Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ilyasah Shabazz On The Grave Necessity of Protecting and Honoring the True Legacy of Her Legendary Father Malcolm X who was Tragically Assassinated at Age 39 On February 21, 1965

VIDEO: Witnessed: The Assassination of Malcolm X (2015):  A televised documentary

CNN Special Report "Witnessed: The Assassination of Malcolm X”.  Initial airing on CNN was tuesday, February 17, 2015.

Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem (New York) on February 21, 1965.  He was 39 years old at the time of his death:

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor

What Would Malcolm X Think?
FEBRUARY 20, 2015

                  Malcolm X Credit Associated Press

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — FIFTY years ago today my father, Malcolm X, was assassinated while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. I think about him every day, but even more in the last year, with the renewed spirit of civil rights activism after the tragic events in Ferguson, Mo., on Staten Island and in countless other parts of the country. What would he have to say about it?

People still look to Malcolm as a model for strident activism. They lament the lack of such a prominent, resonant voice in the modern dialogue about race. But they might not like some of the critical things he would have to say about the strategies of today’s activists.

Of course, my father would be heartened by the youth-led movement taking place across the nation, and abroad, in response to institutional brutality. And he would appreciate the protesters’ fervor and skillful use of social media to rapidly organize, galvanize and educate. In a sense, his ability to boil down hard truths into strong statements and catchy phrases presaged our era of hashtag activism.

But he would be the first to say that slogans aren’t action. They amount to nothing but a complaint filed against a system that does not care. In his speeches, he did not simply cry “Inequality!” — he demanded justice, and he laid out the steps necessary to achieve it.

He counseled smart action to circumvent the inevitable consequences of systemic injustice. When he spoke about “the ballot or the bullet,” America sat up and took notice as he articulated the searing reality that, if not granted the right to participate in the system, black citizens would have no recourse but to fight. The long-suppressed fury that was beginning to boil over in black communities lent credence to this warning. And when voting rights laws and practices changed, it was in no small part because of powerful white Americans’ fear of what could  happen if they failed to act.

He would also critique the activists’ rhetoric itself. I imagine he would applaud the “Hands Up” gesture for its sheer dramatic effect, but also critique it as rank capitulation that ironically accommodates the very goal of police brutality — to intimidate and immobilize black citizens, forcing them into a defenseless posture if they hope to survive. He’d agree that “Black Lives Matter,” indeed — but also note that the uniformed police officers who disagree are not likely to be persuaded by a hashtag.

Above all, he would bemoan the lack of sustained, targeted activism. Yes, there are many people continuing the hard work that began after Ferguson. But far too many have moved on. Today when people speak about how we must fight racism, the “threat” feels empty. We have softened to the point of apathy, and everyone is so easily distracted from activism by pop culture and high-tech consumerism. How can we expect change when no one feels accountable to provide justice — including grand juries and district attorneys?

My father was never one to criticize without also offering a solution. First, he would challenge today’s young protesters to draw upon the nation’s rich history of activism and to appreciate better the contributions of those who have gone before them. What worked in Selma, in Chicago, in Watts — and what didn’t? As it is, today’s protesters often act like they are starting from square one. This disconnect cannot be dismissed as the hubris of youth; it is a symptom of our failure to teach this generation about black history and the way our economic and social systems actually function.

In that same vein, he would demand that today’s activists use that wisdom to fight the impulse of the news media and white America to explain away activism as irrational, temporary or pointlessly violent. In his day, Malcolm stepped to the microphone and proclaimed that all the race riots, upheaval and violence that the white world abhorred amounted to “chickens coming home to roost.” After Ferguson, we had plenty of news coverage denouncing the riots, but few people explaining where the impulse to riot comes from.

He would also recognize that while some things have not changed in 50 years — like police brutality — many have. Minorities have greater access to the system. We have the ability to become law officers and judges, and the ability to register and vote. He would encourage activists to take advantage of this access, to take power inside the system as well as outside it.

Voting, for example, is both action and speech. So is local organizing that emphasizes educational access, economic opportunities and political engagement. Grass-roots work is not flashy, and rarely celebrated on the national media level, but that is where change begins.

Finally, he would emphasize that he was never one man acting alone. Malcolm didn’t create black anger with his speeches — he organized and gave direction to it. A modern hero alone won’t bring us a magic solution. The key to creating change is a critical mass of ready and angry people whose passion doesn’t ebb and flow with the news cycle.

