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Malcolm X Interview


AMY GOODMAN: We will be joined by Professor Marable in just a moment, but first we begin with Malcolm X himself in words recorded just a months before he was assassinated. It was January 1965, he gave this speech entitled “Prospects for Freedom.”

MALCOLM X: When this country here was first being founded, there were 13 colonies. The whites were colonized. They were fed up with this taxation without representation. So some of them stood up and said, liberty or death. I went to a white school over here in Mason, Michigan. The white man made the mistake of letting me read his history books. He made the mistake of teaching me that Patrick Henry was a patriot and George Washington – wasn’t nothing non-violent about old Pat or George Washington. Liberty or death was what brought about the freedom of whites in this country from the English. They didn’t care about the odds. Why, they faced the wrath of the entire British Empire. And in those days, they used to say that the British Empire was so vast and so powerful, the sun would never set on it. This is how big it was, yet these 13 little scrawny states, tired of taxation without representation, tired of being exploited and oppressed and degraded, told that big British Empire, liberty or death. And here you have 22 million Afro- Americans, black people today, catching more hell than Patrick Henry ever saw. And I’m here to tell you, in case you don’t know it, that you got a new – you got a new generation of black people in this country, who don’t care anything whatsoever about odds. They don’t want to hear you old Uncle Tom handkerchief heads talking about the odds. No. This is a new generation. If they’re going to draft these young black men and send them over to Korea or South Vietnam, to face 800 million Chinese. If you are not afraid of those odds, you shouldn’t be afraid of these odds.

AMY GOODMAN: Malcolm X, a month before he was assassinated. It was January 1965 at a speech he gave in New York, sponsored by the Militant Labor Forum. This is Democracy Now! We’re joined by Professor Manning Marable, one of America’s most influential and widely read scholars, professor of history and African American Studies at Columbia University, founding director of the Institute for Research in African American studies, again working on a new biography of Malcolm X. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MANNING MARABLE: Thank you. It’s always great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It is great to be with you. Why don’t you summarize for us – I mean, you have been studying Malcolm X for more than a decade now – what you think are the most explosive findings and then throughout the hour, we will tease them out and talk about them.

MANNING MARABLE: I think that Malcolm X was the most remarkable historical figure produced by Black America in the 20th century. That’s a heavy statement, but I think that in his 39 short years of life, Malcolm came to symbolize Black urban America, its culture, its politics, its militancy, its outrage against structural racism and at the end of his life, a broad internationalist vision of emancipatory power far better than any other single individual that he shared with DuBois and Paul Robeson, a pan-Africanist internationalist perspective. He shared with Marcus Garvey a commitment to building strong black institutions. He shared with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a commitment to peace and the freedom of racialized minorities. He was the first prominent American to attack and to criticize the U.S. role in Southeast Asia, and he came out four-square against the Vietnam War in 1964, long before the vast majority of Americans did. So that Malcolm X represents the cutting edge of a kind of critique of globalization in the 21st century. In fact, Malcolm, if anything, was far ahead of the curve in so many ways.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then when we come back, we are a going to talk about The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the missing chapters, and where they are, which you have got a chance to see excerpts of.

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about how the autobiography was written, and the F.B.I., their relationship with Alex Haley. We will talk about these things and more in just a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We spend the hour today on Malcolm X, today the 40th anniversary of his assassination. Our guest is Columbia University Professor Manning Marable, writing a biography of Malcolm X, and also the editor of the magazine Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society. The winter 2005 issue, photograph of Malcolm X on the cover, and that’s what the whole issue is devoted to, with a major article by Professor Marable. Let’s talk about The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

MANNING MARABLE: Okay. The — most people who read the autobiography perceive the narrative as a story that now millions of people know, and it was — it’s a story of human transformation, the powerful epiphany, Malcolm’s journey to Mecca, his renunciation of the Nation of Islam’s racial separatism, his embrace of universal humanity, of humanism that was articulated through Sunni Islam. Well, that’s the story everybody knows. But there’s a hidden history. You see, Malcolm and Haley collaborated to produce a magnificent narrative about the life of Malcolm X, but the two men had very different motives in coming together. Malcolm did — what Malcolm did not know is that back in 1962, a collaborator of Alex Haley, fellow named — a journalist named Alfred Balk had approached the F.B.I. regarding an article that he and Haley were writing together for The Saturday Evening Post, and the F.B.I. had an interest in castigating the Nation of Islam, and isolating it from the mainstream of Negro civil rights activity. So consequently, a deal was struck between Balk, Haley and the F.B.I. that the F.B.I. provided information to Balk and Haley in the construction of their article, and Balk was — Balk was really the interlocutor between the F.B.I. and the two writers in putting a spin on the article. The F.B.I. was very happy with the article they produced, which was entitled, “The Black Merchants of Hate,” that came out in early 1963. What’s significant about that piece is that that became the template for what evolved into the basic narrative structure of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Alex Haley know about this relationship?

