ex-convict, one Malcolm K. Little, was largely responsible for the cult’s new evangelical fervor.” (Manning Marable)
Malcolm X (Speech at Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, 28 June 1964):
“We are African, and we happened to be in America. We’re not American. We are people who formerly were Africans who were kidnapped and brought to America. Our forefathers weren’t the Pilgrims. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. The rock was landed on us. We were brought here against our will. We were not brought here to be made citizens. We were not brought here to enjoy the constitutional gifts that they speak so beautifully about today. ”
1959, Malcolm X travels: he arrives in Holland. He travels from there to Egypt, Mecca, Iran, Syria, and Ghana as Elijah Muhammad’s ambassador. On the 13 July 1959, the FBI learns from a NOI member in New York that Malcolm X has met with Nasser of Egypt while in Africa: (“While I was traveling, I had a chance to speak in Cairo, or rather Alexandria, with President [Gamal Abdel-]Nasser for about an hour and a half. He’s a very brilliant man. And I can see why they’re so afraid of him, and they are afraid of him — they know he can cut off their oil. And actually the only thing power respects is power. Whenever you find a man who’s in a position to show power against power then that man is respected. But you can take a man who has power and love him all the rest of your life, nonviolently and forgivingly and all the rest of those ofttime things, and you won’t get anything out of it.” August 8, 1960, in the “Pulse of the Public,” column, the New York Amsterdam News prints a letter written by Malcolm X from Khartoum, in the Sudan; Malcolm continues to organise for the Nation in the New York area.
On September 21, 1960 he meets with Fidel Castro for thirty minutes at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. “Premier Castro has come out against lynching, which is more than [U.S.] President Eisenhower has done,” Malcolm tells the New York press. Castro is impressed and invites him to Cuba. By the end of 1960 he says the “U.S. revolution is starting in Harlem” and he expresses admiration for Lenin and Stalin; he predicts that “Africans will be free with the assistance of the Russian army.”
Malcolm X (‘The Ballot or the Bullet‘, Speech in Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964):
“We need to expand the civil-rights struggle to a higher level—to the level of human rights. Whenever you are in a civil-rights struggle, whether you know it or not, you are confining yourself to the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam. No one from the outside world can speak out in your behalf as long as your struggle is a civil-rights struggle. Civil rights comes within the domestic affairs of this country. All of our African brothers and our Asian brothers and our Latin-American brothers cannot open their mouths and interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States. And as long as it’s civil rights, this comes under the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam. But the United Nations has what’s known as the charter of human rights; it has a committee that deals in human rights. You may wonder why all of the atrocities that have been committed in Africa and in Hungary and in Asia, and in Latin America are brought before the UN, and the Negro problem is never brought before the UN. This is part of the conspiracy. This old, tricky blue eyed liberal who is supposed to be your and my friend, supposed to be in our corner, supposed to be subsidizing our struggle, and supposed to be acting in the capacity of an adviser, never tells you anything about human rights. They keep you wrapped up in civil rights. And you spend so much time barking up the civil-rights tree, you don’t even know there’s a human-rights tree on the same floor.”
From 1958 to 1964 Malcolm is holding public meetings, protesting and organising for the Nation of Islam (“Articulate, single-minded, the fire of bitterness still burning in his soul, Malcolm X travels the country, organizing, encouraging, trouble-shooting…” Alex Haley would later write in the Saturday Evening Post); in February 1961 he leads Muslims in demonstration in front of the United Nations protesting the death of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Congo. His face appears regularly on TV shows and in public debates. In April 1962 in Los Angeles he delivers a speech blasting Negro leadership to an overflowing crowd in Homes Hall at Los Angeles City College. In May 1962 he speaks against the police shooting of NOI member Ronald X Stokes that April at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department. Ronald Stokes was unarmed as Nation of Islam members did not carry guns at the time; that was Elijah Muhammad’s policy. (Stokes was killed in a disputed incident with the police; witnesses who saw the shooting say he had his hands up. A coroner’s inquest determined that Stokes’ death was ‘justifiable.’) The Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch reports that more than two thousand people attended the funeral of Ronald Stokes and also covers Malcolm X‘s press conference concerning the shooting. On the 17 May 1962 Malcolm tells Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch that Stokes’ death was “murder in cold blood.”
