I watched a movie recently about Malcolm X. If you remember back during the Civil Rights movement, he was gunned down by members of the Nation of Islam because he began to break away from the narrow approach on racial issues taught by the “Prophet” Elijah Muhammad after going on a Pilgrimage to Mecca. He was about to speak at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem on February 21, 1965 when he was assassinated.
As I have often mentioned here, I am a child of the sixties. I remember the days preceding the race riots. I remember the Black and White water fountains. I remember the Black and White bathrooms, separate eating establishments, schools, clubs. Even the movie theaters were segregated. On buses, Blacks rode in the back if seats were empty. However, if a White person got on a bus and there were no empty seats, then any seated Black was supposed to give his or her seat to that white person.
I remember the Klan rallies at the old Oak tree near my home on Saturdays. I remember many of those same men sold Brunswick Stew at that same Oak tree on Sundays after Church. I recognized many of those men as members of the Klan by their voices. I asked my Mom once why those same men that sold stew on Sunday, met at the same tree on Saturday with white hoods and robes? Why did they hate Black people? My mother told me that she didn’t pay too much attention to anyone who had to hide their face to say what they had to say. I never forgot that comment.
When intagration first started in my area, I really didn’t really understand what it was all about. When we were little my brother’s best friend was a little black kid that lived behind us in town. They used to pick apples off the tree right on the line between our adjoining lots. One day there was only one apple. So they decided to share. They both ate off the same apple. I remember my mom laughing at them for eating around a worm in the apple.
One year my mom bought my dad a coat at Christmas. Because of his size it was really hard for mom to find him a coat. We were living in the county then. My parents went downtown one day to shop and my dad saw a Black man wearing the same coat. He never wore that coat again. Yet Dad had lots of black friends. I really never understood why things were this way. They just were. Once you were friends with a Black person they were ok. We just never went into each other’s home.
My first real memories of the Civil rights movement was the events in Alabama when George Wallace tried to block the entrance of a black college student to a University down there. Before it was over, Bobby Kennedy had sent the Guard in to enforce the courts decision to allow entrance. It wasn’t too long after that the marches in Selma occurred and Blacks started getting on the buses and refusing to give up their seats or ride in the back of the bus. From there the movement became a nationwide movement.
I think most kids my age, especially the Whites, just accepted things as they were without really questioning the right or wrong of things. But, I was never allowed to be rude to a Black person, especially an elderly Black person. If I didn’t say yes ma’am and no ma’am, I got punished. The ladies in our school cafeteria were Black. They were friendly to us and all us kids liked them as well.
Then we got our first Black students. I was in high school at the time. Most of the kids were nice to them. Some weren’t. Most of the problems that occurred were a result of kids acting out on what they heard at home. Our racial problems were quickly squashed though when one of the Black boys made the school basketball team. He was a really good player. Our team was not a very good team. We were a brand new school. But, this fellow helped change all that.
Martin Luther King had become a spokesman for the Black Movement. He drew crowds that grew into the thousands, even hundred thousands. Though he spoke often of non-violent means of protest, violence often followed him everywhere he went. Whites who wanted to keep the status quo and Blacks who felt progress wasn’t fast enough both contributed to the violence. On both sides there were extremist who often incited the violence to the point of riots.
Members of the Klan killed Blacks. In Alabama the Klan killed three young college students who went down there to show support for the Black cause. Two of the young people were White if I remember correctly. It was years before their killers were finally tried and convicted.
Malcolm X was another outspoken Black Civil Rights leader. He became a Muslim while in prison for burglary. By the time he left prison, he was a full fledged convert. He had given up crime and drugs. Eventually he worked his way up to becoming Elijah Muhammad’s right hand man. He preached separation of the races. He called for Blacks to become Muslims, become self supporting, self aware, and coined the phrase or term, “African American.”
He often preached that if whites attacked blacks then blacks had the right to defend themselves. But as he preached the teachings of the “Prophet” he so dearly loved and believed in some things occurred that would have a profound effect on his beliefs. First several women became pregnant by the “Prophet.” Then the Muslim leadership became threatened by his popularity. The whites were also threatened by him. The government even wiretapped his phones. Things finally came to a head and Malcolm started the Organization of Afro-American Unity and the Muslim Mosque Inc.. It was shortly after this in 1964 that Malcom went to Mecca on a “Pilgrimage.”
Malcom’s trip to Mecca had a profound effect on him. For the first time he realized that people of all races could live and worship together. His biggest change in views was in relationship to whites. He learned not all whites were evil. This, probably more than anything else, in my opinion, was what led to his death. Blacks as a whole were in the throws of a new sense of Nationalism never experienced before. His new stance threatened that newfound ideal. His growing popularity also threatened the followers of Muhammad and other Black religious leaders that he had alienated. I believe his new found ideas that he gained in Mecca would have bridged the gap between Muslims and non Muslims. Maybe this as much as his new views on whites also led to his death. But, both these suppositions are my own thoughts or opinions.
The Islamic fundamentalist Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere did not and do not have high regard for the Nation of Islam. They do not consider the African American Muslims of the Nation of Islam any different than they do any other “non Muslim.” Still, had Malcolm X survived to present day, it would be very interesting to see how his ideas and new found wisdom after his pilgrimage to Mecca would impact Blacks and Muslims today.
I had not previously heard anything about his new found ideas regarding cooperation between the races. All I remembered about Malcom X were his radical views early on. Strangely, when other Blacks sought integration, he wanted segregation so Blacks could learn to be independent and develop their own independent identity. He wanted Blacks to develop the concept of working for everything, no welfare, to educate themselves, and to like themselves.
The riots throughout the United States, the Vietnam war and war protests, and everything else going on at the time shadowed out everything else. But I think had he lived long enough, his new found views may have done much to change the way things proceeded between the races in America. I also think there would be fewer Blacks on welfare, in low income jobs and housing.
I am glad I saw the movie and got a chance to see another perspective on Malcolm X. If the events presented in the movie were accurate, America suffered a great loss at his death. He might possibly have had a greater, more positive impact on the Civil Rights Movement than Martin Luther King??
There is a lesson that can be learned here about one learning to always try to keep an open mind. There is also a lesson to be learned about never saying never! This same line of thinking can apply to Iraq. If a poor Black man in America can go to prison, change his life around, become a militant religious leader in the movement to gain racial equality for his race, then learn to be open to accomplishing that goal through cooperation “between” the races, Democracy certainly can take hold in the Middle East without taking away the heritage and religion of the people in Iraq and the region.