I heard Malcolm speak when he came to The University of Wisconsin in 1963. He had yet to break with The Nation of Islam and was protected by several of their bodyguards. All were dressed nattily in suits and small knotted narrow neckties. Malcolm had light skin and reddish hair. “Detroit Red” they had called him when he lived there. He spoke in a cadence which was musical. I can’t remember the details of what he said. The short of it was that he counseled fighting back. He had a wonderful sense of humor. A lovely and courageous man, I thought then. He once posed for a photo in front of a Levy’s rye bread advertisement which proclaimed “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” Despite my atheism, I identified with him, supported him, followed his evolution into a revolutionary and supporter of socialism. I smiled when he said, reflecting on reforming capitalism, that a chicken can never lay a duck egg. And if it ever did, well, it would be a pretty revolutionary chicken. A friend of mine had a photo of him on her apartment wall and said she loved Malcolm. I knew what she meant.
I remember clearly the night Malcolm X was murdered in the winter of l965, a cold February night. I had come home late to my law school dorm at NYU and picked up the New York Times, which you could get after midnight. The story of his death was on the front page. Crushing. The true story emerged later, the story of Co-intellpro and how the government assassinated Black leaders in order to “prevent the rise of a new messiah,” in J.Edgar Hoover’s words.
It was a blow we are still reeling from. Imagine the level of consciousness and organization we in America would be at if Malcolm was still here, instead of say Reverend Al Sharpton, whom the media foists on us as a leader. Or, truth be told, Barack Obama, who just appointed General MacChrystal, an assassin, to head the U.S. imperial forces in Afganistan. Obama, promoted by modern advertising, as Chomsky has written, foisted upon us as “Brand Obama”, in Chris Hedges description, a Black man with the keys to the car, now driving the empire, misleading, widely, for the time being, supported by both those who profit from empire and those who don’t.
Two years later in l967, I moved to Detroit. A real Black nationalist place. I appreciated that Malcolm had lived there. When Pathfinder Press published Malcolm Speaks, edited by George Breitman and then a second seminal volume by Breitman, Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary, I got them carried by the central book distributor in the area and they appeared in many bookstores Detroit. Later when I worked for Pathfinder in New York City I helped get them distributed nationwide. They are still in print. Malcolm has been relegated to an icon, the fate as Lenin wrote, of many revolutionaries. His picture adorns a U.S. postage stamp. This is now. Who can tell the future? I think it is likely that what Malcolm stood for, Black consciousness, uinity in action, identity with those struggling against imperialism worldwide, independence from the two capitalist parties, self-defense by any means necessary, a deep sense of love, as Che said, those ideas will have a time to come to the fore.
A birthday salute to our brother Malcolm X,