Who Killed Malcolm X?

“I want you to watch and see if I’m not right in what I say: that the white man in his press, is going to identify me with “hate.” He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol of “hatred”—and that will help him to escape facing the truth.”

— The Autobiography of Malcolm X

I think it’s safe to say that had Sirhan Sirhan, Arthur Bremer or Mark David Chapman been granted parole in early 2010, it would have made the news. When they’re routinely denied parole it usually makes the news. Yet Thomas Hagan (aka Talmadge Hayer), one of the convicted assassins of Malcolm X–the only one caught at the scene and the only one to confess–was granted parole between the span of the morning and evening news of April 27, 2010 to little attention. But then, even in 2010, the gap between the public perception and the historical reality of Malcolm X remains as immense as it was in 1965. He was much reviled then and is much reviled now, so nobody really has any opinion on the fact that one of his assassins is walking around as a free man.

Since his assassination, Malcolm X’s legacy has waned and his ideas have made few inroads into mainstream discourse. Spike Lee’s excellent biopic notwithstanding, he is, at best, a marginal historical figure. He is rarely seen except as a t-shirt or a poster, scarcely quoted and generally perceived as a black supremacist hatemonger who got what was coming to him. His reputation as a violent agent of hate is a lazy synopsis made easy by the ever-present and simplistic contrast with MLK’s supposed pacifism. This assessment usually comes with the unspoken addendum that if you know what’s good for you, you’ll disassociate yourself from him thoroughly and completely unless you want to be tarnished with the same “hatemonger” label. He certainly remains “radioactive” in the political sphere. Consider the national outrage over Barack Obama’s association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who had paraphrased Malcolm X’s comment about the Kennedy assassination being a case of “chickens coming home to roost”[1] almost a decade before the presidential election of 2008. Footage of Wright forced Obama to disassociate himself from Wright, his pastor of 20 years, thoroughly and completely. That’s what happens in the public sphere today when someone you know makes even a passing reference to something Malcolm X said.

Despite this lingering perception of Malcolm X as a kind of black Hitler, the reality — easily verified by historical speeches and interviews — is that Malcolm X was an extremely intelligent, highly logical and rational man who understood and articulated the reality of race relations in America as nobody had ever done before. At the height of his influence he was not only one of the most respected black leaders in America, but he was also beginning to wield enormous influence across the entire planet. He was an honored guest wherever he traveled in Africa and the Middle East. An autodidact who educated himself in prison, he was a keen student of history and as accomplished as any orator of the 20th century. He had an accurate understanding of the global nature of the racial problems facing the United States and had a plan for what to do about it. His domestic pairing with Reverend Martin Luther King in late 1964 and early 1965 is now undeniable. However, that move shocked and disturbed the U.S. intelligence community to its core, and was seen by FBI head J. Edgar Hoover as the single biggest threat to the national security of the United States of America. Malcolm X had forged strong relationships with the leaders of numerous newly-independent African states which, in addition to the longstanding surveillance by the FBI and the NYPD, led to him becoming a target of the CIA and the State Department…on top of the numerous attempts on his life from the organization he had helped build, the Nation of Islam.

He had left his nationalism behind and became an internationalist. He changed the very nature of the civil rights debate by globalizing it. Rather than discuss the problems of black people in America as an issue of civil rights, he labeled it a struggle for human rights that could be taken to the United Nations. In hindsight, it’s difficult to deny that he made a substantial contribution to the political, social, religious and moral discourse of how we treat each other as human beings both in the United States and across the planet. He understood that the United States was not immune to international pressure and he intended to bring that pressure to bear in order to address the racial problems the country faced. He was the first major political figure to reach out to African leaders since Marcus Garvey a quarter of a century previously. His influence was such that shortly after his death, several African nations did present Malcolm X’s charges against the United States at the International Court of Justice, accusing it of violating the human rights of black people, essentially comparing it to South Africa and charging it with having its own system of apartheid under the name of second-class citizenship.

Certainly, nobody can claim greater credit for the post-war spread of Islam in America than Malcolm X…certainly not Elijah Muhammad. While Muhammad may have been the dear leader of the NOI, it was Malcolm X who increased membership in the Nation of Islam from a small cult of 500 people in 1952 (the year he was released from prison) to over 25,000 active temple members nationwide in 1963, and probably closer to 100,000 fee-paying members. He established the paramilitary wing of the organization, the Fruit of Islam (“We were martial artists, but we weren’t training to become black belts: we were training to kill black belts.” — Thomas 15X Johnson). The newspaper Malcolm X founded, Muhammad Speaks (renamed The Final Call by Louis Farrakhan) was, by the end of the 60s, the largest black-owned newspaper in the country with a national circulation of 600,000 copies.

