After a life filled with transformation, Malcolm X found himself in February 1965 in the throes of yet another. He had been a fringe figure, known mostly to a small circle of black Muslims and big-city sophisticates, but now he was branching out — seeking allies at home and abroad to help him become a part of the Southern civil rights movement. He had plans to take the cause to the United Nations, charging the U.S. government with failure to protect its black citizens from racist white terrorism. 50 years after he was gunned down by an assassin in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X is getting another look. His issues — particularly those that occupied the last year of his life — and his tactics speak to the current conversation.
Police brutality? Malcolm would have been on point amid the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island. “Whenever something happens, 20 police cars swarm on one neighborhood,” Malcolm told an interviewer during his crusade against anti-crime bills. “This force . . . creates a spirit of resentment in every Negro. They think they are living in a police state and they become hostile toward the policeman.” Voting rights? Once again in the spotlight, as activists challenge photo ID laws that they say hinder minority voters, and definitely a preoccupation for Malcolm. “When white people are evenly divided, and black people have a bloc of votes of their own, it is left up to them to determine who’s going to sit in the White House and who’s going to be in the doghouse,” he said in 1964.
As people across the world commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, EBONY asked some of our favorite thought leaders to reflect on how “our Black shining prince” impacted their worldview, cultural identity and work: “He taught me what it meant to publicly be a work in progress, to publicly admit when you were wrong, all in a lifelong effort to be the best person he could be for his people, his family, and himself. I take him with me everywhere I go.“-Rembert Browne, writer. “I remember the first time I heard Brother Malcolm’s speech when he asked, “Who taught you to hate yourself?” I was 15. For me, there was a healing in his truth-telling. His words gave me permission to always call it as I see it. And without apology. “-Yaba Blay, scholar/author
“As a Black man, Malcolm X was one of my first glimpses into what it meant to be proud of your Blackness on your terms; as a storyteller, his book taught me the value in honesty and owning your truth, no matter how messy it might look in the rear view mirror.”-Michael Arceneaux, writer. “The more I learned the truth about Malcolm X, the more I began to love myself. His unwavering courage is how I attempt to show up in the world and in my work.” -Wade Davis, former NFL player/Executive Director, You Can Play Project. “Malcolm wasn’t perfect, but he strived to be, and do, better—to be his best possible self for his people. That is the true worth of a freedom fighter.” -Jason Parham, writer/editor. “Malcolm X’s life taught me that being angry about injustice is an opportunity to use my voice to speak out and use my gifts to spark change.”-Ebonie Johnson Cooper, philanthropist