The revolutionary pan-Africanist would have been 92 years this week. His struggles for the liberation of Black people from imperialism and its twin, racism, remain as relevant and inspirational as ever.
Many have wondered out loud, “What would El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X be doing at 92 years of age?” Our Black Shining Prince was born on 19 May 1925 and joined the ancestors on 21 February 1925. Before his passing the Nigerians gave him the name Omowale. In Yoruba it means child has come home.
No one can say for sure but as Malcolm X taught us, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research”. These words were uttered at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, during the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference on 10 November 1963. One of the founders of the League of Revolutionary Workers, General Gordon Baker Jr., was in attendance that night and can be heard yelling: “We’ll bleed” as Malcolm X tells the audience “You’re afraid to bleed.”
We do know that Malcolm X was on top of the technology of the time of his departure and was deeply interested in studying languages to bring Africa, Africans, Bandung forces (The first large-scale Afro–Asian Conference— a meeting of Asian and African states, most of which were newly independent, which took place on April 18–24, 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia), and the oppressed period together to create a better world. We know that he was leaning heavy towards Socialism and was attempting to unite the many to divide the few.
Shortly before he died he went on record saying: “Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries, and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America. It’s impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find one and you happen to get that person into conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists or their political philosophy is socialism.”
However, at the time of his departure he still had no time for coons and buffoons. He was a firm supporter of Kenya’s Land and Freedom Army, so-called Mau Mau whose central leader was Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi and not the so-called Burning Spear Jomo Kenyatta.
Even as a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X had a non-Marxist class analysis of the struggle. Go back and listen to him talk about the house negro and the field negro on the Message to the Grassroots speech. He saw us as African captives aka colonial subjects.
Technology can be used to promote justice or injustice. We can bet Malcolm X would use social media like the best of us. The co-host of Diasporic Music Malinda Francis aka Mali Docuvixen says he would be great on Twitter, with his one-liners. The Nation of Islam under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan publishes the Final Call newspaper weekly just like Mr. Muhammad did with the Muhammad Speaks.
Malcolm X understood the role of a newspaper in a revolutionary struggle. He continued the work of the Nation of Islam in the area of publishing a newspaper. All the organizations that moved Africans in North America and the world had newspapers. Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) had the “Negro World”. Mr. Muhammad’s Nation of Islam had the “Muhammad Speaks” and Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale’s Black Panther Party had “The Black Panther” newspaper.
The Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers was influenced by Malcolm X and saw the need for a political organ. John Watson a foundation member of the League said: “We had studied the history of the Russian Revolution and found a specific pamphlet by Lenin (V.I. Lenin) called Where to Begin? written in 1903 before he wrote What Is To Be Done?, where he described the role a newspaper could play.”
In the 21st century the “Burning Spear” is keeping the flame burning. The “Burning Spear” is known as the “Voice of the International African Revolution,” a newspaper published by the African People’s Socialist Party. The paper is the oldest Black Power newspaper in existence and has published without interruption since the 1960s. The paper was founded in 1967 by party Chairman Omali Yeshitela.
Benjamin Karim was Malcolm X’s assistant minister at Mosque Number 7 in Harlem and later left the Nation with Malcolm X and worked with him at the Muslim Mosque Inc. (MMI) and the Organization of Afro American Unity (OAAU). Karim talked about how Malcolm X taught him and the other ministers he trained. In his book, Remembering Malcolm, he explained: “At the first meeting of the class Malcolm listed some requirements: a notebook, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a book of synonyms and antonyms, an etymology text, a library card, and an open, willing mind.”
Malcolm X understood the importance of photos and political cartoons in a newspaper. Karim revealed in his book Malcolm X, Minister Farrakhan and himself loved cartoons. He tells the story of a man so consumed with Jesus in the Bible that he quit his job and his wife consulted Malcolm X. Malcolm X fought against “Spookism”. “Don’t get so wrapped up in God that you lose sight of the world,” Malcolm used to tell us, “and don’t get so wrapped up in the world you lose sight of God: you have to maintain a balance.” When you are spooked out, you had definitely lost the balance. Malcolm X gave Karim and Minister Farrakhan introduction: “you go and get that brother and take him somewhere and watch cartoons.” It worked.
Muhammad Speaks’ cartoonist was the great Abdelaziz (Gerald 2X) and Emory Douglas did excellent work in “The Black Panther”. Maurice Berger called Malcolm X a visual strategist and said: “A keen steward of the Nation of Islam’s visual representation, Malcolm X often carried a camera, his way of “collecting evidence,” as Gordon Parks once observed. He relied on photographs to provide the visual proof of Black Muslim productivity and equanimity that sensationalistic headlines and verbal reporting often negated. When photojournalists visited the community, he tried to steer them toward the kinds of affirmative images — shots of contented family life, children at play and school, and thriving businesses and institutions — that might subtly ameliorate the negative texts that he knew would inevitably accompany them.”