We have been shaken by the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice — shaken, but not sufficiently unsettled. We must contextualize those losses, force our neighbors to become so deeply disturbed by what has occurred that they, too, are inspired to act to change the system.

If my father were alive today, he would be humbled as a new generation emerges, yet again inspired, in part, by his life and words. He would  advocate alongside them. But he would encourage them to follow his lead and never take the path of least resistance.

Ilyasah Shabazz is the author of the young adult novel “X,” written with Kekla Magoon.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 21, 2015, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: What Would Malcolm X Think?


Why Malcolm X Is Getting Written Out of History
By Karen Bartlett
February 20, 2015
Malcolm X

Iyasah Shabazz with her father in 1964, had a racially integrated upbringing in a well-off neighbourhood of a largely white suburb. Corbis

Half way down a winding country road in New York’s wealthy Westchester County, one of America’s most famous revolutionaries lies buried under three feet of crisp white snow. It is 50 years since Malcolm X was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem and since then he has lain in Ferncliff Cemetery – far from his people, surrounded by a ring of country clubs and golf clubs, alongside other dead celebrities including Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and Ed Sullivan.

He is an icon. He is a face on a T-shirt. But although he was certainly not silent in life, his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz fears he is not well understood. “It was when I was watching the second Obama inauguration that I started to really worry that my father was being written out of history,” she says, explaining her determination to  correct what, she believes, is the misrepresentation of her father’s legacy with a series of projects that include turning the memorial centre for both of her parents at the Audubon Ballroom into a more active institution, commemorating the afternoon of Malcolm X’s murder with a moment of silence, and supporting a campaign for his birthday to become a national holiday in the US, as is Martin Luther King’s.

On a quiet winter’s morning at the Audubon Ballroom, with its small exhibit and sole staff member on the premises, some of these plans seem far from fruition – but Malcolm X continues to be a powerful figure in the political consciousness and a widely accepted part of the American story. In 1972, Malcolm’s widow, Betty Shabazz, dined with Richard Nixon, and in 1999 the US Postal Service issued a Malcolm X stamp in his honour – something the man himself might have found unbelievable.

Even so, it may be more difficult for President Obama – who has rejected the false claim that he is a Muslim – to recognise Malcolm X, than Clinton or Nixon. Although Obama has talked about The Autobiography of Malcolm X inspiring him as a young man, it was a bust of Martin Luther King that he installed in the Oval Office.

If it is easier for the political establishment to embrace Martin Luther King’s doctrine than to look into the mirror of the consequences of racial oppression and justice held up to the world by Malcolm X, the political reality annoys Ilyasah: “Why can’t these people just have a backbone and invite Malcolm? I mean, what is the big deal? Put a bust up of Malcolm X. Let’s tell the truth about Malcolm X,” she says.

Ilyasah Shabazz Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X. BEN GABBE/GETTY

Shabazz was there on the afternoon of 21 February 1965 when her father was shot more than 20 times by followers of his former organisation, the Nation of Islam. She was sitting alongside her three small sisters, and her mother, who was pregnant with twin girls. At two and a half years old, Shabazz says she remembers nothing of the terrifying events of that day, but she does remember something of her father himself: “I remember a big, tall, beautiful person with these big teeth. And I remember my doll that he’d given me, and I remember my rocking chair. I remember his voice.”

What she remembers most about her father is love; something she knows not often associated with his public representation as an angry militant separatist. While Malcolm, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, advocated discipline, self reliance and pride in the black community and his African roots, he never supported violence, she says – only telling his followers that they were entitled to defend themselves in the face of the horrific assaults and murders that black people faced on a daily basis. After he left the Nation of Islam in 1964, he embraced Sunni Islam and evolved his stance on topics as wide ranging as women’s rights, interracial marriage, and the possibility of people of all races and colours working together against injustice in a common brotherhood.

At the time of his death he was no longer Malcolm X, preaching to black urban ghettos, but Malcolm the global revolutionary, who had brought together an alliance of African and Middle Eastern leaders in support of his new Organization of Afro-American Unity, and who was intent on pressing his human rights claims against the US government at the United Nations.

It was an evolution lost on most of mainstream America, however, who remembered the man who once said, “The common enemy is the white man,” reminded black Americans that it was within their legal rights to buy a shotgun, and said president Kennedy’s assassination was a case of “chickens coming home to roost”. After his murder, The New York Times called him an “extraordinary and twisted man” who had turned his gifts to “evil purpose”, while TIME denounced him a demagogue whose “creed was violence”.

