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28 July 11

Malcolmology 101, #32: The Assassination of Malcolm X

Malcolm X woke up on the morning of February 21, 1965 at the New York Hilton to a menacing voice over the phone: “Wake up, brother.” He was scheduled to speak later that afternoon at an OAAU rally along with guest speaker Reverend Milton Galamison. There were several oddities at the Audubon Ballroom that day, one of which was Malcolm’s request that morning that his wife and children attend the rally. Betty had been discouraged from engaging in either of Malcolm’s political groups since his return from Africa, and she was surprised at his late invitation. Malcolm also appeared hurried and agitated, lashing out at several of his staff as well as Sheikh Hassoun, a religious mentor he had met while abroad and employed as a spiritual teacher for the MMI. Finally, Malcolm had also ordered that his security not be armed or search people upon entering as they were accustomed to doing. Although members of the MMI were comfortable with such procedures from their time in the NOI, Malcolm feared that the more middle-class OAAU crowd would be put off by such personal encroachment. 

As was customary, MMI member Benjamin 2X Karim opened the rally. “Few men will risk their lives for somebody else,” he said. Most would be “running away from death, even if they’re in the right” but Malcolm X was one who “cares nothing about the consequences [and] cares only for the people.” At 3 pm, Malcolm approached the stage briskly and sat before the crowd of four hundred, which included at least three undercover police officers. Karim quickly brought his address to a close and introduced Malcolm who began with the usual Muslim greeting “As-salaam alaikum.” A commotion then started several rows back with one man yelling “Get your hands out of my pockets.” A smoke bomb went off toward the back of the room, and a man in the front row stood and walked toward the stage. He pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and shot Malcolm at the rostrum in his side and chest. Two other men ran forward and fired shots from a Luger and a .45 and then ran up the rows of toppled chairs toward the main entrance. One of Malcolm’s guards, Reuben Francis, who had disobeyed orders by carrying arms, shot a fleeing man in the leg. The conspirator, Thomas Hagan, was pulled from a crowd beating him to death by a policeman outside. Meanwhile, a BOSS undercover agent, Gene Roberts, worked to resuscitate Malcolm on the stage while the crowd waited hopelessly for an ambulance to arrive. Eventually his supporters rushed him to nearby Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on a gurney where doctors worked for fifteen minutes to revive him. However, by 3:30 pm, a physician emerged and announced: “The gentleman you knew as Malcolm X is dead.”

In the following week there was a constant fear of retribution. Just nights after Malcolm’s assassination, Mosque No. 7 was burned to the ground after a firebomb was thrown through the fourth floor window. Elijah Muhammad was guarded by 24-hour security in his Chicago home and many of Malcolm’s close friends and followers went into hiding. The police had trouble prying any information from Hagan but had arrested two Mosque No. 7 members, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, by the first week of March. Both Butler and Johnson were wanted by New York law enforcement for their involvement in another murder in the Bronx, and Hagan was at first unwilling to clear their name. By the time he admitted that the two men were not involved, the court believed he was only sacrificing himself to secure acquittals for his accomplices. However, Hagan had not met either men before and the conspiracy involved not three, but five NOI members. Hagan would sign affidavits in 1977 and 1978 with new information on the four men who he had worked with, but the courts refused to retry the case. Butler and Johnson were both paroled in the mid-1980s and Hagan in March of 2010. As those in Harlem mourned the death of their charismatic leader, Malcolm’s brother Wilfred spoke that Sunday at Mosque No. 1 in Detroit where Malcolm had first joined the Nation. “No sense in getting emotional,” he told the assembly, “This is the kind of times we are living in. Once you are dead your troubles are over. It’s those living that’re in trouble.”