“In April 1962, Malcolm X was still a full member of the Nation of Islam. Indeed, he was the organization’s “National Minister” – frequently described by outsiders as the “number 2 man” in the organization after Elijah Muhammad. He had personally set up the Los Angeles mosque some years earlier, and it was considered one of the NOI’s major success stories by the early 1960s. Malcolm X knew many of the mosque leaders personally, including Ronald X Stokes himself.”
Also in May 1962: he speaks at a protest rally at Park Manor Auditorium where he claims that socialists, communists, and liberals are joining to get rid of “the common enemy with white skin.”
Malcolm X (‘The Young Socialist Interview’, January 18, 1965):
“It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely….“
In December 1962 rumors of Elijah Muhammad’s adultery cause numerous Muslims to leave Chicago Mosque No. 2; Malcolm X talks to three of Elijah Muhammad’s former secretaries, all of whom have had children by Elijah Muhammad. He learns that Elijah Muhammad’s son Herbert has been instructing “Muhammad Speaks” writers to feature Malcolm X as little as possible. Early in 1963 in an interview in Washington, D.C., Malcolm X states that Elijah Muhammad does not advocate overthrow of the government. He also says the FBI goes beyond its duty in “religious suppression” of Muslims. He asserts during the programme that “the FBI spends twenty-four hours a day infiltrating or trying to infiltrate Muslims.”
Differences are now beginning to emerge with Elijah Mohammed. In May 1963 Malcolm writes an apologetic letter to Muhammad telling him they should work together and not be divided. Still he continues to criticise those he sees as preventing the liberation of African Americans: in 1963 the New York Times reports Malcolm X attacks President Kennedy for the way he dealt with the Birmingham crisis. In May 1963 the New York Amsterdam News reports that Malcolm X attacks Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, and Floyd Patterson as unwitting tools of white liberals. In June 1963 he “blasts Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty in a ‘Muhammad Speaks’ article and charges Los Angeles with operating a Ku Klux Klan police force that uses Gestapo tactics against the black community and Muslim religious groups.” In August 1963 he comes out against the March on Washington: “On 17 August he announces at NOI Bazaar in Boston Arena that Elijah Muhammad and the NOI are not supporting or participating in the March on Washington and on the 19th of that month he informs audience at FOI meeting at Mosque Number 7 in New York that NOI members who participate in March on Washington will be given ninety days to leave the mosque.” However on the 27 August he tells a reporter that “well, whatever black folks do, maybe I don’t agree with it, but I’m going to be there (at the March on Washington), brother, ‘cause that’s where I belong.” Thus, on the 28 August he attends the historic March as a critical observer; he later comments that he can’t understand why Negroes should become so excited about a demonstration “run by whites in front of a statue of a president who has been dead for a hundred years and who didn’t like us when he was alive.“
More than 200,000 Americans gathered in Washington, D.C., on that August 28th for the political rally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and where Martin Luther King made his famous speech: I Have a Dream. Malcolm had called it the “farce on Washington“ because of the concessions that the civil rights leadership had made to placate the Kennedys.
“Malcolm had left school without completing the ninth grade. His “university” was Norfolk Prison Colony. More than any other twentieth-century black leader, Malcolm demanded that blacks in the professional and managerial classes should be more accountable to the masses of poor and working-class African Americans. In speeches like “Message to the Grassroots,” he sharply condemned middle-class black leaders for their compromises with white power brokers. He demanded greater integrity and accountability from privileged blacks, as an essential element in the strategy for achieving black freedom.”
“Regarding the March on Washington, theologian James H. Cone writes that ‘Malcolm’s language was harsh, but it was the truth’. According to Cone, the march was controlled by the Black bourgeoisie and the white liberals who financed it. The organizers forced John Lewis to rewrite his speech because it was considered offensive to the Kennedy administration, and James Baldwin was not allowed to speak out of fear for what he might say.”
In 1963, Malcolm X also delivered his “Message to the Grass Roots” public speech on November 10, at the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference, which was held at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. “Message to the Grass Roots” was one of Malcolm X‘s last speeches as a member of the Nation of Islam. “A few weeks after delivering the speech, Elijah Muhammad, the Nation’s leader, silenced Malcolm X for comments he made with respect to the assassination of President Kennedy. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X announced his departure from the Nation of Islam.” (Wikipedia)
Malcolm X (“Message to the Grass Roots.” Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference. Group on Advanced Leadership. King Solomon Baptist Church, Detroit. 10 November 1963):
“This modern house Negro loves his master. He wants to live near him. He’ll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live near his master, and then brag about “I’m the only Negro out here.” “I’m the only one on my job.” “I’m the only one in this school.” You’re nothing but a house Negro. And if someone comes to you right now and says, “Let’s separate,” you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation. “What you mean, separate? From America, this good white man? Where you going to get a better job than you get here?” I mean, this is what you say. “I ain’t left nothing in Africa,” that’s what you say. Why, you left your mind in Africa.”
