NB: This piece was first written in 2015 to mark the 50t Anniversary of the Assassination of Omowale Malcolm X
21st February 2015, marks 50 years since the assassination Omowale Malcolm X. Since 1965, this date has rung through history, as a transformative event in Black activism around the world and as such commemorative events are taking place this month through the UK and the world. The impact of Brother Malcolm’s martyrdom was a moment of realization and clarity that simultaneously heightened awareness of the surreptitious forces operating within the Black Liberation Movement, and compounded by the subsequent assassination of Martin Luther King, fuelled the development of the Black Power Movement.
Like MLK, many enduring myths have surrounded the legacy of Malcolm X over the past 50 years. These myths serve the purpose of confusing Brother Malcolm’s philosophy and programme, usually in the service of varying, particular group agendas. Two of the most prominent groups are:
- MARXISTS: Usually Euro-Americans who went as far as copywriting his speeches (Pathfinder Press), in an attempt to co-opt Malcolm X as a reformed socialist, who rejected his “racist” Black Nationalist ideology in favour of promoting multi-racial workers solidarity.
- ISLAMIC EVANGENLISTS: Who attempt reduce his entire legacy to a supposed revelation that occurred during his pilgrimage to Mecca. This trip, they say, lead El Hajj Malik Shabbazz to reject the “racist” spiritual philosophy of The Hon. Elijah Muhammad and adopted “real Islam” This reversion, therefore becomes the only significance of his life and message.
Needless to say, there are many Black Socialists and Muslims who do not fall victim to these distortions. However, said distortions have been the centre piece of arguably the most popular narratives on the life of Omowale Malcolm X. Their purpose appears to be the redirection of Black people (youth in particular), away from a Black/Afrikan centred spiritual, cultural & political focus towards the service of popular agenda’s within the respective groups. For example, it would be considered “racist” to be politicized around the idea of “Afrika for the Afrikans”, but “universal brotherhood” makes it necessary to be politicised around the liberation of Palestine and other western injustices in Muslim nations.
Though it is without question that Malcolm X was a Muslim, it is also true to say that he considered this a personal matter. When organizing among his people, he taught all to “Keep your religion in the closet” and would later address his personal direction in the following way:
“It’s true, I’m a Muslim, and I believe in brotherhood and I believe in the brotherhood of all men. But my religion doesn’t make me a fool. My religion makes me against all forms of racism. It keeps me from judging any man by the color of his skin. It teaches me to judge him by his deeds and his conscious behavior, and it teaches me to be for the rights of all human beings, but especially the Afro-American human being. ‘Cause my religion is a natural religion and the first law of nature is self-preservation.”
So it is clear that Malcolm X, even as founder of the Muslim Mosque Inc, saw no contradiction between his faith and a total commitment to the plight of Afrikan people. In fact, globalising this plight became the primary focus of his work as he developed the Organisation of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).
The number one casualty of the Mecca-Centred corruption of Malcolm X’s legacy is the centrality and absolute fundamentality of Afrika. Little as it is known; Malcolm X spent 6 months of the last year of his life on the Afrikan continent. His purpose was simple:
“The first step has been taken, brother sand sisters, since Garvey died, to actually establish contact between the twenty-two million Black Americans with our brothers and sisters back home…And once we are successful in uniting ourselves with our people all over the world, it puts us in a position where we are no longer a minority who can be abused and walked upon. We become part of the majority.”
As a child of Garveyite parents and like Marcus Mosiah Garvey before him, Malcolm X prepared himself for his Pan-Afrikan mission through the vehicle of travel. His sojourn in Afrika lead to him to travel to, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanganyika, Senegal, Liberia, Algeria, and Morocco. He would meet notables such as Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure of Guinea and Abdul Rahman Babu, Revolutionary leader of what would become Tanganyika.
The attempt was not just to connect with Afrika, but extract the lessons from the most revolutionary efforts that had began to bear fruits in the form of independent Afrikan Nations since the late 1950’s. For the OAAU, this example provided invaluable inspiration as Malcolm X explains:
“Nationalism is the wave of the present and the future. It is nationalism that is bringing freedom to oppressed people all over the world. It was nationalism that brought freedom to the Algerians. It was nationalism that brought freedom to the Nigerians and to the Ghanaians. It was nationalism that brought freedom to the people of Uganda and Tanganyika and Sudan and Somaliland… the Africans did not get it by sitting in. They did not get it by waiting in. They did not get it by singing, “We Shall Overcome;” they got it through nationalism. And you and I will get it through nationalism”
In an almost prophetic speech in Ghana, he exposed the hypocrisy of White American Business men and Politicians, smiling and laughing with his Afrikan Brothers and Sisters in the ceremony of newly independent states, while sanctioning the continued repression of the Afrikans in America. Their intent he said, was nothing more than the robbery of Afrikan resources, while pretending to befriend Afrika. This was one of many dynamic that would later be defined by Kwame Nkrumah as “Neo-Colonialism”.