“Malcolm’s image has been tampered with, just as Dr King’s image was tampered with,” Ilyasah says. Her father needed to use strong language, she believes, to wake people up to what black Americans faced. “He used that shock factor,” she says. “It wasn’t that he thought white people were the devil – not all white people. He had to use these extreme measures because he was trying to uplift people. And so he educated a mis-educated people – and by that I mean all of America.”

It took a while for her to find her own voice and purpose, Ilyasah admits. Growing up in a largely white suburb, riding in limousines, and attending the best private schools, she was insulated from the public life of being the daughter of one of America’s most controversial leaders and she says she still does not feel personally discriminated against as a woman, a Muslim or an African American: “I think I refuse to feel it.” It was only at college that she was shocked when people ran after her shouting – “You’re the daughter of Malcolm X!”

“College was where I got to actually experience the difference between black and white,” she says. She was daunted when the Black Student Union appointed her their chairperson before she had even arrived. “What was I supposed to say?” she laughs, and makes a tiny black-power fist pump with a bewildered face: “Power to the people? Say no to drugs?” Public speaking terrified her and she once fled from the stage pretending to be sick. Her sister calmed her by telling her that she was the daughter of the Malcolm X, and she didn’t need to prove it to anybody.

“Everyone wants me to be this political person . . . I’m not Malcolm X.” Instead she likes teaching young people, and exploring her father’s legacy through her books. After writing her autobiography, she wrote a children’s book, Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X, and the recently released X: A Novel.

Her autobiography grew out of her pain and need to make sense of her mother’s death in 1997. They had been exceptionally close: “I got it all from my mother. She was amazing.” Betty Shabazz raised her six daughters alone, went to back to college and got a PhD, and was key to ensuring Malcolm X retained his rightful position in history. “My mother inspired me tremendously.”
Clan X
Malcolm X's wife Betty, centre, and daughters, including Ilyasah, far right, at the world premiere of Spike Lee's film 'Malcolm X' in 1992 Life Picture Collection/Getty, Candlewick

Malcolm X’s widow died after being burned in a fire in their apartment set by her grandson, and Ilyasah Shabazz’s 12 year old nephew, Malcolm. His mother, Qubilah had been arrested two years earlier for an alleged plot to kill Louis Farrakhan, by then the leader of the Nation of Islam, who she believed was responsible for death of her father. Although Qubilah maintains her innocence, she accepted a plea bargain that involved drug and alcohol counselling, and her son Malcolm was living with his grandmother. He later said setting the fire was an attempt to be reunited with his mother.

“My mother just loved and adored him,” Ilyasah says. “When this accident happened it changed his life. My mother was gone – and it was nothing he could ever have intended for her. So he went to a group home, and bless his little heart, I remember when he came home, I saw that he was still between growing-up and still being a little kid. And it was so sad because there was this regret, and it was so heavy on him.”

Ilyasah says she got married at this time in part to provide a solid home for Malcolm, and she cared for him after his release, trying to keep him out of the vicious spiral of the justice system. “I was just trying to get him out of that system. If you come in at 8.03 with an eight o’clock curfew, you go to jail. And he’d cry like a baby. You know, I didn’t know how to get him out.”

Seeing her nephew as a young man now struggling to make sense of his life and circumstances prompted her in part to write her children’s book, wanting to put her father’s life in context. She found that her nephew had changed, “He was like – I’m from the streets of Harlem. And I’m thinking, no you’re not! He used to say that his life was so parallel to his grandfather’s. And I would think – no it’s not.”

Malcolm X had been pained by the death of his father and the dismantling of his own family. “No one was there to say – young man, it’s okay, we’re going to get through this,” says Ilyasah, who believes her father’s own bestselling book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X downplays his solid supportive family background, and plays up his troubled youth.

Young Malcolm was finding his own way as an activist when he was killed in 2013 after a dispute in a bar in Mexico, where he had gone to support the rights of Mexican construction workers in the US. Now he lies in Ferncliff Cemetery alongside his grandparents.

Ilyasah, who devoted so much time to caring for her nephew, waves her hand in front of her face at the enormity of the tragedy. “Eventually he accepted the fact that he didn’t grow up in the mean streets of anywhere; that he went to these great schools; that he was very smart and that he came from a lineage of activists. So his life was very similar to my father’s, in the end.”

Last summer’s protests over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and then over the death of Eric Garner in New York, made Ilyasah want to reach out again to young Americans and explain her father’s legacy.

