Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Our Shining Black Prince"

Today in CitySquare's Urban Engagement Book Club (Highland Park United Methodist Church, 3300 Mockingbird Lane, 12:00p-1:30p), we will be reviewing the late Manning Marable's biography 'Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention'.

Anticipating Randy Mayeux's excellent review, what I know about the book (no, I haven't read it yet) and recently watching Spike Lee's movie of Malcolm's life, based on Alex Haley's biography ('The Autobiography of Malcolm X'), has me thinking about his life and impact on me.

I first remember Malcolm X, not long after he died. I was rummaging through my father's stack of old Jet Magazines, in which his assassination was covered. Later I found other editions that told me a little more about him, but not enough. I wasn't impressed at all, with the Black Muslims and considered them pretty irrelevant. And, to be honest,  I wasn't that impressed with Malcolm, especially when contrasted with Martin Luther King.

Years later, I read Haley's book and gained a thoroughly different understanding Malcolm and also great appreciation for his life - and even his commitment to his faith.

Throughout his life, Malcolm said the things that most black Americans felt. It wasn't just the bombast,  or simply voicing frustrations and anger, nor the calls for self-defense. Malcolm X the black man's respect. He didn't just reject the idea inferiority, his was an unyielding commitment to the assertion of his manhood during a time when virtually everything - law, culture and custom - declared blacks to be less than human. It's not that King didn't do that, but King did it intellectually and spiritually. Malcolm did it differently, more viscerally.

The early Malcolm, totally committed to the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammed, taught the seperation. He and the Nation of Islam actually taught the inferiority of the white man and referred to them as 'devils'. They derided and criticized the black church and Christianity in general. But what in the process, was point out the inconsistencies between our country's creed and its practice; they forced, thinking Christians, to challenge the authenticity of our faith as practiced, which urged black Christians toward a more genuine expression of the Christian faith, one insisting upon justice, respect -  one which called oppression, bigotry and racism the sin that it is.

I grew to admire and appreciate Malcolm X because he grew. When he saw the failings of the Nation of Islam and the hypocrisy of it's leader, Elijah Muhammed, Malcolm X broke with the Nation, as well as his spiritual father and mentor. It was painful, because Malcolm's transformation from criminal, addict, pimp and hustler, to one of the foremost ministers of the Nation of Islam and arguably one of the most controversial figures of his age, was owed to his allegiance to his religion and his leader.

But Malcolm X not only grew away from the Nation, he grew towards orthodox Islam and his commitment to brotherhood - among all races. He worked to find a way to make a more meaningful contribution to the struggle for justice and equality.  Eventually Malcolm was embraced by a larger segment of the black community.

Malcolm's assassination at the Audubon Ballroom, on February 21, 1965 at the age of 39, was the end of his life, but it wasn't the end of his influence or inspiration.

You might be surprised, that a number of people who loved Martin Luther King, also loved Malcolm X. They felt no need to choose. Their embrace of both in no way represented conflicting loyalties. One devotee of both was the late actor Ossie Davis. Here is the eulogy Davis gave the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral:

"Here - at this final hour, in this quiet place - Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes -extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought - his home of homes, where his heart was, and where his people are - and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again - in Harlem - to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought her, and have defended her honor even to the death."
"It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us - unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to : Afro-American - Afro-American Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a 'Negro' years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted - so desperately - that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans too."

"There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain - and we will smile. Many will say turn away - away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man - and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate - a fanatic, a racist - who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them : Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him."

""Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend: 'My journey', he says, 'is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and honor and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our Human Rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a United Front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.' However we may have differed with him - or with each other about him and his value as a man - let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now.""

"Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man - but a seed - which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is - a Prince - our own black shining Prince! - who didn't hesitate to die, because he loved us so.""

We don't have to choose...we had Malcolm and Martin. And we are better for it.

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