In Malcolm’s Memory
By Mumia Abu Jamal
It is a tribute to grassroots Black and socialist movements that the name of Malcolm X is known today.
His handsome, bronze image stares back from U.S. postage stamps. His autobiography continues to inspire new generations all across America, and around the world. The Spike Lee production, “Malcolm X”, renewed his life story for a new generation, emblazoning the chiseled features of actors Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett in the minds of millions as the faces of Malcolm X and his beloved wife, Sister Betty Shabazz.
The Malcolm X who lived, struggled, was imprisoned, followed by the FBI (and other government agencies), whose words were like pepper in the bloody scars of America, became transformed, over time, into someone that he would barely recognize: a ‘civil rights’ activist; instead of a nationalist, a freedom fighter, a rebel to white nationalism, and, in his own words, one who fought for ‘human rights.’
For a time, he was the voice and the most recognized face of the Nation of Islam, and the paper he founded, Muhammad Speaks, was sold from coast to coast, one of the few, rare undiluted published voices of an oppressed people. He set up temples of the emergent organization in a score of cities.
He was the dark counterpart to the ‘love thy neighbor’ speeches of his closest political competitor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and indeed, his sparks of righteous indignation and anger made Martin’s sweet entreaties that much sweeter.
Malcolm’s Feb. 21, 1965 assassination in New York’s Audubon Ballroom did not spark the same kind of public, nor political reaction as did the assassination of Martin some 3 years later. Time, Newsweek and the New York Times maligned Malcolm in death, with the Times calling him a “twisted” man. Carl T. Rowan, a Black journalist, diplomat, and head of the United States Information Agency (USIA) was no better. When African and Asian countries paid him tribute, Rowan was disturbed, saying he “could not understand all the fuss about an ex-convict, ex-dope peddler who became a racial fanatic.”
But while the Black bourgeoisie ‘couldn’t understand’ the meaning of Malcolm’s loss, Black poor and working class people certainly could. He was one of us, they reasoned, and his loss was our loss.
Malcolm’s sharp, biting, and uncompromising criticism of White America, and the hypocrisy of its political leaders when it came to Black folks wasn’t lost on Rev. King. According to theological scholar James H. Cone, Martin, in private, couldn’t help but identify with much of Malcolm’s insights:
Among close associates and friends King did not hesitate to concede the truth of Malcolm’s analysis of the Black condition. He reportedly said to a friend: “I just saw Malcolm on television. I can’t deny it. When he starts talking about all that’s been done to us, I get a twinge of hate, of identification with him.” (From: James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare, Maryknoll, N.Y., 1991), p. 256).
It has been 40 years since a ruckus erupted in the Audubon, and gunmen slew Malcolm X in front of his family and followers.
He still continues to speak to new generations, who find in him, the resistance of distant ancestors, the anger and resentment of a people who know, in their hearts, that they were not dealt with fairly, and the necessity of self-defense against a system that is in perpetual war with Black America.
His life inspired a generation of young men and women to form and expand the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Africa, the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party, and myriad other groups. He brought countless white youth out of the cages of white liberalism and into movements for social justice and liberation. In a recent, somewhat amazing example, that of John Walker Lindh, who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, his trek into the Third World began in the pages of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
It has been generations, yet his voice continues to echo anew.
—Copyright Mumia Abu-Jamal, February 17, 2005