“Now you have people of all different ethnic backgrounds saying, yes, black lives matter. Then you start to think about Malcolm X and say, well, wait a minute, what did he really say that was wrong? And because you silenced people like Malcolm X we find that the same problem persists 50 years later.”

While she supports the protests, Ilyasah questions what follow-through there will be: “What is the end result?”

The end result for the memory of Malcolm X may not yet be a national holiday. Howard Dodson, who oversaw the Malcolm X papers at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, recounts that only intense lobbying by his family, and well-known figures, achieved that objective for Martin Luther King in the face of much opposition. Such opposition would be only more intense over Malcolm X.

More recently, Ilyasah and her family have disputed a series of lurid personal claims in a 2011 biography of Malcolm X written by Manning Marable. “It was a great book but they inserted three things that were just absolutely ridiculous, and we felt that it was sensationalised,” she says. In addition to alleging that Malcolm X was a cross-dresser, “they said that my father liked putting powder on old white men’s butts”, and alluded to a relationship Betty Shabazz may have had with another man while married to Malcolm. These things are “just not true”, Ilyasah says, adding that her mother was a widow for many years and never remarried. If anything of these allegations had been true, she points out, the FBI would have had a field day revealing them in the 1960s.

Ilyasah Shabazz believes the father she was denied the opportunity to know in life should go down in history as “a courageous man. A compassionate man. He was such a loving person, but he sacrificed his personal self for the benefit of humanity.” Like many of the protesters Ilyasah saw on the streets this summer, she says: “He was a young man seeking justice.”

The unfinished work of Malcolm X


February 19, 2015

Washington Post 

Malcolm X on March 5, 1964 (Eddie Adams/AP)

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.

He was fashioning himself as an internationalist. A political player.

It was a transformation thwarted. History ended up casting Malcolm X as radical foil to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the nonviolent martyr. He was boiled down to his aphorisms: “By any means necessary.” “The ballot or the bullet.”

But 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.

Here is a clip from Malcolm X's "By Any Means Necessary" speech made at the at the founding rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964. (NBC News)
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.
So now scholars are holding forums on Malcolm’s legacy. His associates are drawing attention to the work he left unfinished. The Oscar-nominated film “Selma” features a cameo from Malcolm, dramatizing his efforts to reach out.

“He was on a committed campaign to internationalize the movement,” recalled Peter Bailey, who worked for the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), the political group that Malcolm founded less than a year before his death. Malcolm changed the conversation about the civil rights movement — and the way activists think of themselves — in ways that resonate today
“We called ourselves a human rights organization, not a civil rights organization,” Bailey added, “because human rights is an international term.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X smile for photographers in Washington on March 26, 1964. (Henry Griffin/AP)
Malcolm X during a rally of African American Muslims in a Washington. (Richard Saunders/Getty Images)
Putting differences aside

Today’s civil rights movement has struggled with public rifts — younger protesters chafing against older activists over tactics. You can imagine Malcolm shaking his head and sighing.

Once the rebel, toward the end of his life he was seeking allies.

He had differences with King and other black leaders, but he wanted those differences to remain “in the closet,” Malcolm said in 1964. “When we come out in front, let us not have anything to argue about until we get finished arguing with the man.”

It was a dramatic shift. Malcolm had more than once implied that nonviolence was cowardly. He suggested that the peaceful Southern protesters should meet the violence of white lawmen with self-defense. But he respected the grass-roots sentiment there — and over time, his respect for King increased.

They’ve been compared so often, but the men met only once, a grip-and-grin for cameras as they passed in a Capitol Hill hallway in March 1964 after observing a filibuster over the proposed Civil Rights Act.

“Malcolm was pushed out awkwardly by an associate from behind a pillar,” said Garrett Felber, a researcher who worked with the scholar Manning Marable on his Pulitzer Prize-winning Malcolm X biography. “Standing in front of King, whom he had described as an ‘Uncle Tom,’ Malcolm shook hands with King before the press.”

In later years, their commonalities were clear.

Malcolm “wanted to be an inspirational force offering a different perspective than King,” said Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University historian who was selected by Coretta Scott King to edit her husband’s papers. “Both of them were internationalists. Both agreed that the African American struggle had to join ties with the struggle against colonialism and that they both saw the civil rights struggle as the struggle for human rights.”

Malcolm saw reason for them to work together. He wrote letters to King. He began to invite members of the Student-Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to Harlem to speak to his followers. Fannie Lou Hamer, the Mississippi voting rights activist, came, too.

