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Malcolm X Remembered 50 Years After 1965 Assassination

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This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century. He was shot dead as he spoke before a packed audience at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965. Malcolm X had just taken the stage when shots rang out riddling his body with bullets. He was 39 years old. Details of his assassination remain disputed to this day. We air highlights from his speeches, “By Any Means Necessary” and “The Ballot or the Bullet.” We also speak with journalist Herb Boyd, who along with Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, co-edited “The Diary of Malcolm X: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century. He was shot dead as he spoke before a packed audience at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem on February 21st, 1965. Malcolm X had just taken the stage when shots rang out, riddling his body with bullets. He was 39 years old. This is Malcolm X speaking a week before he was assassinated.

MALCOLM X: My house was bombed. It was bombed by the Black Muslim movement upon the orders of Elijah Muhammad. Now, they had come around to—they had planned to do it from the front and the back so that I couldn’t get out. They covered the front completely, the front door. Then they had come to the back, but instead of getting directly in back of the house and throwing it this way, they stood at a 45-degree angle and tossed it at the window so it glanced and went onto the ground. And the fire hit the window, and it woke up my second-oldest baby. And then it—but the fire burned on the outside of the house.

But had that fire—had that one gone through that window, it would have fallen on a six-year-old girl, a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old girl. And I’m going to tell you, if it had done it, I’d taken my rifle and gone after anybody in sight. I would not wait, ’cause in—and I said that because of this: The police know the criminal operation of the Black Muslim movement because they have thoroughly infiltrated it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Malcolm X in 1965, just a week before he was shot dead at the Audubon Ballroom. Details of his assassination remain disputed to this day. Half a year earlier, he gave a speech at the Audubon Ballroom called “By Any Means Necessary.” This is an excerpt.

MALCOLM X: One of the first things that the independent African nations did was to form an organization called the Organization of African Unity. […] The purpose of our […] Organization of Afro-American Unity, which has the same aim and objective to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary. That’s our motto. […]

The purpose of our organization is to start right here in Harlem, which has the largest concentration of people of African descent that exists anywhere on this Earth. There are more Africans here in Harlem than exist in any city on the African continent, because that’s what you and I are: Africans. […]

The Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are the principles in which we believe, and that these documents, if put into practice, represent the essence of mankind’s hopes and good intentions; desirous that all Afro-American people and organizations should henceforth unite so that the welfare and well-being of our people will be assured; we are resolved to reinforce the common bond of purpose between our people by submerging all of our differences and establishing nonsectarian, constructive programs for human rights; we hereby present this charter:

I. The Establishment.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity shall include all people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere […] In essence what it is saying, instead of you and me running around here seeking allies in our struggle for freedom in the Irish neighborhood or the Jewish neighborhood or the Italian neighborhood, we need to seek some allies among people who look something like we do. And once we get their allies. It’s time now for you and me to stop running away from the wolf right into the arms of the fox, looking for some kind of help. That’s a drag.

II. Self-Defense.

Since self-preservation is the first law of nature, we assert the Afro-American’s right to self-defense.

The Constitution of the United States of America clearly affirms the right of every American citizen to bear arms. And as Americans, we will not give up a single right guaranteed under the Constitution. The history of unpunished violence against our people clearly indicates that we must be prepared to defend ourselves, or we will continue to be a defenseless people at the mercy of a ruthless and violent, racist mob.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: An excerpt from Malcolm X’s 1964 speech, “By Any Means Necessary.” This May 19th would have marked his 90th birthday. He was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louise Norton Little, raised the family’s eight children. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Malcolm excelled in school but eventually dropped out and became a drug dealer, a pimp and a thief. While serving time in prison, he joined the Nation of Islam, a move that would transform his life. He would rise to become the organization’s national spokesperson and one of the most prominent black leaders in the country. He eventually split from the Nation and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm chose the surname “X” to symbolize his lost African name.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2005, Democracy Now! spoke to the renowned African-American historian Manning Marable about the life and legacy of Malcolm X. At the time, Professor Marable was working on a monumental biography of Malcolm X. He explained why he believes Malcolm X was one of the nation’s greatest political thinkers.