It must be mentioned that Malcolm X’s Grenadian-born mother Louise Little aka Louise Langdon Norton (b. La Digue, St. Andrew, Grenada 1897, d. 1991) used to read Marcus Garvey’s “Negro World” and the Grenadian and Caribbean patriot T.A. Marryshow’s (November 7, 1887-October 6, 1958) newspaper the “West Indian”. She also wrote for the “Negro World”. Georgia-born, Earl Little, Malcolm X’s father was a brilliant orator but his mother had journalistic skills. Earl and Louise met and married in Montréal at a Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) convention. Both were followers of Marcus Garvey. His mother immigrated first to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and later to Montreal in 1917. Jan Carew’s book, “Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean,” documents this aspect of the life of the revolutionary Pan-Africanist.
He talked about the importance of languages and hit the nail on the head when he predicted Chinese and Arabic as important in the future. The political language would be Chinese and the spiritual one Arabic. In “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” which he wrote with Alex Haley he talked about his interest in languages.
Says Malcolm X: “For instance, I love languages. I wish I were an accomplished linguist. I don’t know anything more frustrating than to be around people talking something you can’t understand. Especially when they are people who look just like you. In Africa, I heard original mother tongues, such as Hausa and Swahili, being spoken, and there I was standing like some little boy, waiting for someone to tell me what had been said; I never will forget how ignorant I felt.
“Aside from the basic African dialects, I would try to learn Chinese, because it looks as if Chinese will be the most powerful political language of the future. And already I have begun studying Arabic, which I think is going to be the most powerful spiritual language of the future.”
It is interesting that Malcolm X, unlike Comrade George Jackson, did not discuss the importance of Spanish in the 21st century. Even a genius like Malcolm X made mistakes and was not perfect. The Western Hemisphere is Spanish. Jackson wrote a letter to his father on October 24, 1967 imploring him to make sure his younger brother Jonathan Jackson (who led the Marin County Courthouse rebellion) was taught languages. Comrade Jackson said, “Spanish is spoken by most people from Mexico to Chile in what is the fastest–growing population area in the world.” He pointed out at that moment he was working on Spanish and Swahili .He went on to write: “All that remains is to learn Arabic and Chinese…With four languages plus English I’ll be able to communicate with three-fourths of the people on earth.”
Malcolm X made it crystal clear before he joined the ancestors that he was a Sunni Malcolm. However, he also questioned following anything blindly. In a speech in Detroit, Michigan, on April 12, 1964 he pointed out, “Islam is my religion, but I believe my religion is my personal business. It governs my personal life, my personal morals. And my religious philosophy is personal between me and the God in whom I believe; just as the religious philosophy of these others is between them and the God in whom they believe. And this is best this way. Were we to come out here discussing religion, we’d have too many differences from the outstart and we could never get together. […] If we bring up religion, we’ll be in an argument, and the best way to keep away from arguments and differences, as I said earlier, put your religion at home in the closet. Keep it between you and your God. Because if it hasn’t done anything more for you than it has, you need to forget it anyway.”
In my opinion Africans and all oppressed people should follow the message of the late James Boggs who said we should, “Think dialectically, not biologically”.
Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana, and grew up in Los Angeles. He left Los Angles after refusing to fight in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the United States were colonial subjects. After leaving Los Angeles in the 1960s Richmond moved to Toronto, where he co-founded the Afro American Progressive Association, one of the first Black Power organizations in that part of the world. Before moving to Tronto permanently, Richmond worked with the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers. When the League split he joined the African People’s Party. In 1992, Richmond received the Toronto Arts Award. In front of an audience that included the mayor of Toronto, Richmond dedicated his award to Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, the African National Congress of South Africa, and Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba. In 1984 he co-founded the Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association with Milton Blake. Richmond began his career in journalism at the African Canadian weekly Contrast. He went on to be published in the Toronto Star, the Toronto Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Jackson Advocate, Share, the Islander, the Black American, Pan African News Wire, and Black Agenda Report. Internationally he has written for the United Nations, the Jamaican Gleaner, the Nation (Barbados), the Nation (Sri Lanka), and Pambazuka News. Currently, he produces Diasporic Music a radio show for Uhuru Radio and writes a column, Diasporic Music for the Burning Spear newspaper.