Three weeks before he was killed, students at the Tuskegee Institute invited him to speak there, and he went to Selma, Ala., a couple of days later.

“It was an overture,” said Peniel Joseph, professor of history at Tufts University and the author of “Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power.” “He gave a speech and he told the press that Dr. King is right. He was presenting himself as an alternative and trying to help the movement.”

Local authorities wouldn’t allow Malcolm to meet with King, who was in jail, but Malcolm did have a conversation that afternoon with Coretta Scott King.

She was nervous, not knowing what to expect.

“He leaned over and said to me, ‘Mrs. King, I want you to tell your husband that I had planned to visit him in jail here in Selma but I won't be able to do it now. . . . I didn’t come to Selma to make his job more difficult, but I thought that if the white people understood what the alternative was that they would be more inclined to listen to your husband,’ ” she recalled in the “Eyes on the Prize” documentary series.

She thanked him, she said — and later wondered how much he could have achieved had he lived.

In 1959, journalist Mike Wallace hosted a series called "The Hate That Hate Produced," featuring a young Nation of Islam minister named Malcolm X. Here are two powerful clips:

By late February 1965, Malcolm was back in Harlem. He was planning for the future and thought he could do that by building up his organization.

“He was an organizer,” Bailey said. “He believed in structure.”

Malcolm was under threat after leaving the Nation of Islam and being surveilled by law enforcement, but he was determined to keep working, his nephew Rodnell Collins said.

“He did not want his children to see their father not fighting for a cause,” said Collins, who was 20 when his uncle was killed. He believed in “dying with your boots on, fighting for a cause.”

In a meeting with followers, Malcolm put to a vote whether he should speak at an upcoming event, recalled Lez Edmond, a friend who urged him to stay in the background for a while.

“The other side prevailed,” said Edmond, an associate professor at St. John’s University. “He put his arm around me and said, ‘Brother, you seem to be very upset.’ I said, ‘I am.’ But I didn’t see any fear in his eyes.”

On Feb. 21, Bailey was among the four or five people backstage to talk with Malcolm before he took the stage of the Audubon Ballroom.

“He told us he was going down to Jackson, Mississippi, to speak,” Bailey recalled. “Then he was going to spend six months building up OAAU.”

As Malcolm took the stage, someone in the audience called out, “Get your hand out of my pocket!” Before Malcolm’s bodyguards could calm the crowd, a man charged forward and shot him in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other men ran to the stage firing handguns. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Changing portrait
Alex Haley’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” published later in 1965, turned him into a martyr. It was an all-American narrative of transformation and redemption: a criminal turned devoutly religious man, who traded Nation of Islam’s “white devil” rhetoric for a spirit of brotherhood. It recast the radical as the kind of man who would be commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp in 1999.

“I don’t know if he’d appreciate that,’’ the activist and black studies scholar Richard Newman said at the time. “It’s ironic to see him honored by the government he despised.’’

A less gauzy picture came into focus four years ago when Marable’s unflinching biography of Malcolm was published, revealing exaggerations and narrative liberties in the Haley-penned biography. But the portrait remained of a strong and formidable leader, said Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He’s one of the organizers of “The Legacy of Malcolm X: Afro-American Visionary, Muslim Activist” conference being held at Duke this weekend. There he wants to talk about the forgotten Malcolm.

“The thing we forget is that Malcolm X, when all was said and done, he really was an incredible political strategist — and really a visionary,” Neal said. “He was someone who was constantly revising his views of the world, the way he would present his public persona, his ideas about radicalism and movements — civil rights movements, black power movements.”
As for today’s young activists, Malcolm’s influence continues. Taurean K. Brown, a 27-year-old based in North Carolina who writes and speaks about social justice, has found direction in Malcolm’s life and political positions.

Brown fashions himself as a Malcolm-type revolutionary — pushing for radical change instead of King’s gradual reforms. And in the rumbling protests following the deaths of Eric Garner in New York, Michael Brown in Ferguson and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, he sees an awakening the black nationalist leader would have admired.

“Malcolm’s legacy is fully entrenched in the uprising that is going on today,” said Brown, who was headed to a social-justice conference this weekend at the University of Texas at Arlington. “There is a heavy appreciation for black consciousness and black pride. His influence will always be powerful for youth because he connected with black youth in the ’hood, the disadvantaged. He understood.”
Ellen McCarthy contributed to this report.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.