MANNING MARABLE: There is no direct evidence that Haley sat down with the F.B.I. Nevertheless, since Balk was the co-author of the piece and it was Balk who talked directly with the F.B.I. —

AMY GOODMAN: Did Haley know —

MANNING MARABLE: One can assume that Haley was involved in it.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Haley at least talk to Balk about — did he know about Balk’s relationship with the F.B.I.?

MANNING MARABLE: One can assume that Haley did because Haley and Balk co-authored the piece, traveled throughout the United States together and collected material together to form an article that they co- authored. It would be highly unlikely that Haley did not know.

AMY GOODMAN: Then the writing of the autobiography, Alex Haley and Malcolm X’s relationship. How did they do it?

MANNING MARABLE: Over a period of —

AMY GOODMAN: And why did Malcolm X choose him?

MANNING MARABLE: Over a period of about year-and-a- half, Malcolm and Haley agreed to work with each other. They met usually after a long business day that Malcolm put in very tired. He would get there at about — either at Haley’s apartment or they would meet at then Idlewild Airport at a hotel, and Malcolm would be debriefed by Haley. He would talk, Haley would take notes. Malcolm had a habit of scribbling notes in small pieces of paper that Haley would surreptitiously pick up at the end of their discussions. Malcolm’s objective was actually to reingratiate himself within the Nation of Islam, that because he had emerged by the early 1960s as a very prominent figure outside of the N.O.I., there were critics within the organization that were saying to the patriarch of the N.O.I., the Honorable Elijah Mohammad, that Malcolm planned to take over the organization, which was not true. But nevertheless, Malcolm felt that if he could make a public — a prominent public statement to show his fidelity to the Honorable Elijah Mohammad that that might win him back in the good graces of the organization. But there were internal critics, sharp critics, who were very opposed to him, and who were very — some of them were members of Elijah Mohammad’s family, such as Herbert Mohammad, Raymond Shareef, who was the head of the Fruit of Islam, the brother-in-law of — the son-in-law of Elijah Mohammad. They isolated Malcolm X and kept him out of the newspaper of the organization Mohammad Speaks for over a year, which is kind of curious. He was the national spokesperson of the N.O.I., and he wasn’t represented in their own newspaper for over a year. Haley’s objective was quite different. Haley was a republican. He was an integrationist. He was very opposed to black nationalism. His objective was to illustrate that the racial separatism of the N.O.I. was a kind of pathological or a kind of — it was the logical culmination of separatism and racial isolationism and exclusion. He wanted to show the negative aspects of the N.O.I.’s ideology, Yacub’s history, and all of the ramifications of racial separatism that he felt were negative, and that Malcolm, being as charismatic as he was, a very attractive figure, nevertheless, he embodied these kind of negative traits. Haley felt he could make a solid case in favor of racial integration by showing what was — to white America — what was the consequence of their support for racial separatism that would end up producing a kind of hate, the hate that hate produced, to use the phrase that Mike Wallace used in his 1959 documentary on the Nation of Islam. So, the two men for very different reasons came together. What is striking is that from almost from the very beginning of certainly by September and October of 1963, as the book was being constructed, that Haley was vetting — asking questions to the publisher and to the publisher’s attorney regarding many of the things that Malcolm was saying. He was worried that he would not have a book that would have the kind of sting that he wanted. He was also concerned, to use Haley’s phrase, about the purported anti-Semitism of Malcolm X, and so he began to rewrite words or passages in the book without Malcolm’s knowledge. And Haley, in his own — this is prior to emails — Haley had a tendency to write even more frequently and voluminously to his agents and his editors than he did putting pen to paper in his own books. So that one finds in Haley’s archives, or the archives of Anne Romaine, who was going to be his biographer until her tragic death in 1995, one finds a copious series of notes from Haley to his editors and attorneys regarding the construction of the autobiography itself. He wanted to steer the book to accomplish his political goals, as well as Malcolm’s goals.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Professor Marable, you went to the Haley collection.

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that experience and how difficult it is, really, to get original information about Malcolm X, and the Haley example is just one.