MANNING MARABLE: I think that Malcolm X was the most remarkable historical figure produced by black America in the 20th century. That’s a heavy statement, but I think that in his 39 short years of life, Malcolm came to symbolize black urban America, its culture, its politics, its militancy, its outrage against structural racism and, at the end of his life, a broad internationalist vision of emancipatory power far better than any other single individual, that he shared with Du Bois and Paul Robeson a pan-Africanist internationalist perspective. He shared with Marcus Garvey a commitment to building strong black institutions. He shared with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a commitment to peace and the freedom of racialized minorities. He was the first prominent American to attack and to criticize the U.S. role in Southeast Asia, and he came out four-square against the Vietnam War in 1964, long before the vast majority of Americans did. So that Malcolm X represents the cutting edge of a kind of critique of globalization in the 21st century. And in fact, Malcolm, if anything, was far ahead of the curve in so many ways.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Columbia University professor Manning Marable speaking to Democracy Now! in 2005. His nearly 600-page biography on Malcolm X took approximately two decades to write. The book was published in 2011 and is called Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Just days before its publication, Marable died of complications from pneumonia. He was posthumously awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for History for the book.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this weekend, commemorations for Malcolm X are scheduled across the country. Here in New York Saturday, a memorial will be jointly sponsored by the Malcolm X Museum, the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The evening will focus on Malcolm X’s legacy and impact from an international perspective.

For more, we’re joined by Herb Boyd, Harlem-based activist, teacher, author and journalist. He edits the online publication, The Black World Today, and writes for several publications, including the Amsterdam News. Boyd and Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, co-edited The Diary of Malcolm X: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964.

Herb Boyd, welcome to Democracy Now!, again.

HERB BOYD: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Amy, Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this diary, explain. People have heard of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain The Diary of Malcolm X.

HERB BOYD: Well, I think the diary fills in a lot of the questions that are raised with the autobiography. I think it complements it very well, and at the same time expands and elaborates on where Malcolm’s head was at that time. People often ask, “Well, where would Malcolm be right now?” I think we get a good indication where he was then, that where he would be right now. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Where did you find the diary?

HERB BOYD: The diary is at the Schomburg. It’s been there since the materials, his memorabilia, arrived there after going up into auction in Butterfield and Butterfield, and the family sued, a court injunction, stopped the sale of that material online, particularly with eBay. So, they stopped it. The stuff reverted back to the family, came back to the Schomburg in two huge crates. I mean, Malcolm was a pack rat. He kept everything.

AMY GOODMAN: This had all been at a storage facility?

HERB BOYD: Oh, yeah. It was like—the family had lapsed on payments down in Florida. A man named James Calhoun—you know, when you go to auction, you buy stuff like a pig in a poke. You don’t know exactly what’s inside of it. He got home and discovered he had a treasure trove. He then got in touch with Butterfield and Butterfield, and that’s when the whole process began in which the court had to intervene, stop the sale of that stuff. It came back to the family. The daughters were at the Schomburg, had a press conference there. The two huge crates had been returned there. A 75-year contract was signed with the Schomburg. It took them, Amy, five years before that stuff was catalogued, laminated, what have you, and prepared for scholars to do their research, as Manning Marable did.

But at the time, I was the only reporter, along with a photographer, who was invited over when they opened the crates up. And that’s when I saw the diary for the first time. And in the back of my mind—you know, I did several stories at that time for the Amsterdam News, but always in the back of my mind, I said, “One of these days, I’m going to read that diary.” And it finally came to pass, you know, and I had a chance to see it. And I thought this is something that the world needed to see. And then I got on with Ilyasah, and she agreed that maybe let’s push forward on the project.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the diary covers what period of his life?

HERB BOYD: Malcolm, the last year and a half of his life was probably the most exciting period. Of course, he’s ever-evolving. But you find that 1964, he spent 24 weeks, you know, six months, traveling in Africa and the Middle East. That’s what that diary is all about, copious notes he kept day to day. To some degree, it represents a kind of an appointment book. But in a larger sense, you know, he’s writing for posterity. You know, Malcolm even told his agent at that time, Paul Reynolds, that “One of these days, I’d like to publish this.” Much of that—some of that is lifted and put into the autobiography. But still, there’s so many revelations that comes from out of the diary that people who read this are just going to be absolutely astonished and astounded.

You know, what’s going on in his mind at that time? You remember, he’s literally flying by the seat of his pants. He’s not like Secretary Kerry or Secretary Clinton, you know, with a whole entourage, a retinue of people with him, feeding him all kind of, you know, background material, talking points. He’s doing this on his own. So, you know, just to travel to foreign countries, and the climate, the diet, the language, all of that stuff is just impacting him all at once. So, he was sick a lot in these travels, but nonetheless, you know, the kind of fortitude and determination that he represented in so many instances. Right after his house was firebombed, for example—people don’t know that it happened early in the morning. By 9:00, Malcolm is on a plane coming to Detroit, living up to his commitment to speak there at the Ford Auditorium later that day.

So, I mean, that’s where I come into his life, you know, I mean, when I recognized the man who could do that, although I had met Malcolm when I was 20 years of age back in nineteen hundred da-da-da. I met him then and was a part of that whole group of people around him in the Nation of Islam, and when he left the Nation, I left, too, although I was in the military at that point. But, you know, Malcolm has been in my life, you know, since 1958.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are some of the most—the nuggets that stood out to you when you were putting together the diary?

