(The UNITED STATES and EQUAL RIGHTS, 1947-65 – continued)
Martin Luther King and
Malcolm X, March 26, 1964
Martin Luther King Jr. was not so popular among African-Americans in his day as he would be in the decades following his assassination. Some blacks did not care to seek favor from whites and were uninterested in being liked by whites. And they had no more desire to mix with whites than many whites had to mix with blacks. Among those hostile to King's movement was Malcolm X. In 1963, Malcolm X described King as a white man in his thinking, and he described black integrationists as "bourgeois." Malcolm was then a member of the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. All Christians, said Malcolm, were white in their thinking. Christianity, he said, was a white religion. And "white people," he told the author Alex Haley, "are born devils by nature." Malcolm claimed that the only one leader who had the qualifications necessary to unite all elements of black people in America was the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And with every point that Malcolm X made, he referred to the "Honorable Elijah Muhammad."
Pronouncements by Malcolm X got a lot of attention in the press, and he became a speaker in great demand. His sassing whites and his call for freedom "by any means necessary" appealed to many African-Americans. King, in turn, denounced "extremist leaders who preach revolution" but were "unwilling to lead what would certainly end in bloody, chaotic and total defeat."
Then Malcolm journeyed abroad, and he went on the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca. In Mecca he saw all races coming together in praise of Allah. Malcolm embraced a more standard form of Islam, and in 1964, after returning to the United States, he spoke of all races being the creation of God and all races being able to live together in peace as equals. He said he had forgotten the bad things that other black leaders had said about him, and he said that he prayed that they also forgot "the many bad things I've said about them." A reconciliation between King and Malcolm X seemed in the making.
Malcolm X had been unhappy with Elijah Muhammad's opposition to members of the Nation of Islam participating in politics and protests. And Malcolm left the Black Muslims, taking a number of Black Muslims with him, who became a part of Malcolm's independent organization. And Malcolm became to the Nation of Islam what Trotsky had been to Stalin.
Malcolm received numerous death threats at his office and his home. He announced that he was a marked man. Black Muslims followed him, and Malcolm was convinced that the Black Muslims intended to kill him. Instead of retreating, Malcolm went public with an attack on Elijah Muhammad for sexual dalliances and for having fathered eight illegitimate children. One of the Nation of Islam's rising leading activists, Louis Farrakhan, is reported to have said that Malcolm was "worthy of death." Malcolm's group kept members of the Nation of Islam at bay with guns. Then on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, a group of black men gunned down Malcolm. Members of the Nation of Islam were tried and convicted of Malcolm's murder, but they claimed innocence. And some blacks were to believe that Malcolm's death was a conspiracy that included the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Copyright © 2000-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.