25 July 11

In this episode the late Dr.Manning Marable explains the climate surrounding Malcolm X when he leaves The Nation of Islam and how Malcolm X, once separated from The Nation, begins to reach out to world leaders for support of his plan to hold the United Sates responsible for its crimes against humanity. This is the fifth installment of the Malcomology video project, a collaboration between truth2power films and Dr. Manning Marable, author of the new Malcolm X biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Visit Dr. Marable’s blog at http://detroitred.tumblr.com and truth2power films at http://truth2powerfilms.org

21 July 11

Malcolmology 101, #31: Firebombing

Early on the morning of February 14, 1965, several Molotov cocktails were thrown into the first floor of Malcolm X’s home where his pregnant wife and four daughters slept. Malcolm had fallen asleep in his study while preparing for his address in Detroit later that day and he rushed to help them escape the flames. The family watched in the bitter cold as their house burned and Malcolm and Betty decided to take the children to stay in hiding with family friend Thomas Wallace, brother of actress Ruby Dee. Much to his wife’s chagrin, Malcolm insisted that he would honor his speaking commitment in Michigan. Less than seven hours after ushering his family out of a burning home, Malcolm arrived in Detroit and checked into the Statler Hilton Hotel. His clothing reeked of smoke and he had not slept; friends worried and gave him a sedative but he was woken after a brief nap for an interview that afternoon.

That night Malcolm gave the keynote address at the Ford Auditorium at an awards ceremony sponsored by the Afro-American Broadcasting and Recording Company. Recognized at the event were Sidney Poiter, Marian Anderson and Jackie Gleason. Malcolm had been invited by his friend Milton Henry, who was a leader of the Freedom Now Party, and he gave a speech which mirrored those of  his recent visit to Europe. His address again revealed the budding influence of cultural nationalism and he stressed the need for connections both culturally and politically with post-colonial Africa. Also, despite the likelihood that the NOI had just recently made an attempt on his life and endangered his family, he cast the organization in a favorable light: “[The NOI] made the whole civil rights movement become more militant, and more acceptable to the white power structure … We forced many of the civil rights leaders to be even more militant than they intended.”

While Malcolm spoke in Detroit, however, New York was rife with rumors about the source and intent of the firebombing. The NOI claimed that they would not have bombed a house that they were scheduled to repossess; they even boldly showed up at the property to assess the damages. Meanwhile, a bottle of gasoline had been found on one of the children’s dressers and insinuations were made that Malcolm had set the fire himself in a spiteful attempt to destroy the Nation’s property. For Malcolm, the entire scenario must have recalled painful memories from his childhood in Lansing. Like his father, Malcolm faced accusations of arson to his own home in the midst of an eviction battle. The primary difference, which he was quick to lament, was that unlike the Lansing fire which had surely been set by local whites, the firebombing was the work of his former mosque membership. Anticipating the tragedy of the following week, he stated: “The only thing I regret is that two black groups have to fight and kill each other off.”

Posted: 10:38 AM

Malcolmology 101, #30: Malcolm X Denounced by NOI

Between several failed attempts on Malcolm X’s life and his looming eviction trial, it was clear that Malcolm’s falling out with the NOI was more serious than anyone could have anticipated. And, although Muhammad Speaks was almost entirely silent on anything relating to the minister during the early 1960s, Malcolm became its primary subject in 1964. The newspaper devoted numerous pages of each issue to slandering its former spokesman, even contacting Malcolm’s older brothers Wilfred and Philbert, both of whom remained ministers in Detroit and Lansing respectively. Philbert offered a public denouncement of Malcolm, calling him “cunning and clever” and warned that his “reckless efforts … will cause many of our unsuspecting people who listen and follow him unnecessary loss of blood and life.” He compared his brother to Judas, Brutus, and Benedict Arnold, and most intimately, drew parallels between Malcolm’s condition and the mental illness which had beset their mother, Louise, and brother Reginald. Malcolm accurately suspected that his brother’s critique was not in fact his own, but was written by National Secretary John Ali, and retorted that only Philbert “is dumb enough to let someone put a script in his hand and read it.” The condemnation was published in Muhammad Speaks the following month alongside the now-iconic cartoon of Malcolm’s decapitated head, horned and catapulting down towards the skulls of other notorious traitors.