In a little over a decade, he went from just another black prisoner to one of the most respected leaders on the world stage. His transformation was astonishing by any standard. Had his message been simply the pseudo-Islamic, quasi-mystic, black nationalism of Elijah Muhammad, it’s unlikely anybody would have ever heard of Malcolm X or the Nation of Islam. But his appeal to the masses was undeniably real because it was undeniably true. Amidst the language of peace, love, harmony and non-violence, Malcolm X spoke clearly, directly and with an uncompromising voice to articulate what the vast majority of black people were really thinking: the promises of future justice and future equality were small comfort compared to the daily reality of lynchings, murder, rapes, beatings, firehoses, police dogs, Jim Crow, disenfranchisement and a history that had been stolen 400 years ago. This was not a society that wanted to be integrated and forced integration was not a viable solution. As John Henrik Clarke put it in the 1994 documentary Make It Plain, “While the other leaders were begging for entry into the house of their oppressor, he was telling you to build your own house.” His radical position was that black people should have the same…exactly the same…rights as white people and they should have them right now. After 400 years of slavery, the white man had no moral right to ask the black man to wait any longer to enjoy the rights and freedoms upon which America prided itself. It denied black Americans equal rights even as it called on them again and again to fight and die abroad in the very name of those rights that they could not enjoy at home.

Forty years later, his arguments still carry tremendous weight and yet for the most part, they remain too brutally honest to be faced directly by today’s society. That brutal honesty is one of his enduring strengths:

“One white man named Lincoln supposedly fought the civil war to solve the race problem and the problem is still here…the same white man issued the Emancipation Proclamation to solve the race problem and the problem is still here. Some more white liberals came along with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments which were supposed to solve the race problem and the problem is still here. Nine years ago, nine more white liberals, so-called, came up with what they called the Supreme Court desegregation decision and the problem is still here. Then another white man named Kennedy came along, running for president, and told Negroes what all he was going to do for them if they voted for him, and they voted for him 80 percent, and he’s been in office now for three years and the problem is still here. When police dogs were biting black women and black children and black babies in Birmingham, Alabama, that…Kennedy talked about what he couldn’t do because no federal law had been violated, and as soon as the Negroes exploded and began to protect themselves and got the best of the crackers in Birmingham, then Kennedy sent for troops. And…he didn’t have any new law when he sent for the troops when the Negroes erupted than he had at the time when whites were erupting. So we are within our rights and with justice…justification…when we express doubt concerning the ability of the white man to solve our problem and also when we express doubt concerning his integrity, concerning his sincerity, because you will have to confess that the problem has been around here for a long time and whites have been saying the same thing about it for the past 100 years and it’s no nearer a solution today than it was a hundred years ago.”

(The Problem is Still Here)

He cut America no slack whatsoever and refused to express his criticisms in anything but the harshest terms:

“I am speaking as a black man from America which is a racist society, no matter how much you hear it talk about democracy it’s as racist as South Africa or as racist as Portugal or as racist as any other racialist society on this earth. The only difference between it and South Africa, South Africa preaches separation and practices separation, America preaches integration and practices segregation. This is the only difference, they don’t practice what they preach, whereas South Africa practices and preaches the same thing. I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong, than the one comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.”

(Oxford Union Debate, December 3, 1964)

At his most fierce, he invoked warnings that sounded more like threats:

“I, for one, as a Muslim, believe that the white man is intelligent enough…if he were made to realize how black people really feel and how fed up we are without that old compromising sweet talk…why you’re the one who makes it hard for yourself. The white man believes you when you go to him with that old sweet talk, ’cause you’ve been sweet-talking him ever since he brought you here. Stop sweet-talking him. Tell him how you feel. Tell him what kind of hell you’ve been catching and let him know that if he’s not ready to clean his house up… if he’s not ready to clean his house up….he shouldn’t have a house. It should catch on fire…and burn down.”