On the 22 November, 1963 President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. A week later at a Nation Of Islam rally in New York, Malcolm states that Kennedy “never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon“, despite a directive from Elijah Muhammad that no Muslim minister comment on the assassination. 3 days later Malcolm is suspended and silenced by Elijah Muhammad from his ministry for ninety days for his remark on the death of the president. That same month, December 1963 Malcolm’s mother, Louise Little, is released from the mental hospital.
By January 1964 rumours of his ‘difficulties’ with the Nation of Islam begin to emerge. On 6th January he is summoned to Phoenix for a secret preliminary hearing with Elijah Muhammad, John Ali (National Secretary of the Nation of Islam), and Raymond Sharrieff; rumors circulate in Harlem that Malcolm has not only been suspended but also “isolated,” which means that all Muslims are forbidden to speak to him. He also meets with Cassius Clay and Alex Haley… In February 1964 a “former assistant to Malcolm at Mosque No. 7 informs him that he has been asked by a mosque official to wire Malcolm X’s car with a bomb.” On the 8th March 1964 the New York Times carries an article entitled, “Malcolm X Splits With Muhammad.” Malcolm X plans to create a “black nationalist party” and will cooperate with local civil rights actions in order to heighten political consciousness of Negroes. He begins to give interviews of his split with NOI and on 10 March 1964 he tells Ebony magazine that the Black Muslim leaders have “got to kill me. They can’t afford to let me live. . . I know where the bodies are buried. And if they press me, I’ll exhume some.” On that same day the NOI demands his house back: sending Malcolm a certified letter requesting that he return all NOI property, “including the house in East Elmhurst.” On the 26 March he meets Martin Luther King Jr., face to face, for the first and only time, after a King news conference in the U.S. Capitol. King later says of the meeting: “He (Malcolm X) is very articulate, but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views–at least insofar as I understand where he now stands.” On 3 April Malcolm debates Louis Lomax in Cleveland and delivers his speech, “The Ballet or the Bullet” at a symposium sponsored by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality).
April 1964, Malcolm X now founds Muslim Mosque Inc., stating, “I never left the Nation of Islam of my own free will. It was they who conspired with Captain Joseph here in New York to pressure me out of the Nation.” The purpose of MMI is: “…religious. Its aim is to create an atmosphere and facilities in which people who are interested in Islam can get a better understanding of Islam.” (Malcolm X)
He travels widely in 1964: in April he travels from Germany to Mecca. On the 20 April he writes of his pilgrimage to Mecca in a letter: “…many white people he met during the pilgrimage displayed a spirit of unity and brotherhood that provided him a new, positive insight into race relations; in Islam, he now feels, lies the power to overcome racial antagonism and to obliterate it from the heart of white America.” From the 21st of April to the 30th he is honoured as a guest of the state by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal.
At the end of April he flies to Beirut to speak at the Sudanese Cultural Center, then back to Cairo; travelling by rail to Alexandria, where he boards an airplane to Nigeria. On the 6th May Malcolm arrives in Lagos. He appears on various Nigerian radio and television programs from the 6th until May 10th. On the 8th May the New York Times reports on a letter written by Malcolm while in Africa, the caption reading: “Malcolm X Pleased by White Attitude on Trip to Mecca.” From Lagos he flies to Accra, Ghana, invited by the Marxist Forum, a new student organization at the University of Ghana. On the 12 May he holds a Press conference at the Press Club in Accra and on the 13th he speaks at the Marxist Forum, in the University of Ghana: “Will Africa Ignite America’s Racial Power Keg.”
Malcolm X (Speech at University of Ghana, May 13, 1964):
“No condition of any people on earth is more deplorable than the condition, or plight, of the twenty-two million Black people in America. And our condition is so deplorable because we are in a country that professes to be a democracy and professes to be striving to give justice and freedom and equality to everyone who is born under its constitution. If we were born in South Africa or in Angola or some part of this earth where they don’t profess to be for freedom, that would be another thing; but when we are born in a country that stands up and represents itself as the leader of the Free World, and you still have to beg and crawl just to get a chance to drink a cup of coffee, then the condition is very deplorable indeed.”