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right. One of the striking things about doing research on Malcolm X, and I believe that most Malcolm X researchers could tell you their own stories, is that there’s this paradox of the absence of critical information. Malcolm X is a person who has inspired — he has been the muse of several generations of black cultural workers, artists, poets, playwrights. There are literally a thousand works with the title Malcolm X in them. There are over 350 films and over 320 web-based educational resources with the title Malcolm X, yet the vast majority of them are based on secondary literatures, that is, not on primary source material. In the case of Alex Haley, Haley’s material is located at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, primarily. But there are a whole series of elaborate steps that one has to — has to encounter in order to even begin to do research. There’s an attorney. If you want to photocopy material from that archive, you have to get permission from the attorney beforehand. You have to name the exact pages you want to photocopy before you can photocopy them. So that there are a whole series of steps. You can only use a pencil rather than a pen to copy down material, etc. It’s a laborious process, and it takes a long time just to do a small amount of research. Fortunately, Anne Romaine, who was appointed by Haley just before his death to be his own biographer —

AMY GOODMAN: She was a folk singer?

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right. A folk singer and a skillful historian, even though she was not formally trained in the field. She collected her own parallel archive to Haley, and without Anne Romaine’s archive, which is also at the University of Tennessee – well, I should — let me put it in a positive light, with that archive, we have gained extensive knowledge about how Haley and Malcolm actually worked and how the book, the autobiography, was constructed. The raw material for chapter 16, a lot of that material, is actually in Romaine’s archives, not in Haley’s, which is interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm.

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right. But what is most interesting about the book is that as I have read it over the years, something — something was odd to me. It’s like — you know, Malcolm broke with the N.O.I. in March 1964, and in that last 11 chaotic months, he spent most of the time outside of the United States. Nevertheless, he built two organizations in the spring of 1964. First, Muslim Mosque Incorporated, which was a religious organization that was largely based on members of the N.O.I. who left with him. It was spearheaded by James 67X or James Shabazz, who was his chief of staff. Then secondly was the Organization of Afro-American Unity. This was an organization that was a secular group. It largely consisted of people that we would later call several years later Black Powerites, Black nationalists, progressives coming out of the Black freedom struggle, the northern students’ movement, people — students, young people, professionals, workers, who were dedicated to Black activism and militancy, but outside of the context of Islam. There were tensions between these two organizations, and Malcolm had to negotiate between them and since he was out of the country a great deal of the time, it was rather difficult for him to do so. It seemed rather odd that there’s only a fleeting reference to the OAAU inside of the book that’s supposed to be his political testament. I wondered about this. It seemed like something was missing. Well, as a matter of fact, there is. Three chapters. Those three chapters really represent a kind of political testament that are outlined by Malcolm X, and to make a long story short, they’re in a safe of a Detroit attorney by the name of Greg Reed. He purchased these chapters in a sale of the Haley Estate in late 1992 for the sum of $100,000. Since that time, no historian, or at least I suppose I’m the exception, very few people have actually had a chance to see the raw material that was going to comprise these three chapters. The missing political testament that should have been in the autobiography, but isn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is he doing with them?

MANNING MARABLE: Well, they’re sitting in his safe. And, I guess the conundrum — I’m not an attorney or a person who does intellectual property — but my understanding of the situation is that he owns the property, but he doesn’t own — he owns the physical texts of these chapters, but Mr. Reed does not own the intellectual property, the content of these chapters, so he cannot publish them.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this the same attorney Reed who is involved with, perhaps, a lawsuit to do with Rosa Parks?

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right. It’s the same one, with the trial with the hip-hop group that’s based in Atlanta, and Gregory Reed –.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Outkast?

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right, with Outkast. In fact, I was even — I think even Reed sent something to me asking me to be a — to give testimony in this trial, which I promptly said, thanks, but no thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s because Outkast used in their music, they use Rosa Parks’s words, her own voice?

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the family of Rosa Parks feel about this?

MANNING MARABLE: I cannot really say. I just know what I have seep on the media. I know that they weren’t very happy about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Happy about —

MANNING MARABLE: About Greg Reed’s representation, but —

AMY GOODMAN: So, he’s not representing them.

MANNING MARABLE: Well, again, I cannot really characterize what is going on with that lawsuit, because I’m not really a party to it.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you are the only historian who has seen excerpts of the attorney Reed, the three chapters that he has in his safe?

MANNING MARABLE: I cannot say that for certain.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the few.