(Speech in Los Angeles after an attack on members of the Nation of Islam)

He spoke in simple but striking analogies that painted his argument for him:

“If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out three inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made, but they haven’t even begun to pull the knife out. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

(Interview after the NOI began eviction proceedings)

His desire for revolutionary change was articulated frequently with sharp logical analysis:

“Sometimes I’m inclined to believe that many of our people are using this word “revolution” loosely, without taking careful consideration of what this word actually means, and what its historic characteristics are. When you study the historic nature of revolutions, the motive of a revolution, the objective of a revolution, the result of a revolution, and the methods used in a revolution, you may change words. You may devise another program, you may change your goal and you may change your mind. Look at the American Revolution in 1776. That revolution was for what? For land. Why did they want land? Independence. How was it carried out? Bloodshed. Number one, it was based on land, the basis of independence, and the only way they could get it was bloodshed. The French Revolution…what was it based on? The landless against the landlord. What was it for? Land. How did they get it? Bloodshed. Was no love lost, was no compromise, was no negotiation. I’m telling you, you don’t know what a revolution is, because when you find out what it is, you’ll get back in the alley, you’ll get out of the way. The Russian Revolution…what was it based on? Land: the landless against the landlord. How did they bring it about? Bloodshed. You haven’t got a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed. And you’re afraid to bleed. I said, you’re afraid to bleed. As long as the white man sent you to Korea, you bled. He sent you to Germany, you bled. He sent you to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, you bled. You bleed for white people, but when it comes to seeing your own churches being bombed and little black girls murdered, you haven’t got no blood. You bleed when the white man says bleed; you bite when the white man says bite; and you bark when the white man says bark. I hate to say this about us, but it’s true. How are you going to be nonviolent in Mississippi, as violent as you were in Korea? How can you justify being nonviolent in Mississippi and Alabama, when your churches are being bombed, and your little girls are being murdered, and at the same time you are going to get violent with Hitler, and Tojo, and somebody else you don’t even know? If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”

(A Message to the Grassroots, November 10, 1963)

He knew the reality of politics in 1960s America and how they were clearly stacked against any supposed reform:

Twenty-two million black victims of Americanism are waking up and they’re gaining a new political consciousness, becoming politically mature. And as they…develop this political maturity, they’re able to see the recent trends in these political elections. They see that the whites are so evenly divided that every time they vote the race is so close they have to go back and count the votes all over again. And that…which means that any block, any minority that has a block of votes that stick together, is in a strategic position. Either way you go, that’s who gets it. You’re in a position to determine who’ll go to the White House and who’ll stay in the dog house. You’re the one who has that power. You can keep Johnson in Washington D.C., or you can send him back to his Texas cotton patch. You’re the one who sent Kennedy to Washington. You’re the one who put the present Democratic Administration in Washington D.C. The whites were evenly divided. It was the fact that you threw 80 percent of your votes behind the Democrats that put the Democrats in the White House. When you see this, you can see that the Negro vote is the key factor. And despite the fact that you are in a position to be the determining factor, what do you get out of it? The Democrats have been in Washington D.C. only because of the Negro vote. They’ve been down there four years, and they’re…all other legislation they wanted to bring up they brought it up and gotten it out of the way, and now they bring up you. And now, they bring up you. You put them first, and they put you last, ’cause you’re a chump, a political chump. In Washington D.C., in the House of Representatives, there are 257 who are Democrats; only 177 are Republican. In the Senate there are 67 Democrats; only 33 are Republicans. The Party that you backed controls two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and still they can’t keep their promise to you, ’cause you’re a chump. Anytime you throw your weight behind a political party that controls two-thirds of the government, and that Party can’t keep the promise that it made to you during election time, and you’re dumb enough to walk around continuing to identify yourself with that Party, you’re not only a chump, but you’re a traitor to your race. You look at the structure of the government that controls this country: it’s controlled by 16 senatorial committees and 20 congressional committees. Of the 16 senatorial committees that run the government, 10 of them are in the hands of Southern segregationists. Of the 20 congressional committees that run the government, 12 of them are in the hands of Southern segregationists. And they’re going to tell you and me that the South lost the war.

(The Ballot of the Bullet, April 12, 1964)

His knowledge of scripture was comprehensive and he knew how to reach a religious audience:

“They charged Jesus with sedition…didn’t they do that? They said he was against Caesar. They said he was discriminating because he told his disciples, ‘Go not the way of the gentiles, but rather go to the lost sheep.’ Don’t go near the gentiles. Go to the lost sheep. Go to the people who don’t know who they are, who are lost from the knowledge of themselves and who are strangers in a land that is not theirs. Go to those people. Go to the slaves. Go to the second-class citizens. Go to the ones who are suffering the brunt of Caesar’s brutality. And if Jesus were here in America today, he wouldn’t be going to the white man. The white man is the oppressor. He would be going to the oppressed. He would be going to the humble. He would be going to the lowly. He would be going to the rejected and the despised. He would be going to the so-called American negro.”