He addresses the Ghanian parliament on May 14. On the 15 May he has an audience with President Kwame Nkrumah, (who led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957 as well as being a founding member of the Organization of African Unity) which Malcolm describes as “his highest in all of Africa; that afternoon he addresses two hundred students at the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute in Winneba, South Ghana”. 17 May: he flies to Monrovia, Liberia, then to Dakar, capital of Senegal, and from there to Morocco. On the 19th May – his thirty-ninth birthday, he arrives in Algiers. On the 21 May Malcolm X returns to New York, arriving at New York’s Kennedy International Airport. On the 22 May the New York Times reports “Malcolm Says He Is Backed Abroad.“
On 23 May 1964: during the debate with Louis Lomax in Chicago on “The Negro Revolt,” he makes the significant statement that he has somewhat changed his mind regarding the white man. He also appears on “Kup’s Show” on Channel 7 in Chicago and states that many whites want to help the struggle of the Negro. By mid-1964 threats against Malcolm’s life are now beginning to emerge. In June the New York Herald Tribune reports that Malcolm X is under protection of the police and bodyguards because of anonymous telephone threats to wire service and newspaper that he would be shot if he appeared in court for his eviction trial…The same month he speaks of the split with NOI: in an interview on WEEI (Boston) radio program, “Conversation for Peace,” he states that he broke with the NOI because of moral problem; he also speaks about Elijah Muhammad’s illegitimate children.
On 21st June: At an MMI rally, Malcolm X calls the Civil Rights Bill a “farce” and mentions the emergence of a new group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), “…the aim of…the Organization of Afro-American Unity, is to use whatever means necessary to bring about a society in which the twenty-two million Afro-Americans are recognized and respected as human beings…” and one which will be committed to doing “whatever is necessary to bring the Negro struggle from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights”. In June he also calls for an end to hostilities between himself and Elijah Muhammad.
Malcolm X (Speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, 28 June 1964):
“We have formed an organization known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity which has the same aim and objective to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.
That’s our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.”
In the same month in interviews he states that the cause of civil rights are human rights. Shortly afterwards he establishes contact with Martin Luther King Jr. sending a telegram to Martin Luther King and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) about the Saint Augustine attacks; he offers assistance to the civil rights movement and states that “on King’s word” he would send some brothers to give the KKK “a taste of its own medicine.”
Malcolm X (Telegram sent to George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, during Rockwell’s “Hate Bus” tour of the Southern US States, quoted in an interview on January 24, 1965):
“This is to warn you that I am no longer held in check from fighting white supremacists by Elijah Muhammad’s separatist Black Muslim movement, and that if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm to Reverend King or any other black Americans who are only attempting to enjoy their rights as free human beings, that you and your Ku Klux Klan friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation from those of us who are not hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence, and who believe in asserting our right of self-defense — by any means necessary.”
He also speaks in Omaha, Nebraska, with “considerable tolerance toward other Negro rights groups”; the Omaha World-Herald reporting the establishment of the OAAU, an organization committed to doing “whatever is necessary to bring the Negro struggle from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights.”
In July a number of incidents of threatened violence occur near his home in East Elmhurst. On the 7 July he reports to police in New York that an attempt on his life was made that day.
From July to November 1964, under the name Malik El-Shabazz he travels to Cairo where he attends the African Summit Conference as a representative of the OAAU. There he appeals to the delegates of the thirty-four African nations to bring the cause of the twenty-two million black people in the United States before the United Nations. He also distributes a press release on OAAU letterhead on behalf of twenty-two million Afro-Americans in the United States. He travels through Africa visiting Kenya and Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta and Ugandan Milton Obote Babu in Dar as Salaam, Tanzania. In Lagos he notes that factionalism is a major problem in Africa.
