Thinking of Malcolm X after Martin Luther King Day

Racism is the original sin of the United States and the effort to banish it is a history that’s populated by heroic figures. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln may be at the top of the list. But another martyr to the cause was Malcolm X.

The powerful story of his life, with its many changes and revelations is told in his autobiography. The book ends with epilogues by journalist Alex Haley and the actor Ossie Davis. Davis’s memorial reflections are very powerful and I’ve never forgotten them. So I’ll observe MLK Day, a couple of days late, by sharing the following two excerpts of what Davis wrote about Malcolm X almost 45 years ago.

Protocol and common sense require that Negroes stand back and let the white man speak up for us, defend us, and lead us from behind the scene in our fight. This is the essence of Negro politics. But Malcolm said to hell with that! Get up off your knees and fight your own battles. That’s the way to win back your self-respect. That’s the way to make the white man respect you.

You can imagine what a howling, shocking nuisance this man was to both Negroes and whites. Once Malcolm fastened on you, you could not escape. He was one of the most fascinating and charming men I have every met, and never hesitated to take his attractiveness and beat you to death with it. Yet his irritation, though painful to us, was most salutary. He would make you angry as hell but he would also make you proud. It was impossible to remain defensive and apologetic about being a Negro in his presence. He wouldn’t let you. And you always left his presence with the sneaky suspicion that maybe, after all, you were a man!

Malcolm X was shot to death in New York City, February 21, 1965.

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One Comment on “Thinking of Malcolm X after Martin Luther King Day”

  1. Gregory Duch Says:

    Malcolm X was the “bad colored leader” in the Civil Rights movement of the early and mid 1960’s. He expressed no great love for white American society, nor for white folk, in general. He often spoke of a separate nation for blacks.

    He stood in marked contrast to the “better” “safer” black non-violent civil rights champion found in MLK.

    Yet, Malcolm’s words, I believe, reflected the social, cultural, moral, political, economic heritage
    of the African presence on this continent since 1619 in a more complete and more realistic, and more honest manner.

    Slavery was an abomination, indefensible and morally
    barbaric.
    Malcolm reflected this aspect of American history to postwar White America in all its shame. He called it what it was –and still is.

    Malcolm was not interested in civil rights. He was interested in human rights.

    Malcolm tried to rid Blacks of the slave mentality, which endures today, long after the end of the Civil War.

    In many ways, Malcolm and today’s ultra-conservatives share the view that Blacks need to stand on their own two feet; and aspire to success without governmental “handouts”, and without playing the role of societal serfs.

    Greg Duch


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