(Malcolm X in Los Angeles, May 22, 1962)

Reading speeches and interviews from the last year of his life is to read Malcolm X urge that Islamic leaders pay greater attention to the plight of Muslim world. Sound advice today, it’s an astonishingly prescient message for 1965:

“Since the Arab image is almost inseparable from the image of Islam, the Arab world has a multiple responsibility that it must live up to. Since Islam is a religion of brotherhood and unity those who take the lead in expounding this religion are duty-bound to set the highest example of brotherhood and unity. It is imperative that Cairo and Mecca (the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and the Muslim World League) have a religious “summit” conference and show a greater degree of concern and responsibility for the present plight of the Muslim world, or other forces will rise up in this present generation of young, forward-thinking Muslims and the “power centers” will be taken from the hands of those that they are now in and placed elsewhere.”

(Al-Muslimoon Magazine, February, 1965)

None of his speeches or interviews can be properly appreciated without actually hearing them in the context in which they were delivered. His ability to speak about race in uncompromising terms, touch a crowd with the naked truth, articulate their anger, answer audience questions shrewedly and with style and deftly handle hostile interviewers remains unparalleled. Of all his rhetorical skills, his ability to defuse a situation with wit and humor has been buried the deepest, but there can be no doubt that he could be a very funny man. The so-called leaders who followed in his wake, be it Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton have never come close to matching Malcolm’s oratorical power and thus have never come close to reaching the audience he reached. In 1963, he was second only to John F. Kennedy as the most sought-after speaker on college campuses in the U.S. and was a guest at BerkeleyHarvardOxford and Yale.

Contrary to the almost universal public perception of him, Malcolm X never advocated violence. This runs so contrary to the almost universal opinion of Malcolm X that it simply must be repeated: Malcolm X never advocated violence. He advocated the right of self-defense and self-preservation that was deemed a fundamental right to all but black Americans. He demanded those rights by any means necessary. In his opinion, if somebody comes at you with a rifle or a club or a noose, and the government is either unwilling or unable to protect you, and you are only exercising the freedom of speech or freedom of assembly or freedom of religion or the right to vote that your government prides itself upon, you are completely within your rights to defend yourself. It was a reasonable proposition then and it is a reasonable proposition now. As he once said when discussing the outrage over his statement that black people should go out and buy rifles and join rifle clubs: “White people been buying rifles all their lives…no commotion.”


* * *

“They’re afraid that I will tell the real reason that I’m out of the Black Muslim movement, which I never told, I kept to myself. But the real reason is that Elijah Muhammad, the head of the movement, is the father of eight children by six different teenaged girls, six different teenaged girls who were his private personal secretaries.”

- Malcolm X, 1964

One of the most striking images of Malcolm X is of him at his home at 23-11 97th Street in East Elmhurst, Queens, peering out of his window with a M1 Carbine rifle in hand. Although it’s an iconic photograph, [2] it’s usually misinterpreted as Malcolm X looking out for whitey. It is, in fact, Malcolm X defending his house, his wife and his children from his own people and the organization that he had built. As National Spokesman for the NOI, he was necessarily on the road most of the time and far away from the machinations of the organization’s leadership in Chicago. Meanwhile, his own slavish devotion to Elijah Muhammad allowed him to ignore even the suggestion of improprieties by his surrogate father. However, he eventually faced the truth about Elijah Muhammad’s philandering (confirmed by Elijah’s own son, Wallace) as well as internal corruption and jealousy within the NOI. As Elijah’s family waited for the sickly patriarch to die, their primary concern was that Malcolm X would become the next leader and deal strictly with the organization’s corruption. As Malcolm X’s profile rose, the rumours and lies being whispered into Elijah Muhammad’s ears about the young minister’s plans to usurp his power and take over the Nation steadily grew. The split between master and student was well underway for some time before Malcolm realized how bad it had become.

