Forty Seven years ago today, Malcolm X was assassinated. Activist, Journalist and Durham resident Lamont Lilly reflects on Malcolm’s enduring legacy in this piece, entitled: We are Malcolm X - This in Remembrance.
“It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.” - El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964
Brief, yet exhaustive, this passage best represents the Malcolm X America doesn’t want you and I to know—the more complete post-Mecca Malcolm who could once again ignite an entire nation if only he were properly revisited. It seems like just yesterday, the life and times of Malcolm Little were resurrected through Spike Lee’s 1992 cinematic production, Malcolm X. Bold, vivid and vulgar, Spike’s production wasn’t only a history book for the hood; it was the artistic catalyst of a new cool: the infamous black “X” hat. It was also an introduction to Malcolm as a martyr of resistance.
How unfortunate, though, that such a revival was short lived for a generation of budding hip hoppers who were never lucky enough to meet George Wallace or Lincoln Rockwell, were never exposed to the White Citizens’ Council and never learned about Malcolm in school. Once I discovered Malcolm, I clearly understood why. Could you imagine all the Black men and political prisoners America has incarcerated converting into disciples of Malcolm X? Why, the oppressed would have their own nation by now!
Malcolm’s teachings were simple: Black is beautiful; love your roots, family and community; feed the mind; atone within; and know thyself and the rest will follow. Quite the gentle giant, Malcolm was “The Hate That Hate Produced.” He did possess an unwavering commitment to Black liberation. And what’s wrong with that? Was it true that Malcolm openly declared war against imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy? Damn right! But understand that Brother Malcolm wasn’t just a Negro leader, he was a global figure for the entire African Diaspora - for the working, poor and oppressed worldwide. Malcolm was a NOI (Nation of Islam) apostle turned international Pan-Africanist and Human Rights advocate. He wasn’t a racist, not even a “reverse racist,” as often depicted. He loved The People—his people and all people. Malcolm called out any institution, organization or government that wasn’t for The People. To Malcolm, one was either for the oppressed or against the oppressed, regardless of race or social class. He would tell you in a minute, “We got some Black devils running around here, too!” He was man so complex that, at times, he would even check himself. To Malcolm, NO ONE was exempt from being accountable to the masses. No one was exempt from being accountable to the truth. Malcolm Little was the story of true redemption. A man who hated, learned to love, and then learned to re-love. He was a mercenary for unadulterated justice.
In James Baldwin’s dagger of a memoir, No Name in the Street (1972), he meticulously dedicates five pages to Minister Malcolm—intimately reflecting upon their few interactions and the qualities he fiercely admired. Even in disagreeing with certain points, one couldn’t help but marvel at Malcolm’s tenacious and articulate “plain talk” - particularly from the lips of an ex-convict with no high school diploma. Malcolm was sharp—so sharp that long time veteran and Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin eventually refused to publicly debate with him.
Malcolm was an avid reader and an equally profound listener. Brother Malcolm would take the words of an opponent, and if they weren’t careful, hang them with their own rhetoric - especially when engaging enthusiastic integrationists such as James Farmer (founder of CORE). Yet, unlike many of today’s Uncle Tom Black spokesmen, Malcolm never spoke or wrote to impress folk. This self-proclaimed “field negro” would instead communicate in a language all could understand—from the highest to the lowest, and from the youngest to the oldest. What most formal academicians fail to realize, or acknowledge, is that Malcolm was The People’s Champ. He was a street prophet who could relate to Oxford University’s most esteemed professors just as sincerely and effectively as with Kenya’s Revolutionary Wing, the Mau Mau. Malcolm would extend the common street hustler just as much dignity as he would Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba or Kwame Nkrumah.
Malcolm was ahead of his time. While the majority of Black political figures of his era sought freedom and liberation through social inclusion (through public toilets and white restaurants) Malcolm championed Human Rights over Civil Rights and Workers’ Rights over capitalism. He even championed Women’s Rights. For some, it was okay for our mothers and sisters march the Edmund Pettus, be sprayed with hoses and bitten by dogs, but not to have an opinion or be given a microphone. Not so to Brother Malcolm. In organizing his OAAU (the Organization of Afro American Unity), Malcolm systematically sought strong sisters who could play equal roles in planning, teaching, and helping to build a revolutionary movement. His adoration for women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Graham Du Bois and elder sibling, Ella Collins, was a personal denouncement of male chauvinism. Minister Malcolm would have loved Shirley Chisholm. He poignantly articulated upon his return from Ghana, Guinea and Algeria that “Africa will not be free until it frees its women.”
I state the above to say this, brothers and sisters: more so now than ever, it will be critical amidst our mounting struggles that people of all nations thoroughly re-explore the full range of Malcolm’s thoughts and analyses. His actions, deeds, personal evolution, stages of development and ideological building blocks are just as relevant today as they were in February 1965. While today we may have a ‘dark man’ in office, there are far too many in prison. Job loss and ‘Urban Renewal’ continue to wreak havoc, while pig brutality seems to have gone UP in the Black community, at least from Oscar Grant’s perspective. Not to mention, the NAACP is back fighting resegregation, right here in Raleigh, our state capital. This is what Brother Malcolm was trying to get us to understand almost 50 years ago.
The beauty of Malcolm was that only he could represent the truth of the Black experience with such fury and eloquence—only he could dissect the brutality of American hypocrisy with such fearless clarity and impenitent passion. With heart and mind, body and soul, he awoke the dead and led the army…from the front…into the street…through the rain…into the middle of the ghetto…and right in front of Mr. Hoover and his COINTELPRO. In the end, Malcolm was me and Malcolm was you. Malcolm was ‘The People’ and the beat of our hearts. He was the one who came and gave life as he went—our Black Freedom Christ who dared to stand tall. We didn’t lose Brother Malcolm; he was a shepherd of the sheep who gave himself. Thanks Brother Malcolm, Black lives on. I, too, am Malcolm X. The oppressed live on!
Lamont Lilly is a monthly columnist for Spectacular Magazine and contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press. In 2010 he served as an International Human Rights Delegate with Witness for Peace in Colombia, South America. He currently resides in Durham as an activist, organizer and writer.