The Malcolm I Remember
By Grace Lee Boggs
I recall him in Chapter 3 of The Next American Revolution, my book with Scott Kurashige..
“From the moment I first heard Malcolm speak at a huge Nation of Islam rally in the old Olympia Stadium in Detroit, I was captivated by the razor-sharp yet playful language with which he exposed and opposed white society. Later, at smaller meetings, I was fascinated by the way he chided blacks for their ‘slave mentality,’ calling them ‘brainwashed’ because they depended so much on whites. They squirmed as he criticized them. But they also laughed and applauded because his criticisms were so right-on and because they knew he was challenging them to look in the mirror and think for themselves, instead of catering to their weaknesses, as most black leaders still do.
“From his best-selling autobiography, millions know that while in prison, in his early twenties, Malcolm was transformed from a petty hustler into a black nationalist leader by the ideas of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. However, few people know how seriously he began thinking for himself after he discovered in 1963 that Mr. Muhammad had fathered children with his secretaries.
“It was during those two years that I had the most direct and indirect contact with Malcolm.
“In the spring and summer of 1963, Max Stanford of the Revolutionary Action Movement came for long discussions with Jimmy at our home in Detroit while he was deeply engaged in talks with Malcolm in New York. Out of these talks came the new ideas about revolution in Malcolm’s speech at the Grassroots Leadership Conference, held in Detroit on November 10, 1963. I was one of the main organizers and Jimmy was the chair of the conference.
“The next spring, together with Max Stanford, Baltimore Afro- American reporter William Worthy, and Patricia Robinson of Third World Press, Jimmy and I met with Malcolm in a Harlem luncheonette to discuss our proposal that in the light of his break with the Nation of Islam, he come to Detroit to help build the Organization for Black Power. After thinking it over, Malcolm declined because he felt it more important that he make the hajj. His response was that we should go ahead while he served the movement as an ‘evangelist.’
“In the fall of 1964, Malcolm’s friend, Milton Henry and I called him in Egypt to ask him to run for the U.S. Senate on the ticket of the Michigan Freedom Now Party, the ‘all-black’ political party that I served as coordinator. Again he declined, without explaining why.
“Later I learned that in this period Malcolm was rethinking the ideas about black nationalism and violence with which most people still identify him. During the hajj he had discovered that revolutionaries come in all colors. He had also begun to recognize the contradictions in ‘meet violence with violence’ politics. As a result, in December 1964, only two months before he was killed, he went to Selma, Alabama, to explore working with Martin Luther King Jr. At this time King was in jail, but Malcolm was able to meet with Coretta.
“By this time he had also become painfully aware of the hard theoretical work needed to develop a new body of ideas. In a conversation with Jan Carew in London a few weeks before his assassination, Malcolm explained how he was still growing personally and politically:
“‘I’m a Muslim and a revolutionary, and I’m learning more and more about political theories as the months go by. The only Marxist group in America that offered me a platform was the Socialist Workers party. I respect them and they respect me. The Communists have nixed me, gone out of the way to attack me . . . that is, with the exception of the Cuban Communists. If a mixture of nationalism and Marxism makes the Cubans fight the way they do and makes the Vietnamese stand up so resolutely to the might of America and its European and other lapdogs, then there must be something to it. But my Organization of African American Unity is based in Harlem and we’ve got to learn to creep before we walk, and walk before we run. . . . But the chances are that they will get me the way they got Lumumba before he reached the running stage.’’’
‘This kind of introspection, questioning, and transformation, which were so characteristic of Malcolm, has unfortunately been ignored by too many black nationalists and Black Power militants.
“Every February, as another anniversary of his death passes, I have wondered if our world would be different today had Malcolm lived into his fifties and sixties.”
The Malcolm I remember did not need guns and violence to expose and oppose racism. His power was in his razorsharp wit and words.
UC Press has just issued an updated and expanded paperback edition of TNAR, with a new Introduction and a new Afterword reproducing my 2010 conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein at the second U.S . Social Forum,
For more on Malcolm, I recommend the powerful critique of Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by my old friend, Bill Strickland. Bill’s critique, on the Boggs Center website, was originally printed by The Black Commentator, (October 13, 2011, Issue 445). It will be published in June by Black Classics Press and in a forthcoming volume of The Black Scholar.