Throughout the year there has been a number of celebrations, commemorations and gatherings about the 50th anniversaries of a variety of landmark events that have shaped this country especially as it pertains to the Civil Rights and Freedom Struggles. In recent months we looked at the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers being assassinated in Jackson Mississippi on June 12th 1963..
We looked back on the Great March on Washington (March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom) August 28th 1963... We also looked back on the tragic bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, then dubbed Bombingham on September 15th 1963 Here 4 Black girls Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were killed in the blast.
Later that day two Black boys, 16-year-old Johnny Robinson and 13-year-old Virgil Ware would be killed by KKK members and the police.. All this was in retaliation to the March on Washington. This horrific incident would forever change the Civil Rights Movement..
Today many are gearing up to look back at on the 50th anniversary President John F Kennedy being assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22 1963. To this day his death is shrouded in mystery as many have come to believe his accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.
In addition to these 50th anniversary landmark events, we also commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
There is no doubt that 1963 was a turbulent year and as we discuss the events of that year, what is sadly left out is the strong presence of Malcolm X.. In many of the discussions he’s been literally written out of history. His name is not mentioned. His analysis of the situation at hand are unstudied. For example, the morning that Medgar Evers was shot, Malcolm X appeared on a national TV show with March on Washington organizers, James Farmer and Wyatt T Walker and had a remarkable debate about the direction the Civil Rights Movement was headed. Years later Farmer and Walker would re appear on that PBS show and to relive the debate. It was on that show they pointed out the how and why Malcolm was right on many of the points he raised up..You can peep that Great Debate HERE
In spite of his harsh critiques of the MOW, Malcolm X wound up being in DC that day holding court at a nearby hotel and offering his assistance if needed as the day unfolded. A couple of months later on October 11th 1963, Malcolm would deliver a hard-hitting riveting speech at UC Berkeley, where he lays out the state of Black America, White Liberalism and White Flight and Token Integration..
Perhaps Malcolm X’s best known speech was delivered on November 10th 1963 in Detroit at the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference which was held in King Solomon Baptist Church. Titled Message to the Grassroots, it would go on to be one of his last speeches while being a member of the Nation of Islam. After Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm made remarks about ‘chickens coming home to roost’. He was indefinitely suspended and then later split to form his own organization.
In this speech, Malcolm X goes in as he describes the concept of revolution and the difference between the ‘Black revolution’ and the ‘Negro revolution’. He uses as backdrop the awakening that has been taking place throughout Africa and Latin America and reminds the audience that a revolution is about land, will often result in bloodshed and is not about turning the other cheek, holding hands and compromising. He also talks about the landmark Bandung Conference in Indonesia where Asian and African countries came together to assess how to deal with European nations.
Later in the speech, Malcolm lays out the difference between the House Negro and the Field Negro during slavery where he talks about the House Negro being attached to his master and down to put out a fire in the master’s house quicker than the master would. Years later scholars would point out that House Negro was not as docile and accommodating as Malcolm depicted. If anything he just as great a threat as the field Negro because he was in proximity to food and children. It was also pointed out that house Negroes were often treated harsh.
The real crux of Malcolm’s speech comes where he lays out what went wrong with the March on Washington. He talks about how the tone of the March started out being militant and one of defiance.. There was promise of shutting down the city and disrupting traffic. Malcolm notes that President Kennedy called on key organizers in the Civil Rights Movement, then known as the Big Six and told them to stop the march. Kennedy soon learned that the Big Six werent in charge of the march and thus efforts were made for them to take it over and redirect it. In the speech Malcolm describes in detail how the MOW was co-opted even name checking some of the money people like philanthropist Stephen Currier who would help the leaders get money and media time.
Malcolm concludes that the march was so tightly controlled that Black folks were told what signs to carry, what songs to sing and what speech could be made or not made and what time to leave. Decades later we now know the federal government had secretly installed an over-riding switch that would allow them to turn off the mics and pipe in music from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson if things got too militant. Author Gary Younge highlights this in his book ‘The Speech‘, which talks about that day and how MLK would up giving his famous I Have a Dream Speech’.
With all that happened in 1963 and with everyone looking back 50 years later, it would be a grave disservice not take into account Malcolm’s presence, contributions and insights which have stood the test of time.