Remembering El Hajj Malik El Shabazz – Malcolm X

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Enigmatic Leader’s Light Still Shines, 55 Years After Assassination
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay 
By D. Kevin McNeir
Executive Editor/Commentator 

During his relatively-short time on Earth, Malcolm X would face harsh criticism for his fiery speeches and provocative writings which allowed for violence when facing the same, denounced America’s “white devils” and advocated total separation from them as well as the rejection of their way of life and his ridicule of Black moderates then led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – even for his decision to break from his longtime-mentor, Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam as he embraced a new form of enlightenment and spiritual renewal. 

But on Friday, the 55th anniversary of the brilliant yet controversial leader’s assassination at the alleged hands of three members and supporters of the Nation of Islam while speaking in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom, the teachings and legacy of Malcolm X continue to garner increased interest and respect from more African Americans, Pan Africanists, students of history and religion and advocates for equal human and civil rights for all than those who once lauded his death could have ever imagined. 

While celebrations varied across the U.S., the Caribbean and various nations in Africa, the noted scholar, journalist A. Peter Bailey – one of the last people to speak with Malcolm X on the day of his murder, Feb.21, 1965 and a pallbearer at his funeral, challenged an audience in Washington, D.C. to reconsider the cause and proponents of the man he describes as his “master teacher.” 

Bailey’s insights can be heard and considered in the new Netflix Six Part Series, “Who Killed Malcolm X.” In fact, due in part to the series’ powerful revelations, the Manhattan District Attorney has recently reopened an investigation into the assassination of Malcolm X. 

Fifteen hundred people attended Malcolm X’s funeral in Harlem on February 27, 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ (now Child’s Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ). After the ceremony, friends took the shovels away from the waiting gravediggers to bury Malcolm X themselves.

In the eulogy for Malcolm X’s funeral delivered by Ossie Davis, the actor offered his reasons why African Americans, among others, should forever honor his legacy and sacrifice to humanity. 

“Here – at this final hour, in this quiet place – Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes – extinguished now, and gone from us forever . . . 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 . . . 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.”

“Malcolm was our manhood, our living, Black manhood. This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves . . . And we will know him then for what he was and is – a Prince – our own Black, shining Prince – who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.” 

In the more than 50 years since his death, what happened on that day remains a subject of debate. Three members of the Nation of Islam [NOI] — Talmadge Hayer or Thomas Hagan (a.k.a Mujahid Abdul Halim), Norman Butler (a.k.a Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Thomas Johnson (a.k.a Khalil Islam) — would be convicted of his murder in 1966 – an organization which Malcolm X himself joined in 1952 whose goal upon its founding in 1930 was to improve the economic and spiritual conditions of the African-American community in the U.S. 

However, Bailey points to whisperings and evidence which suggest that the men convicted of the crime may have served as pawns in a wider scheme to eliminate Malcolm X. 

And despite his complicated earlier life, punctuated by the effects of racism and his involvement in criminal acts which would land him in prison – the place where he first accepted the teachings of the Nation, some scholars refute allegations that he preached violence.

“He did not preach violence, he preached self-defense,” said historian Zaheer Ali, the lead researcher for Manning Marable’s 2011 biography “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.”

“America has never been nonviolent with Black people so instead of accusing Malcolm of being violent, we need to ask America about its violence,” Ali said. “This was someone who had come out of prison [and] emerged as a major leader of a growing organization at a time when most civil rights organizations did not even have a prison program, much less [would] hire a convict to be their spokesperson,” Ali said in an interview with TIME magazine. 

When TIME magazine offered its report on the death of Malcolm X in 1965, the writer’s opening line described him, not as a human rights activist, but rather as a “pimp, a cocaine addict and a thief,” albeit one whose “brand” had begun a “transformation” after death. 

And so, after many decades, we see the name and highlights of the life of Malcolm X standing in close proximity to those of Civil Rights icons like Dr. King and Rosa Parks. Truly, his is a story that illustrates the significance of change and evolution – a process that has led to our reevaluation and revision of the total man named Malcolm X. 

Yes, he still serves as an inspiration to America’s youth, particularly in light of protests over racial inequity and injustice. 

One of the organizers of today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement says she has many reasons for believing that Malcolm X remains just as relevant today as 55 years ago. 

“What was so powerful about Malcolm was that he was courageous enough to change his mind and courageous enough to admit that he made mistakes,” Alicia Garza said. “What we are inspired by and hoping to embody is that spirit of curiosity and experimentation and innovation.”

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