“I’m for Truth, no matter who tells it.
I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.”
–El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
It is sobering indeed for those of us who were alive to actually remember Malcolm X, to realize today that fully fifty years have gone by since his senseless assassination by tragically misguided black men at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York, on February 21, 1965. This means that no one fifty years old or younger—the vast majority of the world’s population, has no real idea of who this man was, what he stood for, or why those who held illegitimate and corrupted power decided that he must be eliminated from amongst the living.
To that vast majority who were not yet born might also be added all of those who briefly shared Malcolm’s lifetime, but who were only children, too young to understand, at the time he was taken from us.
This makes it incumbent upon us who do remember, if a man of such extraordinary qualities and earthly importance is not to be forgotten by “his-story,” to pass on our knowledge, however limited it might be, to our younger and future generations, as no one else will or can do for us. Surely if our young people are being taught to remember and honor criminals like Columbus, and slaveholders like Washington, Jefferson, Madison and so many more presidents, then ALL young people are entitled by birthright to know about the life and legacy of a man who stands in the pantheon of such heroes and “she roes” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (who would be assassinated three years after Malcolm, also at the age of 39), Medgar Evers, Paul Robeson, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, David Walker, among so many unsung millions. Indeed, we must not overlook the everyday heroism of single mothers today, for example, which deserved due recognition.
The story of Malcolm X and his seemingly star-crossed family (his father, widow, and grandson, all having been killed by criminal acts) has been told numerous times in numerous ways, most notably in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written by Alex Haley and Malcolm X, the epic film, Malcolm X, by Spike Lee, and most notoriously in the controversial biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by the late Manning Marable, among others.
The quotation above by Malcolm X might be the best capsule of what his life stood for. Although much is made of his younger years, as a petty criminal and convicted felon, the physical and mental fortitude by which he survived those experiences only foreshadowed the man of profound courage, insight, and integrity that he would become. It is the all-too-rare person amongst us, sadly, who is truly strong enough to stand for Truth and Justice, regardless of tribal affiliations, political beliefs, or other compromises of the soul. And he was strong enough to challenge us all to be as honest.
Malcolm X was not a self-serving celebrity, but one of us, whose life and whose growth and maturation as a leader all played out on the public stage. We learned from him as he learned. Most famously, we were part of his awakening, after making the pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, into the deeper teachings of Islam, growing past the easy labeling of people and embracing a more thorough, global view of human liberation. Never forgetting his own roots as an African American, he founded the Organization of African American Unity, recognizing that the venue in the struggle for Civil Rights in America needed to be elevated to a struggle for Human Rights in the United Nations.
This vision of TRUE integration (not assimilation) and harmony has always posed a deeper threat to racist power than even openly stated hatred of white people (which, after all, confirmed their power and importance). El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz had become the speaker of inconvenient truths, on his way to greater knowledge, power, and influence, and for this the exposed liars, incapable of killing Truth itself, decided to kill the messenger before that influence spread too far. But for 50 years, their effort has proven futile.
Malcolm’s Truth remains alive, yet still too little known, and it is therefore our obligation and our blessing to continue Malcolm’s journey, each in our own way, to face down ignorance, fear, hate, greed, and envy, and thus to honor him and all our departed Ancestors and to make the way right for our next and future generations.
Dinizulu Gene Tinnie is a Miami-based artist, art educator and historian. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.