24 November 1964: Malcolm return to New York at 6:41pm and is greeted by sixty MMI and OAAU members. In December 1964 he debates in Oxford University, England. Threats against his life by the NOI continue yet he continues to attend meetings, protests, he continues to organise, deliver speeches, attend debates… On 13 December 1964 he speaks at an OAAU rally with Dick Gregory, and reads a message from Che Guevara, five hundred attend. “I love a revolutionary,” Malcolm told the audience at the Audubon that night, “…and one of the most revolutionary men in this country right now was going to come out here … but he thought better of it.” “Receive the warm salutations of the Cuban people and especially those of Fidel, who remembers enthusiastically his visit to Harlem a few years ago. United we will win,” Guevara wrote. On the last day of 1964, 31st December, Amiliah, Malcolm’s fourth daughter, is born.
Early 1965: he speaks at rallies and in colleges, he gives interviews on radio and TV… he continues to debate and protest: on the 18th January 1965 he gives an Interview to Jack Barnes and Barry Sheppard, leaders of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA); Malcolm will approve the final text before it appears in the March/April issue of the ‘Young Socialist’. He also begins to acknowledge the value of Martin Luther King’s contribution to the black freedom movement. In February he travels to Selma, Alabama where the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) is involved in a campaign for blacks’ voting rights. “He began to advocate “hope,” that is, the participation of African-Americans in the American political process….Martin King’s dream was shattered in 1965–68 as he observed the nightmare in America’s cities and on the battlefields of Vietnam. He began to talk like Malcolm X. In Martin’s and Malcolm’s radical shifts in perspective, they came to appreciate each other’s views about America.” (James H. Cone) “…(Rosa) Parks had also been heartened by Malcolm X’s reaching out to the civil rights movement and his journey to Selma in early 1965 at SNCC’s invitation to support the movement there. United front politics, Parks thought, were the key.” (Jeanne Theoharis) He also speaks at Brown’s Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, meeting place and offices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
He continues to travel. To Paris. To England…On 8th February he addresses the First Congress of the Council of African Organizations in London. On the 9th February he is refused entry to France by French government officials. On the 11th February he delivers a speech entitled “The oppressed masses of the world cry out for action against the common oppressor” at the London School of Economics. On the 13th he is back in New York…The next day, the 14th February Malcolm’s house in East Elmhurst is firebombed in the early morning at 2:46am. Later in the day, with his family safely with friends, he flies to Detroit where he will give his last major speech – an address to the First Annual Dignity Projection and Scholarship Award ceremony sponsored by the Afro-American Broadcasting and Recording Company at the Ford Auditorium:
Malcolm X (Speech at Ford Auditorium, February 14, 1965):
“Distinguished guests, brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, friends and enemies:
I was in a house last night that was bombed, my own. It didn’t destroy all my clothes, not all, but you know what happens when fire dashes through — they get smoky. The only thing I could get my hands on before leaving was what I have on now.
It isn’t something that made me lose confidence in what I am doing, because my wife understands and I have children from this size on down, and even in their young age they understand. I think they would rather have a father or brother or whatever the situation may be who will take a stand in the face of any kind of reaction from narrow-minded people rather than to compromise and later on have to grow up in shame and in disgrace.”
Louis X (Louis Farrakhan) (in Muhammad Speaks, 4 December 1964):
“The die is set, and Malcolm shall not escape, especially after such evil foolish talk about his benefactor, Elijah Muhammad. Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death.”
Malcolm X (Interview to Amsterdam News, 2 February 1965):
“My death has been ordered by higher-ups in the movement…”
Malcolm X (Speech in New York City, 19 February 1965):
“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”
On the 21st February, 1965, at 3:10pm, just after he has begun to address an OAAU rally at the Audubon Ballroom in New York, Malcolm is shot several times at close range by three assailants; a black male later identified as Talmadge Hayer (a.k.a. Thomas Hagan) is arrested at the scene. Shortly afterwards Malcolm is pronounced DOA at Vanderbilt Clinic, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
“The plans to murder Malcolm X had been discussed within the Nation of Islam for nearly a year before the morning of February 21, 1965. The delay in carrying out the crime had occurred for several reasons. First, up to the final days prior to the assassination Elijah Muhammad had not given an explicit order that his former national spokesman be killed…Second, although Malcolm was being pilloried as a heretic, he retained the respect and even love of a significant minority of NOI members. …Third, Malcolm made himself an elusive and difficult target by being out of the United States for twenty-four weeks from April to November 1964. An assassination attempt in an Islamic or African nation would have been unthinkable, even for the Nation of Islam.”