Forced out of the Nation against his will, the combination of enmity from both the NOI and the intelligence community meant his days were numbered and he knew it. Throughout 1964 and 1965 he and his followers were under constant attack at home and abroad. As threats against his life grew more frequent and more serious, he publicly labeled the NOI a criminal organization and Elijah Muhammad insane. When he made a public statement about Elijah Muhammad’s infidelities, he had signed his own death warrant (“We weren’t training to become black belts: we were training to kill black belts.”) and publicly stated so. In one interview, when asked by CBS’ Mike Wallace about the possibility of his life being in jeopardy, he stated matter-of-factly, “I probably am a dead man already“. In his autobiography, he stated that he did not expect to live long enough to see its publication. He didn’t.

On January 14, 1965, his house was firebombed with his wife and children inside. The NOI publicly accused Malcolm X of trying to burn down his own house (and, presumably, murder his own family) as a publicity stunt designed to delay eviction proceedings. One week later, Malcolm X prepared to deliver a major speech, outlining the founding principles of his newly established Organization of Afro-American Unity. On Sunday February 21, 1965, just after 3:00 p.m., Malcolm began speaking to an audience of about 400 people at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, just north of Harlem. His wife (pregnant with twins) and his four daughters sat in the audience near the front. Just after Malcolm greeted the crowd with his traditional “As-Salamu Alaykum,” an argument between two men started near the back of the crowd. Malcolm’s security rushed to investigate, a smokebomb went off and the crowd began to panic. In the confusion, assassins who had been sitting in the front rows rushed the stage and unloaded on Malcolm with a shotgun blast and pistol shots, hitting him 16 times in total, killing him. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m., shortly after he arrived at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Three men were convicted of the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X: Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson. Hayer was shot and caught at the scene. Both Butler and Johnson were well known to Malcolm’s people as current members of the NOI and, thus, potential enemies. Had they been at the Audubon that day, they would certainly have been refused entry or at the very least, carefully monitored. Hayer refused to name either of them as accomplices, but also refused to name who his real accomplices were. In 1977 and 1978, Hayer submitted two sworn affidavits re-asserting his claim that Butler and Johnson were not involved in the assassination. In his affidavits Hayer named four men, all members of the NOI’s Temple Number 25 in New Jersey, as having participated with him in the crime. Hayer asserted that a man he knew as “Wilbur” and “Kinly”, later identified as Wilbur McKinley, shouted and threw a smoke bomb to create a diversion. Hayer said that a man named “Willie”, later identified as William Bradley, had a shotgun and was the first to fire on Malcolm X after the diversion. Hayer also stated that a man named “Lee” or “Leon”, later identified as Leon David, was armed with a pistol and fired on Malcolm X immediately after the shotgun blast along with Hayer. Hayer also said a man named “Ben”, later identified as Benjamin Thomas, was involved in the conspiracy. Hayer’s statements failed to convince authorities to reopen their investigation of the murder.

Like practically every other murder in the assassination-heavy sixties, the confusion over who killed Malcolm X is considerable. One newspaper account states that two men were arrested by the police. Was a second man taken away? Conspiracy theorists will always have the Monday morning edition of the New York Herald to suggest the involvement of either the NYPD or the FBI. This is entirely plausible since we know with the benefit of hindsight (and the Freedom of Information Act) that the NYPD and the FBI were deeply involved in exacerbating the divisions between Malcolm and the NOI, leading directly to his death. Although George Breitman’s The Assassination of Malcolm X is a good primer on the basic facts, the best book on the assassination of Malcolm X is Karl Evanzz’ 1992 book The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. Evanzz had access to the FBI’s complete file on Malcolm X and knows the subject matter intimately. His book is absolutely essential to understanding the massive campaign directed against Malcolm X.

Thanks to Evanzz, we now know that Malcolm’s organization had been infiltrated by NYPD undercover agent Gene Roberts and he had, of course, been under surveillance by the FBI for years. The FBI had infiltrated the NOI with their agent John Ali who was the NOI’s national press secretary (and the Judas in the title of Evanzz’ book). The FBI and the NYPD certainly had no love for Malcolm X, and bragged openly about the role of COINTELPRO in aggravating the rift between Malcolm and the NOI. In addition to Hayer’s affidavits, footage from 1993 of Louis Farrakhan all but admitting to the NOI’s involvement in the assassination surfaced in the 1994 documentary, Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X.