HERB BOYD: The diary. One of the things that—one of the main revelations for me was that I think we nailed who the CIA agent was who was shadowing Malcolm at that time. Even in his autobiography, remember that he speculated and kind of suspected that he was being shadowed and under surveillance by the FBI. But, of course, you know, when he goes abroad, the CIA picks it up. But he was looking like maybe some white man was doing it, but it turns out it was a black man who was a CIA agent. And it’s all circumstantial at this point, because he’s popping up, this one man that we follow.

AMY GOODMAN: What was his name?

HERB BOYD: And we won’t divulge his name. We say, “Hey, get the diary, and you can follow that trail.” But we followed his trail all the way to FRELIMO, the liberation movement, you know, in Mozambique. And he had been kicked out of that organization because they suspected he was a foreign agent. So that’s kind of like a red flag went up right then, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Did Malcolm know his name?

HERB BOYD: Malcolm met with him on several occasions in four different countries. And you’d think that he would be like, “Mm, this guy keeps popping up.” However, he kind of foisted himself off as being a journalist. So he had every reason maybe to say, “Oh, he’s following me around and”—

AMY GOODMAN: Is he alive today?

HERB BOYD: He’s alive. He’s still alive. I was in touch with him by email, but he has no idea about this particular project, I suspect, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Would you like to share his name here?

HERB BOYD: I think you can read the diary there, Amy. We’ve got to leave something there for the readers, you know, because it’s all circumstantial at this point.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we were just mentioning the Manning Marable autobiography, and you’ve said to us that—

HERB BOYD: His biography, mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: His biography, and that you said that your book, By Any Means Necessary, is in essence a counter-argument. Could you talk about that and your concerns about the Manning Marable book?

HERB BOYD: Well, what happens with this here, and we—you notice the title, By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X: Real, Not Reinvented, and we stress that word “reinvented” because that came out in Manning’s side. And we say that that word, the connotation was like, hmm, kind of manipulative, that was deliberately going through this process of reinventing himself. We feel that he was an ever-evolving, if anything, a transforming individual, and his development, you know, was just ceaseless, you know? And so, I contacted three of the other co-editors there—Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Ron Daniels and, of course, Dr. Haki Madhubuti—at Third World Press. And we decided, after going through like 75 to 100 reviews of Manning Marable’s book, and kind of looked at him in terms of the pros and cons, you know, the positive and the negatives, and decided like, “Why don’t we assemble these here particular impressions and put it in a particular book?” And that’s what we did with this particular effort, to show that, hey, here’s what some of the other thinkers, scholars and activists out there, who—some of them close associates and worked over the years with Malcolm—here’s what they have to say about Manning’s interpretation. And, of course, there’s a number of things beyond just the title that we took exception to, in terms of his analysis and, of course, the conclusions that he put forth in terms of Malcolm’s infidelity, so-called homosexuality, and of course the proposed three missing chapters. None of that really occurs.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Herb Boyd, we’re going to end with an excerpt of a speech by Malcolm X given in Detroit a year before he was gunned down. The speech, very famous, known as “The Ballot or the Bullet.”

MALCOLM X: Just as it took nationalism to move—to remove colonialism from Asia and Africa, it’ll take black nationalism today to remove colonialism from the backs and the minds of 22 million Afro-Americans here in this country.

Looks like it might be the year of the ballot or the bullet. Why does it look like it might be the year of the ballot or the bullet? Because Negroes have listened to the trickery and the lies and the false promises of the white man now for too long. And they’re fed up. They’ve become disenchanted. They’ve become disillusioned. They’ve become dissatisfied, and all of this has built up frustrations in the black community that makes the black community throughout America today more explosive than all of the atomic bombs the Russians can ever invent.

Whenever you got a racial powder keg sitting in your lap, you’re in more trouble than if you had an atomic powder keg sitting in your lap. When a racial powder keg goes off, it doesn’t care who it knocks out the way. Understand this, it’s dangerous, because what can the white man use now to fool us after he put down that March on Washington? And you see all through that now. He tricked you, had you marching down to Washington. Yes, had you marching back and forth between the feet of a dead man named Lincoln and another dead man named George Washington, singing “We Shall Overcome.” He made a chump out of you. He made a fool out of you. He made you think you were going somewhere, and you end up going nowhere but between Lincoln and Washington.

So today, our people are disillusioned. They’ve become disenchanted. They’ve become dissatisfied, and in their frustrations they want action.

AMY GOODMAN: Malcolm X, speaking a year before he was gunned down. The speech is known as “The Ballot or the Bullet.” This is Democracy Now! The anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, February 21st, is Saturday. February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom. Herb Boyd, Harlem-based activist, teacher, author and journalist, thanks so much for joining us.

HERB BOYD: Thank you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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