Other former associates within the Nation also took their turns denouncing Malcolm as an apostate and hypocrite. Ministers Louis X (Farrakhan), John Shabazz, and Jeremiah Shabazz all contributed articles lambasting their former mentor and colleague. Talk of Malcolm in the more private confines of the mosque as recorded by FBI informants were even more vitriolic and frequently intimated violence. Supreme Captain Raymond Sharrieff told Mosque No. 7 members that “Elijah Muhammad used to like former Minister Malcolm X more than he did his own son, but Malcolm X hurt Elijah Muhammad deeply” and predicted that he would “soon die out.” In  Chicago, Malcolm began to be referred to as “Big Red” and was portrayed as a former “thief, dope addict, and a pimp.” Perhaps the most graphic critique was from Edwina X of the Newark mosque, who peppered her open invitation to the mosque with antagonisms: “Such a deceiver should dig a hole and crawl into it and pray that the parasites in the hole have mercy on him. For one who has heard the truth and still wants to go astray - there is nothing but total destruction for such a defector.” Although the order for Malcolm X’s assassination has never been directly traced back to Elijah Muhammad or any other high ranking officials, the rhetoric of the NOI during the months following Malcolm’s disaffection created an atmosphere in which no such order was necessary. It was made apparent to all within the sect that Malcolm’s death was not only a possibility, but an eventual certainty.

11 July 11

Malcolmology 101, #29: Eviction Trial and Paternity Suits

Elijah Muhammad’s inquiry to his advisors during the first week of March about the title and property rights to Malcolm’s home was not idle musing. Weeks after Malcolm announced the formation of MMI, Mosque No. 7 secretary Maceo X Owens filed papers on behalf of the Nation of Islam to have the former minister and his family evicted from their Queens home. Meanwhile, Malcolm continued efforts to publicize Muhammad’s extramarital affairs, outing Muhammad on Mike Wallace’s CBS news program and sending top aide James 67X to Phoenix to gain signatures for a paternity suit by two of the leader’s former secretaries. The NOI’s stance on the eviction trial was that the home had been purchased for Malcolm in his ministerial capacities, but that he had severed the relationship with the establishment of MMI. Conversely, Malcolm’s argument was that he had never been given the proper trial according to established NOI protocol, which included a hearing in front of the local mosque. To be brought before a civil court, rather than a Muslim court, was to him a clear deviation of principles.

The trial itself took place on June 15-16, 1964 and featured witnesses such as Captain Joseph, defectors loyal to Malcolm such as Charles 37X Kenyatta, and a two-hour long testimony by Malcolm himself. The scene was tense and Malcolm arrived guarded by ten of his followers and thirty-two policemen, while nearly fifty members of the Fruit of Islam stood by. Although Malcolm’s legal representative, Percy Sutton, clearly did not want to broach the issue of Muhammad’s affairs at the trial, his client could not resist dangling it before the court. When asked about his public comments on President Kennedy, Malcolm stated that he was “publically suspended” for that reason, but really suspended for “something private … very private.” Finally, despite Sutton’s attempts to move away from that line of questioning, Malcolm told the court that Muhammad had taken nine wives (six of whom were impregnated) and his suspension was a result of spreading this information among top NOI officials and ministers. Due to the presence of top-level Nation officials at the eviction trial, Malcolm’s pronouncement was on some levels a declaration of war.

Malcolm’s pronouncement of Muhammad’s affairs at the trial and on CBS were only the beginning of a larger act of public defamation. Just weeks before the eviction trial, James 67X had secured the signatures of Lucille Rosary and Malcolm’s teenage sweetheart, Evelyn Williams, and taken the paternity suit to Los Angeles attorney Gladys Towles Root. John Ali and Raymond Sharrieff quickly attempted to refute rumors of Muhammad’s affairs in a July 5press conference. Following the judge’s decision to delay the case until the prosecution could show just cause for Muhammad’s appearance in court, five women – at least three of whom were mistresses of Muhammad – held a press conference in Los Angeles protesting the paternity suit. The three mistresses also appeared with the widow of Ronald Stokes, Delores Jardan, in support of Muhammad.

Just before his death, Malcolm met with Root, Rosary and Williams and volunteered information, assuring his testimony in the upcoming case. However, following his death the next month, the case lost momentum. Meanwhile, in the eviction trial, the judge had ruled in favor of the Nation of Islam in September 1964, but tabled the execution of the warrant until January 1965. The eviction had hardly been served before Malcolm’s death; he and his family moved to the home of close friend, Thomas Wallace, only three days before his assassination. However, more significant than the outcome of either case, the eviction trial and paternity suits represented the public souring of a relationship which Malcolm X had once described as like that of a father and son.

