52 Years ago today, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X, described as ‘our shining Black prince’, was assassinated in Manhattan’s Audobon Ballroom. His body riddled with bullets, 21 in all including 10 buckshots from a single shot-gun blast.
Recently, an elementary student asked about Malcolm X. Not being prepared with a response, the teacher could only respond that he was a man who believed in fighting for civil and human rights “by any means necessary” insinuating a more violent leader than another civil rights activist of that time. I don’t know that it was her intention to invoke violence in the conversation. Nevertheless, her words portrayed a comparison that was not lost on her audience. In fairness, that’s how the some Americans may see this man, voiced by the responses to his death in 1965.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in a telegram to his widow Betty Shabazz, “While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race.”
Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam at that time, stated “Malcolm X got just what he preached.” Some allege that this is in response to allegations that the Nation of Islam took part in his assassination.
Various publications gave varying views of this death. The New York Times described Malcolm X as, “an extraordinary and gifted man” whose life was “strangely and pitifully wasted.” While The New York Post portrayed a man whose “sharpest critics recognized his brilliance—often wild, unpredictable and eccentric, but nevertheless possessing promise that must now remain unrealized.” Time magazine labeled him a demagogue whose “creed was violence.”
It is the voice of Ossie Davis who eulogized Malcolm X in the presence of notable civil rights leaders of that time, such as, John Lewis, James Forman, Andrew Young and many others, states:
Malcolm X “didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so. There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him … And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves.”
Malcolm X was killed just as he was beginning to think for himself, as he was taking the knowledge gained through his life’s experiences to develop a new way for Black liberation. No one can deny his love of Black people, and his desire to see them unshackled. Had he lived, we have no idea how his beliefs may have developed. We are only left with his own words and our interpretation of their growth captured in his speech, “Ballot or the Bullet” April 3, 1964, less than one year preceding his death.
Many will remember Malcolm X. Many will remember those that lived during and after his time. Today, I remember a man who understood the life of Blacks who lived above the Mason-Dixon line with a struggle very different from their Southern counterparts. Today, I remember a man misunderstood by some who started a movement that continues into the 21st Century. Black is Beautiful Brother Malcolm. Thank you for allowing us to feel it.
Related Article: The Legacy of Malcolm X