From February 23–26 public viewing of the body was held at Unity Funeral Home in Harlem. Figures attending were estimated at between 14,000 to 30,000 mourners…
27 February 1965, 9:20am, the body of Malcolm X, – formerly Malcolm Little and also known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz – is moved from the Unity Funeral Home to Bishop Alvin S. Child’s Faith Temple Church of God in Christ at 1763 Amsterdam Avenue, Harlem for the funeral services. At 9:50am the services begin which are presided over by playwright-actor Ossie Davis; approximately fifteen hundred people attend the services, five hundred of them outside the church itself. At 12:45 P.M. on the 27th February, the graveside service concludes.
He is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum on 280 Secor Road in the hamlet of Hartsdale, town of Greenburgh, Westchester County, New York, about 25 miles (40 km) north of Midtown Manhattan.
Despite his increasing popularity both during his short lifetime and after his assassination many questions remain: who was Malcolm X: black separatist…black revolutionary…human rights activist…social critic…Sunni Muslim…socialist…friend or enemy of American democracy..? Was he himself a “true revolutionary dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary“..?
In his interview with the Young Socialist magazine on January 18, 1965 shortly before his death, Malcolm had begun to explain the process of change that was beginning to occur to his thinking and his practice since leaving the Nation of Islam:
“I used to define Black nationalism as the idea that the Black man should control the economy of his community, the politics of his community, and so forth.
But when I was in Africa in May, in Ghana, I was speaking with the Algerian ambassador who is extremely militant and is a revolutionary in the true sense of the word (and has his credentials as such for having carried on a successful revolution against oppression in his country). When I told him that my political, social, and economic philosophy was Black nationalism, he asked me very frankly: Well, where did that leave him? Because he was white. He was an African, but he was Algerian, and to all appearances, he was a white man. And he said if I define my objective as the victory of Black nationalism, where does that leave him? Where does that leave revolutionaries in Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania? So he showed me where I was alienating people who were true revolutionaries dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary.
So I had to do a lot of thinking and reappraising of my definition of Black nationalism. Can we sum up the solution to the problems confronting our people as Black nationalism? And if you notice, I haven’t been using the expression for several months. But I still would be hard pressed to give a specific definition of the overall philosophy which I think is necessary for the liberation of the Black people in this country.
Despite, and perhaps because of, his inability to “give a specific definition of the overall philosophy…for liberation” there is much to be learnt from the life and work, and the ongoing transformation of the struggle of this revolutionary social activist.
“Malcolm X today has iconic status, in the pantheon of multicultural American heroes. But at the time of his death he was widely reviled and dismissed as an irresponsible demagogue. Malcolm deliberately sought to stand at the margins, challenging the United States government and American institutions. There was a cost to all this. The state branded him as a subversive and a security risk.”
Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005), the “first lady of civil rights”, described Malcolm X as a “very brilliant man…full of conviction and pride in his race…”
“In the 1990s, Parks shocked black-nationalist lawyer Chokwe Lumumba when she told him that her hero was Malcolm X. Lumumba had assumed that her work and close personal relationship with King meant that he would be her personal inspiration. No, she clarified, she had certainly loved and admired King greatly, but Malcolm’s boldness and clarity, his affirmation of what needed to be done for black people, made him her champion. Parks saw no contradiction in her deep admiration for both King and Malcolm X. Describing Malcolm as “a very brilliant man,” she had read all she could on his ministry and political program by the mid-1960s. “Full of conviction and pride in his race,” she noted, Malcolm X reminded Mrs. Parks of her own grandfather: “The way he stood up and voiced himself showed that he was a man to be respected.” Having imbibed this tradition of self-defense from her grandfather, Rosa Parks had put it to use as a young person. “We always felt that if you talked violently and said what you would do if they did something to you,” she explained in her autobiography, “that did more good than nonviolence.” (Jeanne Theoharis)
James H. Cone compares King’s view of America as “a dream . . . as yet unfulfilled,” with Malcolm’s view of America as a realized nightmare, “unexpectedly revealing two men whose visions were moving toward convergence.”