28 June 11

Malcolmology 101, #28: Formation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity

Following his return from Africa, Malcolm continued to draw several hundred people to MMI rallies at New York’s Audubon Ballroom. However, there were many interested young activists and older Harlemites who were drawn to Malcolm’s politics but were disinterested in the religious aspects of Muslim Mosque Inc. The first informal meeting of what would later become the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) was held on June 9 at the apartment of Lynne Shifflett, a young journalist at NBC who had met Malcolm through a common acquaintance, Peter Bailey. Hunter College professor John Henrik Clarke also attended and suggested that the group be named and modeled after the recently formed Organization of African Unity (OAU), a group of African nations dedicated to anti-colonialism and continental solidarity and unity.  However, unlike the OAU, its American counterpart was not a coalition of nations but an impromptu group of individuals such as photographer Robert Haggins and journalist Sylvester Leaks all following a top-down model of leadership in which Malcolm was the primary, but largely absent, figure.

The OAAU’s first public rally was held at the Audubon on June 28th before nearly one-thousand spectators. Malcolm read the “Statement of Basic Aims and Objectives” which outlined issues ranging from self-defense and education to cultural nationalism and the need for alliances with other civil rights groups. He further stated that he would send a telegram to Martin Luther King offering his support and had already received encouragement from local organizations as well nations within the Afro-Asian world. In fact, a central goal of the OAAU and its close association with the OAU was missing from the stated objects of the organization. The group hoped that recognition from the OAU would help bring the plight of African-Americans before the United Nations. As much as Ghana and other recently independent African nations offered cautious support to Malcolm X, they were still reluctant to stand before the UN and indict the United States for human rights violations. 

Despite Malcolm’s initial insistence that he would carry on Elijah Muhammad’s work from outside the NOI and that no Muslims should leave the sect, the two leaders now openly waged a membership war. While Malcolm was drawing high profile people such as Paule Marshall and Juanita Poitier to the unveiling of the OAAU, Elijah Muhammad spoke before a crowd of between six and twelve thousand at the 369th Armory only a few miles south. Muhammad’s rally was an open challenge to Malcolm X in both its extravagance and location. However, the historical significance of the NOI’s rally would pale in comparison to the formation of the OAAU, which promised to be the most significant secular black nationalist movement since Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Although the OAAU would suffer from Malcolm’s long absences abroad and his assassination shortly thereafter, its aims and objectives proved to be foundational to the nascent Black Power Movement.

23 June 11

Malcolmology 101, #27: Malcolm X debates Louis Lomax

On May 21, 1964, Malcolm X was greeted at the airport in New York by sixty supporters. Just as they had in the NOI, many of his security were dressed in the distinctive Fruit of Islam uniform: dark blue suits, white shirts and a bow tie. The following day, Malcolm traveled with MMI secretary James 67X Shabazz to a press conference in Chicago. There, Malcolm set about promoting his debate with Louis Lomax at the Chicago Civic Opera House. At the debate, before a crowd of nearly fifteen hundred, Malcolm proclaimed that “Separation is not the goal of the Afro-American. Nor is integration his goal. They are merely methods toward his real end - respect as a human being.” The debaters had been billed as representing the “two extremes of the Negro community’s sentiment on race relations,” and Malcolm’s revised stance on racial separation came as a surprise. As he worked to remake his image and insert himself into the civil rights conversation, he added that he had experienced a “spiritual rebirth” and would no longer “subscribe to a sweeping indictment of any race.”

Although those familiar with the nuance of Malcolm’s speeches may have recognized that he had condemned whites according to their actions since the late 1950s, to the casual observer his turn from the “blue-eyed devils” rhetoric of the NOI represented an ideological about-face. He also worked to distance himself from the violent image that followed him from his time in the Nation. While abroad, Malcolm was erroneously linked to a Harlem gang called the “Blood Brothers,” who were charged with racially motivated killings. Although he was careful to eschew any association with such violence, Malcolm still remained a staunch advocate of self-defense. The Los Angeles Times reported that Malcolm’s greatest applause at the debate came from his statement that “unless the race issue is quickly settled, the 22 million American Negroes could easily adopt the guerrilla tactics of other deprived revolutionaries.”