Evanzz reveals that along with several members of Elijah’s Muhammad’s immediate family, Louis X (later Farrakhan) and FOI captain Joseph X, the internal campaign against Malcolm X was largely directed by John Ali, the NOI’s national secretary, largely in charge of finances (which had started to decline as soon as Malcolm X left). He was also an FBI agent. First identified in Louis Lomax’s 1963 book When the Word is Given…, John Ali’s role, as well as the various operations against Malcolm by the NYPD and the CIA, are detailed extensively in The Judas Factor. It was obviously no secret that the racist hatemonger J. Edgar Hoover saw a serious threat in the union of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. As Evanzz makes eminently clear, while the NOI had their own reasons to kill Malcolm X, they were only one of several organizations that sought his death and were heavily aided in their goal by the aforementioned government agencies.

Thomas 15X Johnson (now Khalil Islam) has maintained his innocence since his arrest in his Bronx apartment days after the assassination. He was given the role of the man with the shotgun, even though the assassin had been described as dark-skinned with a full beard while Johnson was light-skinned and was beardless at the time. He spent 22 years in prison. Butler, now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz, was paroled in 1985. He became the head of the Nation of Islam’s Harlem mosque No. 7–Malcolm’s mosque when he was in the NOI–in New York in 1998. Hayer also denied Aziz’ involvement. According to Evanzz, as of 1993, William Bradley was in prison on a charge unrelated to the assassination of Malcolm X. Leon David was reported to be living in Paterson, New Jersey. Hayer, now known as Mujahid Halim, was granted day releases in 1993 and was paroled in 2010. Little is known about McKinley, and Evanzz states in his book that one researcher has concluded that he is dead. Evanzz also states that Benjamin Thomas died in 1986. Despite his reputation as an emerging world leader before he was killed, it appears that nearly fifty years after his death, few people care who killed Malcolm X.


* * *

In describing the sudden, explosive growth of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X once explained to an interviewer that when you plant a seed in the soil, you have to wait for some time to pass. As time passes, the season changes and when the seasons have changed, the climate changes so that the environment is now conducive to the growth of that seed. When it finally does sprout, a plant can grow very quickly. Malcolm X was, not for the last time, crediting Elijah Muhammad with achievements that rightfully belonged to him. Today, with the easy spread of information, individuals can actually hear and see Malcolm X deliver his message with the full power of his oratorical skills. While his autobiography has never gone out of print and the text of many of his speeches have been available for years, the difference between reading his words on the page and seeing him deliver them in front of a receptive audience is the difference between black and white. While the climate may not have changed enough for his ideas to reach the mainstream, more and more people every day realize that the story of the anti-white hatemonger is a lie. They hear his actual words for himself and they see no reason to disassociate themselves from him thoroughly and completely. He is becoming to be seen as the internationalist he was:

“I really don’t know what to think about Malcolm X. The media has portrayed him as a violent man, yet all the quotations that I could find from him were things I agree with completely. If I were to judge this man, solely on the quotations that I was able to find for him…I would laud him.”

(Laura S. Moncur, Staff Writer, quotationspage.com)

“People today who claim Malcolm X was racist obviously have nowhere near a full comprehension of the type of era he lived in: lynching, burnings, and senseless random killings of black people. He just said out loud what most black people thought. For those who believed he should have been more peaceful and kind well he needed a reason to be. He believed in fighting back, and not taking any crap. Sorry if that isn’t politically correct enough for you guys.”

(youtube user, l9ois)

“I don’t know much about Malcolm X but that one minute talk made a lot of sense to me….perhaps I have been lied to about this man.”

(youtube user, snowball1776)

“I’m white, and growing up in school during Black History Month it was always like ‘OK kids, there were these two guys, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and they were both civil rights leaders but Malcolm X was violent so he wasn’t as good.’ And I believed that for a long time, but I’ve watched a lot of these videos and even at his most radical he was only talking about self defense and almost everyone is OK with that. I wonder if it was like that for everyone else? I wonder if little kids today are still learning like that?” 

(youtube user, shondeaphid)

I’m pretty sure they are. He was not only too advanced for his own time, but for our time as well. In the end, he preached internationalism to a world that was still adjusting to life after colonialism. As long as the public associates him with hate and violence, it demonstrates a lack of understanding and perpetuates a lie that runs against our own best interests. However, it is a simple fact that the real philosophy of Malcolm X, a philosophy that cannot be erased or ignored and continues to spread, is still being seen and heard by more people every day. Over time, however long that time is, the truth does overcome lies. A time will come when Malcolm X is restored to the position of authority he held for many people during the last years of his life; as one of the most important human rights leaders the world has ever seen and worthy of the praise heaped upon Martin Luther King, Gandhi and others. Despite the best efforts of the FBI, the CIA, the NOI and the NYPD to silence the man, his words remain as strongly accusatory and accurate as ever. The criticism of global forces that denied human beings their legitimate rights remains as sharp and relevant as ever and the solution–peace, freedom, justice and equality for all people, by any means necessary–retains all of its honesty and power.