MANNING MARABLE: One of — I could say that very few people have seen it. Reed, after a series of conversations — Reed said he would allow me to see this. This was about two years ago. I flew out to Detroit. I asked when could I come over to the office, and he said, no, let’s meet at a restaurant, which struck me as rather odd. We met at a restaurant. He came with a briefcase, and he opened the briefcase and he showed me the manuscripts. He said, I’ll let you take a look at this for about 15 minutes. Well, that wasn’t very much time. I was deeply disappointed, nevertheless, in that 15 minute time, looking at the content, because I’m so familiar with what Malcolm wrote at certain stages of his own life and development, it became very clear that there’s a high probability he wrote this material sometime between August or September 1963 to about January 1964. Now, this is a critical moment in his development. In November 1963, he gives his famous message to the grassroots address in Detroit, which really kind of marks off the real turning point in his own development. But I would argue that equally important is a brilliant address he gives in Harlem in mid-August of 1963, which actually is one of my favorite addresses by Malcolm, which actually is superior in my judgment to the message to the grassroots address, where he lays into a critique of what then is being mobilized, the march on Washington, D.C., the pinnacle of the civil rights movement. Malcolm envisions a broad-based pluralistic united front, which is spearheaded by the Nation of Islam, but mobilizing integrationist organizations, non-political organizations, civic groups, all under the banner of building black empowerment, human dignity, economic development, political mobilization. He’s already envisioning the N.O.I. playing a role cooperatively with integrationist organizations. I believe that if we could see the chapters that are missing from the book, we would gain an understanding as to why perhaps — perhaps — the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the New York Police Department and others in law enforcement greatly feared what Malcolm X was about, because he was trying to build a broad — an unprecedented black coalition across the lines of black nationalism and integration. And in way, it presages 30 years ahead of time, the Million Man March.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Marable, we have to break. When we come back, I want to ask more about the chapters and also about the assassination of Malcolm X, 40 years ago today.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Professor Manning Marable of Columbia University, and long time now writing the biography of Malcolm X, which I see has just been bought by a publisher, and is going to be coming out in few years.

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right, with Viking Penguin. That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: More on these three chapters, what you saw in the restaurant, and then let’s talk about the assassination of Malcolm X.

MANNING MARABLE: Alright. I think that Malcolm was envisioning, even while he was in the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist progressive strategy toward uniting black people across ideological, class lines, denominational religious lines, Christians, as well as Muslims, to build a strong movement for justice and for empowerment. And I think that that is what frightened the FBI, and that is what frightened the CIA. That is what they had to stop, and if one thinks about it, those listeners and our viewers who know the history of COINTELPRO, the counter intelligence program of the FBI that occurred in the 1960s and 70s, that in 1965 or 6, that J. Edgar Hoover wrote an infamous memo called the Black Messiah Memo. He said, “We must stop the rise of a black messiah.” That was the concern that the FBI had more than anything else. Either Malcolm or Martin could have played the role of a unifier, but it was — Malcolm as long as he remained within the Nation of Islam, talking to the converted, he did not represent a fundamental threat to the American government. But when he began to talk about uniting the very fractious civil rights movement, when he talked — when he began to negotiate with people like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and Martin and others, keep in mind that several weeks before Malcolm’s assassination, he went to Selma, Alabama. Dr. King was imprisoned during the mobilization. He went to Mrs. King, and he told Coretta that, you know, that even though we’re very different people, that we’re really about the business of the same struggle. We just use different tactics. And I want you to understand, and I want you to convey to your husband that I deeply respect what he is doing. So, Malcolm had a clear vision and an understanding that we were — that he was a part of a broad freedom struggle. As his vision became more internationalist and pan-African, as he began, especially in 1964, after seeing the example of anti-colonial revolutions abroad and began to articulate and incorporate a socialist analysis economically into his program, he clearly became a threat to the US state.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how events led to this day, 40 years ago, the assassination of Malcolm X.