Later that night Malcolm again appeared with Lomax on Irving Kupcinet’s television program, “Kup’s Show,” where he assured viewers that he had had no trouble proving his legitimacy to the orthodox Muslim world. “The only qualification for entering Mecca,” he said, “is if you bear witness … I had no trouble. Besides, Prince Faisal had given me his Deputy Chief of Protocol who went with me before the Court and acted as my interpreter. So I had no trouble at all.” In truth, there was much skepticism by the Hajj court prior to Faisal’s interference and his approval took several days. However, in only a few days back, Malcolm had already begun to establish himself as a liaison to the world community of Islam and remade his image from one of racial essentialism to racial blindness. For Louis Lomax, who had followed Malcolm’s national career trajectory from its inception in “The Hate that Hate Produced” to his “Ballot or the Bullet” speech just months prior, Malcolm X’s reinventions must have seemed endless.                     

9 June 11

Malcolmology 101, #26: Malcolm X in Ghana

On April 7, 1964, Malcolm used funds furnished by his half-sister Ella to purchase a round-trip ticket to Africa with stops in Cairo, Jeddah, Khartoum, Nairobi, Lagos, Accra, and Algiers. He left the following week under the name Malik El-Shabazz to make Hajj at the holy city of Mecca. Amidst a pending eviction battle and reported attempts on his life, he simply told the Amsterdam News: “I want to get my spiritual self strengthened.” With the exception of the religious experience of the Hajj, the highlight of his one month sojourn was a week-long stop in Ghana, where he was met by a small group of African-American expatriates: writer Julian Mayfield and his wife Ana Livia Cordero, a Puerto Rican doctor; American intellectual exile Preston King; social worker and secretary to the Ethiopian ambassador, Alice Windom; Leslie Lacy, a black American university student; and a young Maya Make (later Angelou), then working for the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama and editing for The African Review.

           

After settling down and dining with many in the expatriate community, Malcolm’s first few days were a hectic series of meetings with various diplomats, including the Cuban ambassador Armando Entralgo Gonzalez and Ghana’s Minister of Defense, Kofi Boaka. He also lectured before a full hall at the University of Ghana, where he praised Ghanaian premier Kwame Nkrumah as one of Africa’s “most progressive leaders.” He then managed to meet with members of Parliament before attending private audience with Nkrumah. On May 15, Malcolm addressed 200 students at the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute roughly 40 miles outside of Accra. He later met Mrs. Shirley Graham Du Bois, the widow of historian W.E.B. Du Bois. Malcolm’s final full day was spent meeting with Nigerian High Commissioner, Alhaji Isa Wali, and attending a party held in his honor by the Cuban ambassador.


On his way out of Accra, Malcolm encountered Muhammad Ali and his new boxing manager, Elijah Muhammad’s son, Herbert. The meeting was the first since Ali had pledged his allegiance to Muhammad and Malcolm had formed MMI, and the boxer spared no punches, laughing at Malcolm’s “funny white robe” and adding that “nobody listens to that Malcolm anymore” before the two men headed their separate ways. Just after his return home, Malcolm was also derided in the Ghanain Times by exiled South African journalist H.M. Basner who charged that the black nationalist failed to recognize the class aspects of racism and instead was consumed by racialism. Julian Mayfield wasted no time in his rebuttal to Basner, writing an article which appeared the following day and claimed that Basner was merely responding to Malcolm’s reluctance to involve liberal whites in the struggle, but that none of his argument excluded a Marxist approach of race. What ultimately upset the expatriate community the most is that Basner’s criticisms were sanctioned by a government-controlled paper, which seemed a hostile stance by Nkrumah against African-American expatriates. However, despite the uproar after Malcolm’s departure, he later wrote a laudatory account of his time in Ghana and the trip greatly influenced his growing devotion to Pan-Africanism. Soon he would call for a return to Africa both “philosophically and culturally” and portray Ghana as the “fountainhead of Pan-Africanism.”

Posted: 12:35 PM
Citation:  "Civil Rights Issue in U.S. is Mislabeled," Ghanaian Times, May 13, 1964.

Citation: "Civil Rights Issue in U.S. is Mislabeled," Ghanaian Times, May 13, 1964.

23 May 11

Columbia University doctoral student Zaheer Ali discusses Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention with Democracy Now!

Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh