In 1964 Malcolm X went to Saudi Arabia and broke with his mentor and guide Elijah Muhammad. In doing so he parted with racism in all its forms; it was the beginning of an entirely new phase in Malcolm X’s political journey. The announcement made headlines all over the world.
On January 5, 1965, Malcolm X appeared on a Canadian news/quiz show called Front Page Challenge, which seems to be a cross between the NPR radio program “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” and the U.S. Sunday morning political shows like Meet the Press. Before submitting to the journalistic interrogation by the panel of experts, as on Meet the Press, the guest, who is a figure relating to some recent news story, has to undergo a What’s My Line-style game of 20 Questions and try to stump the panelists while screened from view:
Q: Did the story happen on a continent beginning and ending with the letter ‘A’?
Q: Are you a military figure?
A: [smiling] No.
Q: I don’t know why that’s getting a chuckle, but it is.
Q: Did you get kidnapped or abducted in some way?
And so on. It’s a curious kind of program; I’d love to see Julian Assange appear on something like that today!
Tragically, less than two months after this was taped, Malcolm X would be assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.
I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a teenager in school. Though I didn’t buy into his hype for religion, I took much comfort and inspiration from his biography at a difficult time in my life. I was on the receiving end of bullying from a small but vicious clique of wannabe Nazis. I was a peacenik, who confused inaction with pacifism. Instead I should have been smart and quick enough to stop the bullying then and there. I didn’t, and rode it out for 2 years.
Not fun. But it showed me everyone got fucked over somewhere down the line, and made me aware that I could never tolerate that happening to anyone. Or as I read it in Malcolm X’s autobiography:
“Hence, I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”
Here Malcolm X is interrogated by a group of hard-headed white men, who can’t get beyond their own prejudice to discuss, as one human to another, Malcolm X’s thoughts on religion, history and life. Throughout Malcolm X is an example of intelligence, dignity and grace, never allowing himself to be goaded by his detractors. Recorded in Chicago, March 17, 1963, for City Desk, with Malcolm X, and journalists Jim Hurlbut, Len O’Connor, Floyd Kalber, and Charles McCuen.
In this two hour compilation of speeches, the brilliance of Malcolm reaches through time and space to touch us and remind us of the harsh truth that almost a half century after the man was killed America is still struggling with most of the same problems we were struggling with back then. Technology, drugs and the silhouettes of cars may have changed, but the reptilian brain still keeps us anchored in the murk of class war, racism and injustice.
Born today in 1925, Malcolm X, aka Malcolm Little, and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. To celebrate his birthday, here is a an excellent and culturally important film, which looks at the great man’s life.
Narrated by James Earl Jones, this 1972 documentary about Malcolm X was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. It is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written by Alex Haley between 1964 and 1965, as told to him through conversations with Malcolm conducted shortly before his death. Made with the help of Malcolm’s wife Betty Shabazz, this documentary recounts the life and ideas of this controversial leader. In addition to clips of Malcolm X in public interviews and speeches, numerous important civil rights figures are featured, as well as important public officials from the period.
On February 21, 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated by three members of the Newark chapter of the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammed.
The New York Post published this eye witness account by reporter Thomas Skinner on February 22, 1965:
I Saw Malcolm X Die.
They came early to the Audubon Ballroom, perhaps drawn by the expectation that Malcolm X would name the men who firebombed his home last Sunday, streaming from the bright afternoon sunlight into the darkness of the hall. The crowd was larger than usual for Malcolm’s recent meetings, the 400 filling three-quarters of the wooden folding seats, feet scuffling the worn floor as they waited impatiently, docilely obeying the orders of Malcolm’s guards as they were directed to their seats.
I sat at the left in the 12th row and, as we waited, the man next to me spoke of Malcolm and his followers: “Malcolm is our only hope,” he said. “You can depend on him to tell it like it is and to give Whitey hell.” Then a man was on the stage, saying: “. . . I now give you Brother Malcolm. I hope you will listen, hear, and understand.”
There was a prolonged ovation as Malcolm walked to the rostrum past a piano and a set of drums waiting for an evening dance and stood in front of a mural of a landscape as dingy as the rest of the ballroom. When, after more than a minute the crowd quieted, Malcolm looked up and said, “A salaam aleikum (Peace be unto you)” and the audience replied “Wa aleikum salaam (And unto you, peace).”
Bespectacled and dapper in a dark suit, his sandy hair glinting in the light, Malcolm said: “Brothers and sisters . . .” He was interrupted by two men in the center of the ballroom, about four rows in front and to the right of me, who rose and, arguing with each other, moved forward. Then there was a scuffle in the back of the room and, as I turned my head to see what was happening, I heard Malcolm X say his last words: “Now, now brothers, break it up,” he said softly. “Be cool, be calm.” Then all hell broke loose. There was a muffled sound of shots and Malcolm, blood on his face and chest, fell limply back over the chairs behind him. The two men who had approached him ran to the exit on my side of the room shooting wildly behind them as they ran. I fell to the floor, got up, tried to find a way out of the bedlam. Malcolm’s wife, Betty, was near the stage, screaming in a frenzy. “They’re killing my husband,” she cried. “They’re killing my husband.” Groping my way through the first frightened, then enraged crowd, I heard people screaming, “Don’t let them kill him.” “Kill those bastards.” “Don’t let him get away.” “Get him.”
At an exit I saw some of Malcolm’s men beating with all their strength on two men. Police were trying to fight their way toward the two. The press of the crowd forced me back inside. I saw a half-dozen of Malcolm’s followers bending over his inert body on the stage, their clothes stained with their leader’s blood. Then they put him on a litter while guards kept everyone off the platform. A woman bending over him said: “He’s still alive. His heart’s beating.” Four policemen took the stretcher and carried Malcolm through the crowd and some of the women came out of their shock long enough to moan and one said: “I don’t think he’s going to make it. I hope he doesn’t die, but I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
I spotted a phone booth in the rear of the hall, fumbled for a dime, and called a photographer. Then I sat there, the surprise wearing off a bit, and tried desperately to remember what had happened. One of my first thoughts was that this was the first day of National Brotherhood Week.”
Gil Noble, producer and host of the public affairs program Like It Is, directs and narrates this heartfelt documentary on Malcolm X.