LIVING FOR CHANGE
I Remember Malcolm
By Grace Lee Boggs
Forty-four years ago, on February 21, 1965, three months before his 40th birthday, Malcolm X was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan.
Every February I wonder if our world would be different today had Malcolm lived into his 50s and 60s.
From the moment I first heard Malcolm speak at a huge Nation of Islam rally in the old Olympia Stadium in Detroit, I was captivated by the razor-sharp, yet playful language with which he exposed and opposed white society. Later, at smaller meetings, I was fascinated by the way he chided blacks for their "slave mentality, " calling them "brainwashed" because they depended so much on whites. They squirmed as he criticized them. But they also laughed and applauded because his criticisms were so right-on and because they knew he was challenging them to look in the mirror and think for themselves, instead of catering to their weaknesses, as most black leaders still do.
Like Martin, like every true revolutionary, Malcolm was a work in progress.
From his best-selling Autobiography millions know that while in prison in his early 20s Malcolm was transformed from a petty hustler into a black nationalist leader by the ideas of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. However, few people know how seriously he began thinking for himself after he discovered in 1963 that Mr. Muhammad had fathered children with his secretaries. It was during those two years that I had the most direct and indirect contact with Malcolm.
In the spring and summer of 1963 Max Stanford, field chairman of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), went from long talks with Jimmy at our home in Detroit to talks with Malcolm in New York. Out of these talks came the new ideas about revolution in Malcolm's speech at the Grassroots Leadership Conference on November 10, 1963.
In the spring of 1964 Max arranged for us to meet with Malcolm in a Harlem luncheonette so that we could invite him to Detroit to continue his political development. After thinking it over, Malcolm declined because he felt it more important that he make the hajj.
In the fall of 1964 Malcolm's friend, Milton Henry, and I called him in Egypt to ask him to run for the U.S. Senate on the Michigan Freedom Now Party ticket (I was the Michigan FNP coordinator). Again he declined, without explaining why.
Later I learned that in this period Malcolm was rethinking the ideas about black nationalism and violence with which most people still identify him.
During the hajj he had discovered that revolutionaries come in all colors. He had also begun to recognize the contradictions in "meet violence with violence" politics. As a result, in December 1964, only two months before he was killed, he went to Selma to tell MLK that he wanted to work with him. King was in jail, but Malcolm was able to meet with Coretta.
In a conversation with Jan Carew in London a few weeks before his assassination, Malcolm explained how he was still growing personally and politically (p. 36, Ghosts in our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean. Lawrence Hill Books 1994).
"I'm a Muslim and a revolutionary, and I"m learning more and more about political theories as the months go by. The only Marxist group in America that offered me a platform was the Socialist Workers Party. I respect them and they respect me. The Communists have nixed me, gone out of the way to attack me,with the exception of the Cuban Communists. If a mixture of nationalism and Marxism makes the Cubans fight the way they do and make the Vietnamese stand up so resolutely to the might of America and its European and other lapdogs, then there must be something to it.
"But my Organization of African American Unity is based in Harlem and we've got to creep before we walk and walk before we run...But the chances are that they will get me the way they got Lumumba before he reached the running stage."
That is the Malcolm I remember.