Yesterday was the anniversary of the death, assassinated, of Martin Luther King, Jr. This morning, I completed my handout for my synopsis of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable, which I will present at noon today for the Urban Engagement Book Club, hosted by CitySquare. Malcolm X was killed, assassinated, on February 21, 1965.
These two black leaders were quite different in a lot of ways. But, as a white teenager in the 1960s, I am sad to report that I paid little attention to their words or deeds then. I have been playing catch-up-up for a very long time.
If you want to better understand the racial tension that has never gone fully away, and, in fact, is sadly rearing its head again after the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, you might want to carve out some time to read the Marable biography of Malcolm X. It is a thorough look at this man’s life. But it might also be worth your time to read his two most famous speeches: Message to Grassroots, October 10, 1963 and The Ballot or the Bullet, April 3, 1964.
Malcolm X spoke so very clearly, so very directly, about his feelings and experiences as a black man. Here are just two excerpts.
From Message to Grassroots:
What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences. When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists. You don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Methodist. You don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Methodist or Baptist. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk. And you sure don’t catch hell ’cause you’re an American; ’cause if you was an American, you wouldn’t catch no hell. You catch hell ’cause you’re a black man. You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.
From The Ballot or the Bullet:
Although I’m still a Muslim, I’m not here tonight to discuss my religion. I’m not here to try and change your religion. I’m not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because it’s time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem, a problem that will make you catch hell whether you’re a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist. Whether you’re educated or illiterate, whether you live on the boulevard or in the alley, you’re going to catch hell just like I am. We’re all in the same boat and we all are going to catch the same hell from the same man. He just happens to be a white man. All of us have suffered here, in this country, political oppression at the hands of the white man, economic exploitation at the hands of the white man, and social degradation at the hands of the white man.
Now in speaking like this, it doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression. And if the white man doesn’t want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us.
We all still have so very much learning, and so much work, to do.