(May 19, 1925 - February 21, 1965)
I just watched some clips from Malcolm X’s speeches that had been sent out over the Internet again in time to mark the anniversary of his murder, February 21, 1965.
If you have never seen Malcolm X speak, watch him now. These videos (links below) are very early in Malcolm’s evolution into one of the most important revolutionary leaders of the 20th century.
On February 21, 1965, I was stuck home in our rent-controlled, New York City Greenwich Village apartment with strep throat. It was freezing cold outside—in the low ’20s. My husband at the time, Roland Sheppard, and I were planning to go to the Audubon Ballroom to hear Malcolm speak to a public meeting of the Organization of African American Unity (OAAU)—an all Black independent organization Malcolm helped to form. He was its leader. It was to be a full house of hundreds of people. But there was just no way I could go. I still had a high fever.
At the time, Roland and I were both members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Their publication was The Militant.
The Militant became known to Malcolm X because it was the only newspaper at the time that printed his speeches word for word. All other publications—especially the bourgeois media—took his words out of context. But listening to his speeches, we in the SWP could see that his thinking was way ahead of his time and that he was becoming a true revolutionary critical-thinker and mass leader. If you hear or read his speeches chronologically you will soon learn this for yourself. That’s why we printed his speeches. He had something to teach all of us.
We used to sell The Militant outside of the Audubon Ballroom. Whites typically were not welcome except at public meetings. These were, after all, the organizational meetings of an all-Black group. Of course our Black comrades had no problems getting in to the meetings. But, when Malcolm would enter and see us white folk out there with The Militant, he would stop and buy a copy and invite us in. It was a great honor. His meetings were always attended by hundreds of Black people—easily over 400 regularly.
At one of the public meetings called several months before February 21, 1965, there was a spattering of whites, mostly from left-socialist groups, in the audience and the “press” was allowed in. Most of the “socialist left” at the time rejected Malcolm X and what was to become known as “Black Nationalism” as “racism in reverse.” You could see that when many didn’t clap when Malcolm talked about the right to self-defense or self-determination, which, basically, is what all-Black, independent formations are all about.
We did applaud. And we got very strange looks from the audience around us as we white folk cheered when he made those points.
We saw it as a mass, working-class-based, independent Black movement to carry out a united struggle for Black liberation, to fight racism, and which would inevitably lead to a fight against it’s root cause, capitalism.
We saw that independently organized Black-controlled organizations could make even stronger alliances with other working-class populations toward common goals and interests as they became apparent.
Malcolm was a thinker and his ideas evolved and he explained why his ideas changed. He was a natural educator. That is why he was such a great leader and such a great danger to capitalism, and why the ruling class had to demonize him.
Anyway, at this particular public meeting before that fateful day, February 21, 1965, the press was seated in a separate section—as I recall, also on the stage but off to the left of the speaker’s podium. My father, Nat Weinstein, was the press representative from The Militant and was seated among the bourgeois press—about a dozen reporters, in all.
Malcolm began by thanking the press for coming but singled out The Militant as being the only newspaper up there that told the truth! Oh! How proud my father was as he held up The Militant with Malcolm’s name two inches high in the banner, with the complete text of one of his recent speeches on the front page. And how proud we were. It was a stellar moment I will always remember.
I will also remember that fateful day, February 21, 1965.
The Bolshoi Ballet performing Swan Lake was being televised. Although the ballet was beautiful, I was wishing they were televising the OAAU meeting instead. I was lying in bed watching the ballet and wondering how the meeting was going when the ballet was interrupted by a bulletin in the form of words scrolled across the bottom of the TV screen reporting that Malcolm was shot.
They didn’t say if Malcolm was dead or alive—or if anyone else was shot. I worried about my husband until he finally got to a payphone to call me (no such thing as cell phones in those days except on Flash Gordon). I was relieved to hear my husband’s voice but not the tragic words he told me. Malcolm X was dead.
It’s important to listen to the voices of the past. We are lucky to live in a time that has preserved these pictures, voices and words that together, bring the men and women behind them, back to life to teach a new generation.
Malcolm was murdered just as he and Martin Luther King were coming closer together. Martin Luther King was moving closer to Malcolm X. They were meeting, talking and making plans for the future. Malcolm X had a lasting impact on King.
Be sure to read the books, Malcolm X Speaks and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And since we now have the opportunity because of the Internet, check out the Malcolm X videos on YouTube.com. There’s just nothing like seeing him speak and experiencing the confidence and power he and his words exude.
Here are a few film clips of Malcolm X in action. You cannot fail to be impressed.
•We are Living in a Police State
•On the Second Amendment—The Right to Bear Arms
•There’s a Worldwide Revolution Going On
•That House Should Catch on Fire and Burn Down