May 19th is the birthday of Malcolm X. The life of Brother Malcolm has had a profound effect upon me personally. His autobiography chronicles obvious parallels to our struggle in his discovery that a sect leader had severely corrupted the religion he had devoted his life to defending, and his journey to discover that that religion stood for love rather than hate.
On another level Malcolm did what we are trying to do for our fellows. That is, to straighten up their spines. To make them walk tall in spite of generations of propaganda telling them they should not.
The following passage from The Judas Factor by Karl Evanz recounts how Malcolm even gave Reverend Martin Luther King a spinal adjustment at a time when he needed it:
…Malcolm was in the visitor’s gallery in the Senate building in Washington, D.C., listening to the heated debate on the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964. When he returned to the gallery on March 27, he saw three rows in front of him the man he publicly ridiculed but privately admired: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The two men who together symbolized the political conscience of Black America, acknowledged each other by simply nodding with a smile.
(blogger note: the “debate” was in fact a warm up for a filibuster being organized by Southern Senators in an effort to kill the legislation; a problem Dr. King apparently had no answer for)
Afterward, as Dr. King, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and their entourage walked down the steps from the gallery, they noticed Malcolm X was only a few feet in front of them. King had been tremendously impressed by Malcolm X’s recent public statements urging African Americans to vote; the statements implied that Malcolm X believed that democracy could work to the advantage of America’s disenfranchised minorities.
But the SCLC president (King) was probably dismayed by the proviso Malcolm X added to his endorsement of voting, which was that African Americans should combat violence with violence when necessary for self-defense.
The crowd came to a standstill at the bottom of the stairs, and Dr. King and Malcolm X were suddenly standing side-by-side. An Associated Press reporter, stunned by the sight of America’s two foremost black activists conversing – in public no less – asked them if they’d agree to a brief interview. Both readily complied.
The reporter asked them whether they had reached any agreements in principle on the direction the civil rights movement should take, and whether Malcolm X considered the Civil Rights Bill important.
“I’m here to remind the white man of the alternative to Dr. King,” Malcolm X said, flashing his trademark Cheshire cat grin. “If the white man rejects the proposed Civil Rights Bill which Dr. King supports, members of the doctor’s organization – and hopefully Dr. King himself – will hopefully coalesce with the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, in order to effect an end to the racial, social and economic oppression of the black man here in America.”
“How long do you expect the debate to continue?” the reporter asked, facing Dr. King. “A month would be long enough,” King answered sternly. “A creative direct action program will start if they are still talking about the bill after the first week in May.”
What would happen, the reporter wanted to know, if the debate continued beyond that point?
“At first,” King replied, “we would seek to persuade with our words –” King paused for effect, and said, “then our deeds.”
The words had an ominous ring, considering that Malcolm X, the man the press often referred to as the ‘angriest Negro in America,’ was standing beside the man known as America’s ‘apostle of nonviolence.’
Then, as if to remove any doubt about the import of his statement, Dr. King made a prediction. “If this bill is not passed,” he warned, “our nation is in for a dark night of social disruption.”
As King and Malcolm X smiled approvingly at each other, with Abernathy standing in the background, photographers captured on film a moment in African American history that FBI Director Hoover interpreted as an act of treason.
(Blogger’s note: Shortly thereafter, President Johnson – the pragmatic Texan he was – began twisting Senators’ arms in private to end the filibuster and pass the legislation. The rest is known history.)
Finally, in honor of Malcolm’s legacy here is the final 8 1/2 minutes of Spike Lee’s film ‘X’, which includes the beautiful eulogy delivered at Malcolm’s funeral by Ossie Davis.