News Release

Malcolm X’s Legacy: Double Anniversary This Year


February is Black History Month. Malcolm X was assassinated 50 years ago on Feb. 21, 1965. He was born on May 19, 1925 — he would be 90 years old this year had he lived.

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY,  kevinagray57 at, @kevinagray
Co-editor of the new book Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence, Gray said today: “Whenever anyone uses the phrase ‘by any means necessary’ we automatically think of Malcolm X, otherwise known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. The phrase means that freedom and the fight for human rights are something worth dying for. He also knew that those opposed to the idea of freedom for all would kill to protect their power over those they deemed as powerless.

“Feb. 21 marks the 50th anniversary of Malcolm Shabazz’s death at the Audubon Ballroom in New York. Malcolm knew he was about to die before he went on stage. He knew being a threat to the status quo had a cost. He knew that the enemy were those opposed to freedom for all and telling the truth about American racism and white supremacy. Malcolm spoke the truth about the demand and need for racial equality, due process and equal justice for all. He spoke the truth about men and their shortcomings, the truth about our nation and its shortcomings.

“Malcolm gave his all. He gave his life. But before he died, he spoke of civil rights being human rights and taking the black freedom struggle beyond the boundaries of the United States. Because of Malcolm we understand the connectedness we have with the struggles of oppressed people around the world. Malcolm is a shining example of courage and an unfearing challenger of the status quo. We are better because he lived.

“The protests that have arisen across the nation in the aftermath of the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner and the countless others that have died at the hands of law enforcement and those acting under the color of law calls for connecting the struggles of oppressed people around the world to hold accountable those with unchecked power. Malcolm’s legacy calls for connecting the struggle of Ferguson, New York, Oakland, Detroit, Atlanta and many others towns, cities and states with those who struggle in Palestine. Malcolm’s legacy is to take action, even if it means giving the last measure. Or as Dr. Martin Luther King said: If someone ‘hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.'” Gray’s previous books include The Decline of Black Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama.

Excerpts from Malcolm Shabazz’s speeches (he broke with the Nation of Islam in early 1964):

“We need to expand the civil-rights struggle to a higher level — to the level of human rights. Whenever you are in a civil-rights struggle, whether you know it or not, you are confining yourself to the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam. … [T]he Negro problem is never brought before the UN. This is part of the conspiracy. This old, tricky blue-eyed liberal who is supposed to be your and my friend, supposed to be in our corner, supposed to be subsidizing our struggle, and supposed to be acting in the capacity of an adviser, never tells you anything about human rights.”
— “The Ballot or the Bullet,” April 3, 1964

“You have to read the history of slavery to understand this. There were two kinds of Negroes. There was that old house Negro and the field Negro. And the house Negro always looked out for his master. When the field Negroes got too much out of line, he held them back in check. He put ‘em back on the plantation.”

— “To Mississippi Youth,” December 31, 1964. This and many other speeches are available via YouTube.

“They have a new gimmick every year. They’re going to take one of their boys, black boys, and put him in the cabinet so he can walk around Washington with a cigar. Fire on one end and fool on the other end. And because his immediate personal problem will have been solved he will be the one to tell our people: ‘Look how much progress we’re making. I’m in Washington, D.C., I can have tea in the White House. I’m your spokesman, I’m your leader.’ While our people are still living in Harlem in the slums. Still receiving the worst form of education. …

“But how many sitting here right now feel that they could [laughs] truly identify with a struggle that was designed to eliminate the basic causes that create the conditions that exist? Not very many. They can jive, but when it comes to identifying yourself with a struggle that is not endorsed by the power structure, that is not acceptable, that the ground rules are not laid down by the society in which you live, in which you are struggling against, you can’t identify with that, you step back. …

“It’s easy to become a satellite today without even realizing it. This country can seduce God. Yes, it has that seductive power of economic dollarism. You can cut out colonialism, imperialism and all other kind of ism, but it’s hard for you to cut that dollarism. When they drop those dollars on you, you’ll fold though.”

— “The Prospects for Freedom in 1965,” at the Militant Labor Forum, New York City, Jan. 7, 1965. 
Audio from this and other speeches here.

“While I was traveling, I had a chance to speak in Cairo, or rather Alexandria, with President [Gamal Abdel] Nasser for about an hour and a half. He’s a very brilliant man. And I can see why they’re so afraid of him, and they are afraid of him — they know he can cut off their oil. And actually the only thing power respects is power. …

“This is a society whose government doesn’t hesitate to inflict the most brutal form of punishment and oppression upon dark-skinned people all over the world. To wit, right now what’s going on in and around Saigon and Hanoi and in the Congo and elsewhere. They are violent when their interests are at stake. But all of that violence that they display at the international level, when you and I want just a little bit of freedom, we’re supposed to be nonviolent. They’re violent. They’re violent in Korea, they’re violent in Germany, they’re violent in the South Pacific, they’re violent in Cuba, they’re violent wherever they go. But when it comes time for you and me to protect ourselves against lynchings, they tell us to be nonviolent. …

[On the Congo:] “And they’re able to take these hired killers, put them in American planes, with American bombs, and drop them on African villages, blowing to bits black men, black women, black children, black babies, and you black people sitting over here cool like it doesn’t even involve you. You’re a fool. …

“And with the press they feed these statistics to the public, primarily the white public. Because there are some well-meaning persons in the white public as well as bad-meaning persons in the white public. And whatever the government is going to do, it always wants the public on its side. … So they use the press to create images.”
— “The Last Message,” address to the Afro-American Broadcasting Company, Detroit, Michigan, Feb. 14, 1965, the night his home was firebombed and a week before his assassination; text and audio.