Malcolm X (‘The Ballot or the Bullet’, Speech in Detroit, Michigan, April 12, 1964):
“I’m no politician. I’m not even a student of politics. I’m not a Republican, nor a Democrat, nor an American, and got sense enough to know it. I’m one of the 22 million black victims of the Democrats, one of the 22 million black victims of the Republicans, and one of the 22 million black victims of Americanism. And when I speak, I don’t speak as a Democrat, or a Republican, nor an American. I speak as a victim of America’s so-called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy; all we’ve seen is hypocrisy. When we open our eyes today and look around America, we see America not through the eyes of someone who have — who has enjoyed the fruits of Americanism, we see America through the eyes of someone who has been the victim of Americanism. We don’t see any American dream; we’ve experienced only the American nightmare. We haven’t benefited from America’s democracy; we’ve only suffered from America’s hypocrisy. And the generation that’s coming up now can see it and are not afraid to say it.“
In his short 39 years alive, Malcolm X became “one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history”. Maya Angelou later said: “Malcolm… having said that all whites were blue-eyed devils…He went to Mecca, he went to West Africa, he said ‘I have met white skinned blue eyed men who I have openly called brother…I was wrong.’ Now it takes a great deal of courage to say that…”
Martin Luther King, Jr., (in the telegram to Betty Shabazz, expressing his sadness over “the shocking and tragic assassination of your husband”):
“While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and the root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems we face as a race.”
Malcolm X (interview to the Young Socialist magazine on Jan. 18, 1965):
“I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I’m also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are Black people. I’ve never heard anybody go to the Ku Klux Klan and teach them nonviolence, or to the [John] Birch Society and other right-wing elements. Nonviolence is only preached to Black Americans, and I don’t go along with anyone who wants to teach our people nonviolence until someone at the same time is teaching our enemy to be nonviolent. I believe we should protect ourselves by any means necessary when we are attacked by racists….”
James H. Cone:
“Nothing was more important to Malcolm X than telling the truth about black-white relations in the United States and the world. His truth was not derived from a university education. He spoke a truth that he had lived, a truth that came from the bottom of the black experience and not from privileges of the black middle class.”
“A deep respect for, and a belief in, black humanity was at the heart of this revolutionary visionary’s faith. And as his social vision expanded to include people of divergent nationalities and racial identities, his gentle humanism and antiracism could have become a platform for a new kind of radical, global ethnic politics. Instead of the fiery symbol of ethnic violence and religious hatred, as al-Qaeda might project him, Malcolm X should become a representative for hope and human dignity.”
Ossie Davis (in his eulogy at the funeral in the Faith Temple Church Of God, Harlem, 27 February 1965):
“Nobody knew better than he the power words have over the minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a “Negro” years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted — so desperately — that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans too.
There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain — and we will smile. Many will say turn away — away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man — and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate — a fanatic, a racist — who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.
Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend: “My journey”, he says, “is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and honor and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our Human Rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a United Front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.” However we may have differed with him — or with each other about him and his value as a man — let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now.”
“He was a sensitive man, a very understanding person and yes, he disliked the behavior of some whites…. He had a reality-based agenda.” (Wikipedia)
On the 5th of November 1965, almost 9 months after the assassination of Malcolm X Betty Shabazz gives birth to twin daughters, Malaak and Malikah, named after their assassinated father…
“ I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
& Links (thanks to)
By Tony Fischer (“We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest”) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photograph of Malcolm X:
By Ed Ford, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Sources & References:
Manning Marable, “Malcolm X – A Life of Reinvention”, Viking Penguin, 2011
Theoharis, Jeanne. “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks”, Beacon Press, 2013
James H. Cone, “Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare”, Orbis Books, 1992
Jared A. Ball and Todd Steven Burroughs (Eds), “A Lie of Reinvention:
Correcting Manning Marable’s MALCOLM X“, Black Classic Press, 2012
Malcolm X; with the assistance of Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, New York: One World, 1992/1965.
Young Socialist Interviews / Excerpts: http://www.themilitant.com/2002/6635/663550.html
Message to Grassroots (1963)
Roland Sheppard’s description of the assassination: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/rsheppard/day.htm
The Ballot or the Bullet, April 3, 1964, Cleveland, Ohio:
The Ballot or the Bullet, April 12, 1964, Detroit, Michigin:
Malcolm X – The House Negro and the Field Negro (Audio)
Martin Luther King – I Have A Dream Speech – August 28, 1963
Malcolm X at Oxford Union Debate
Malcolm X Make It Plain (Full PBS Documentary)
“American Experience marks the 40th anniversary of his death with “Malcolm X — Make It Plain.” This in-depth film portrait goes straight to the heart, mind and message of one of the modern era’s most complex figures. Actress Alfre Woodard narrates the special.”