“The main thing is that we keep a united front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other. However we may have differed with him–or with each other about him and his value as a man–let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man–but a seed–which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us.”

- Eulogy by Ossie Davis at the funeral of Malcolm X, February 27, 1965


1. “On December 1, 1963, when he was asked for a comment about the assassination of President Kennedy, Malcolm X said that it was a case of ‘chickens coming home to roost’. He added that ‘chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.’ In further criticism of Mr. Kennedy, the Muslim leader cited the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Congo leader, of Medgar Evers, civil rights leader, and of the Negro girls bombed earlier this year in a Birmingham church. These, he said, were instances of other ‘chickens coming home to roost’.” — The New York Times, Dec. 2, 1963.

“It was, as I saw it, a case of ‘the chickens coming home to roost.’ I said that the hate in white men had not stopped with the killing of defenseless black people, but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked, had finally struck down this country’s Chief Magistrate.” — Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The phrase “chickens coming home to roost” appears in the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996): THE CHICKENS HAVE COME HOME TO ROOST — Chickens scratch around in the barnyard, in the fields and woods during the day. But at night they come home to the hen-house to roost. This saying is comparing a person’s evil or foolish deeds to chickens. If a person does wrong, the “payback” might not be immediate. But at some point, at the end of the day, those “chickens” will come home to roost. “One has to face the consequences of one’s past actions.” In English, the proverb goes back to Chaucer’s ‘Parson’s Tale’ (c 1390), “And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest”. In 1810, the English poet Robert South wrote, “Curses are like young chickens; they always come home to roost.” It was also known to Terence (about 190-159 B.C.) First attested in the United States in the ‘Life of Jefferson S. Batkins’ (1871). The proverb is found in varying forms: Curses, like chickens, come home to roost; Sooner or later chickens, come home to roost…”.

“The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997): “Malcolm X stirred up a hornet’s nest when he said this about John F. Kennedy after the (U.S.) president was assassinated, possibly alluding to the alleged CIA attempts on Fidel Castro’s life. But the saying is an old one, dating back to at least 1810 in the form of ‘Curses are like young chickens; they always come home to roost,’ which appears to have been the invention of English poet laureate Robert Southey as the motto of his poem ‘The Curse of Kehama.’ The idea, of course, is that every curse or evil act returns to its originator as chickens return to their roost at night.”

2. Although it’s a famous photograph, I couldn’t find any high-resolution versions online or any information about the photographer or where it appeared. All online sources I could find credit this photo as appearing in the March 20, 1964 issue of LIFE magazine, but after buying that issue on eBay, I saw a short Malcolm X story, but not the photo. I reached out to a friend, who put out some queries on some photo websites. No luck. I contacted Wayne Taylor who runs the excellent Malcolm X Project at Columbia University, his answer was that “allegedly Malcolm had the photo taken by folks within his organization for publicity purposes not long before his death. Because of constant death threats and the firebombing of his home, Malcolm wanted to put out a photo showing that he was indeed armed and ready to defend himself against future threats. However, I can’t say where and when the photo was published.”

Several months after he posted the question, my friend finally got a response back to his question on the message boards on photo.net:

“At first I tried, according to the faulty note regarding the origin of the photo on Wikipedia, to search for it in the March 20, 1964 issue of LIFE. As you can imagine, the effort was of no avail. However, after two hours of intensive search, I finally stumbled upon the answer: The photograph was taken by New York Times photographer, Don Hogan Charles, and was published in the September 1964 issue of Ebony Magazine. I hope this information helps. Moreover, I am hoping that, by providing you with this info, you guys will help correct the wrong information on Wikipedia.”

Oddly, the famous picture is in a 1993 reprint of the article in Ebony during the release of Spike Lee’s movie…but not in the original 1964 issue. However, a similar picture does appear in the 1964 issue. Googling Don Hogan Charles turned up a blog entry. According to the blog, Malcolm X got Charles a job at the New York Times, where he became the paper’s first black photographer and “gave Harlem a voice in the paper”.