Chief among Malcolm x’s personal inspirations were the uncompromising fight of the Mau Mau in Kenya and the legacy of Congo’s first Prime-Minister Patrice Lumumba. He would routinely condemn the American government for its involvement in Lumumba’s assassination while proclaiming Lumumba as the “Greatest leader ever to walk the Afrikan continent”. In fact so inspired was Brother Malcolm by Lumumba, that he and his wife Betty Shabbazz would name their fourth daughter after him.
But for The Minister, Afrika was much more than the meeting of officials and press. He immersed himself in the spirit of the people, the languages, the food and the culture, making particular connections with student movements. After speaking at a university in Nigeria, the Sisters & Brothers were inspired to make him an honourary member of the Muslim Students Society and bestow upon him another honour:
“…With the membership I was given a new name: ‘OMOWALE’ it means in the Yoruba language, ‘The son who has come home’. I meant it when I told them that I had never received a more treasured honor…..”
EUROPE & UK
Fundamentally important to understanding the legacy of Omowale Malcolm X is the definition of the term “Afro-American”. As he would explain to a group of Congolese students in 1965:
“Most People when we say Afro-American, they think only of the Negro’s in the United States.But they don’t realise that 2/3rds of Brazil consists of people of Afrikan blood. So they are also Afro-American because Brazil is in South America. And in many of these countries in South American and Central America and even in Canada, they are heavily populated with people who’s ancestors came from Afrika…. So that the Afro-American inn the united states will be working in conjunction with those who are Cuba, those in Brazil and Venezuela and those through out the Caribbean in Haiti and in the West Indian Island”
So it was on his way back from Afrika in that he travelled first to Paris and then to the UK. He explored the significance of this connection with the following obersvation:
“the British and the French had a great deal of control in the Caribbean, in the West Indies. And so now you have many people from the West Indies migrating to both – England and France….And it has put France and England since World War II in the precarious position of having a sort of a commonwealth structure that makes it easy for all of the people in the commonwealth territories to come into their country with no restrictions. So there’s an increasing number of dark-skinned people in England and also in France… the power structure is international, and as such, its own domestic base is in London, in Paris, in Washington, D.C., and so forth. And the outside or external phase of the revolution, which is manifest in the attitude and action of the Africans today is troublesome enough. The revolution on the outside of the house, or the outside of the structure, is troublesome enough. But now the powers that be are beginning to see that this struggle on the outside by the Black man is affecting, infecting the Black man who is on the inside of that structure.”
This observation taps directly into the fear that engulfed many Britons in the post Windrush era, petrified by the impact their former subjects would have on the mother country. Fears that could only be increased as Baba Omowale organized an OAAU branch in Paris. And while we often hear of his Oxford Union Debate, little is said about his meeting with the Council Of African Organisation on his UK trip in Feb 1965, but two weeks before his Assassination.
While in the UK, he also travelled to the Birmingham bordering town of Smethwick, where, Conservative MP Peter Griffiths had been elected to Parliament under the slogan “If you want a Nigger as your neighbour, vote for Labour”. A key aspect of the OAAU charter was “Self Defense” and the racial violence that had become routine in the UK was a particular concern for the Black Nationalist Freedom Fighter:
“I have come, because I am disturbed by reports that coloured people in Smethwick are being treated badly. I have heard they are being treated as the Jews were under Hitler.”
This characterization was not accidental. With the 2nd Pan-European War (misonomered World War II) still fresh in the minds of a generation, and the Cold war now in full effect, western Nations with America at the fore, were ramping up political capital by highlighting “Human Rights Abuses” in Russia and other nations. As master stroke in Political Chess maneuvering, Omowale Malcolm X and the OAAU had begun a strategy of attempting to bring the USA to the world court for Human Rights Abuses against its citizens of Afrikan descent and the UK government would have been well aware of this. Certainly the French wanted nothing to do with such trouble making as the nation that promoted itself as free of racism; they denied Malcolm X entry when he attempted to return to France.
The Organization of Afro-American Unity Charter is a criminally under-valued resource in detailing the history of Omowale Malcolm X. This document in many ways represents his final will and testament as it is this Charter that he was scheduled to present to the people on that fateful day, 21st February 1965, before assassin’s bullets would take his life. The opening of the Charter reads:
“Having stated our determination, confidence, and resolve, the Organization of Afro-American Unity is hereby established on the 15th day of February, 1965, in the city of New York.”
Upon this establishment, the Afro-American people will launch a cultural revolution which will provide the means for restoring our identity that we might rejoin our brothers and sisters on the African continent, culturally, psychologically, economically, and share with them the sweet fruits of freedom from oppression and independence of racist governments.”
So while many will attempt to diminish his significance, distort his philosophy and minimize the impact of his legacy, it remains true that Omowale Malcolm X was clear about his mission, his focus and what it represented:
“As that Race Pride develops it has the tendency to make us want to unite together and work together. And your Western Imperialist & Colonialist consider this to be a great threat. More than Communism, or Socialism or Marxism. AFRIKANISM is what they consider to be the real threat.”
Tafadzwa ShakaRa Mbandaka