MANNING MARABLE: I believe that the evidence will show that there was not so much a conspiracy, but a convergence of interests with three different groups that had an interest in eliminating his voice and his vision. The first group, obviously, is the NYPD, the New York Police Department. They had their own red squad, which was called BOSS, the Bureau of Special Services. They had managed to infiltrate Malcolm’s organization and the nation of Islam. And, of course, the FBI. There were over 40,000 pages of FBI documents of which only about half are currently available to scholars and researchers. I think that this 40th anniversary of the assassination is a good opportunity for us to say that now is the time to declassify all FBI material on Malcolm X. There really is a need for us to challenge the US government for its refusal to open up its own archives 40 years after the death of Malcolm. All of that material should be made available to all researchers and all scholars and to the family of Malcolm X. So that — I believe that the FBI clearly was concerned, wanted to monitor and disrupt Malcolm wherever possible. Gene Roberts, one of Malcolm’s chiefs of security, was an NYPD undercover cop. He later went on to bigger things by being a disruptive force inside of the Black Panther Party. So, that’s one element. A second element was the Nation of Islam. Lynwood X, who was one of the leaders of the New Jersey mosques of the Nation of Islam, was at the Audubon Ballroom sitting on the first row. He came in early to observe the events on the 21st of February. He was taken aside by Benjamin 2X, close associate of Malcolm and also Ruben X, Ruben X Francis, who was the chief of security. Lynwood said he just wanted to check out what Malcolm had to say. But my sense is that perhaps his role was more complicated than simply that of a bystander. We know from Talmadge Hayer, one of the men who carried out the assassination, who was shot by Ruben X as he tried to flee the Audubon after shooting Malcolm X, we know that Hayer confessed years later to his Imam in prison that there had been a walk-through a week prior to February 21st at the Audubon Ballroom. So, there was deep knowledge on the part of members of the Nation of Islam regarding the planning, in sight of the OAAU and the Muslim Mosque Incorporated regarding the events at the Audubon. They knew when they were going to be there, they knew what the schedules were. How did they know this? Well, in part because they had informants inside of the organization, and in part because, obviously, they had information that hardly anybody else had. They also knew something else clearly, that on the day of the assassination, and here we get to the third group — I think the third group are elements within Malcolm’s own entourage. Elements within Malcolm’s own entourage, some of them were very angry with some of the changes that had occurred with Malcolm. One source of anger, curiously enough, was that — was the tension between MMI and OAAU, that the MMI, the Muslim Mosque Incorporated, these were women and men who had left the Nation of Islam out of loyalty to Malcolm, but then Malcolm continued to evolve rapidly. He never renounced and never stepped away from a strong commitment to black nationalism and black self-determination. That’s absolutely clear if you do any analysis of his speeches. But what is clear is that he incorporated within the framework of black nationalism a pan-Africanist and internationalist perspective. In doing so, he began to reassess radically earlier positions sexism and patriarchy. He began to break with notions of sexism that he had long held as a member of the Nation of Islam, and began to advance and push forward women leadership in the OAAU. MMI brothers were very resistant to women such as Lynn Shiflet and others who emerged as leaders within the OAAU, so one of the tensions that occurred was around gender equality and gender leadership inside of Malcolm’s entourage.

AMY GOODMAN: Then, that day, there was the presence, or lack of presence, of the NYPD.

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right. The NYPD was ubiquitous. They were always around Malcolm. Whenever Malcolm spoke, there would be one or two dozen cops all over the place. On this day, the cops were nowhere to be seen. The cops later explained that they had been pulled off the Audubon in order to go across the street. Normally, they were in a command center on the second floor adjacent to the large ballroom in the building. On this day, there were only two cops at moment of the shooting inside of the building, but they were as far away as possible from the site of the ballroom. The man who actually apprehended Talmadge Hayer, the only shooter who was shot at the site, Thomas Hoy, was actually driving by by accident. So, clearly, they had been pulled off the case.

AMY GOODMAN: He was an off duty cop.

MANNING MARABLE: That’s right. Why did the cops disappear quite literally? Then there were other kind of curious things. There was a complete failure of protection of the principal. The MMI brothers, who provided security for Malcolm had been trained by Malcolm himself that inside of the Nation of Islam, whenever there is a diversion, you protect the principal. The principal, in this case Malcolm, clearly was not protected on February 21st. First off, nobody was checked for weapons as they came in. Now, of course, people know that over the last several months prior to February 21st, 1965, the OAAU and MMI tried to get away from the old practices of checking people at the door for weapons. They wanted people to feel more comfortable. But the guards themselves did not carry weapons. Now, Malcolm’s home had just been firebombed a week before. The guards didn’t carry weapons. Malcolm had insisted that the guards not carry firearms that day. I have asked James Shabazz, I’ve asked other people who are members of the OAAU, Herman Ferguson and others, what led to that disastrous decision? James Shabazz said to me with a shrug, you just didn’t know Malcolm. Malcolm was adamant, and that whatever Malcolm wanted, that’s what we just did. But I said, this is highly irresponsible considering that there were death threats that were constant, that there was FBI surveillance and disruption, and that none of you carried weapons? Well, that’s not quite true, because we later learned from unredacted FBI files, that we have discovered and that we have archived in the municipal archives here in the city of New York, that there were at least, according to the district attorney, at least three undercover cops who were at the ballroom that day. We know one of their names. We know that –

AMY GOODMAN: What’s his name?

MANNING MARABLE: Well, we know that Gene Roberts, who was depicted giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to Malcolm –

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute.

MANNING MARABLE: Was an undercover cop, but who were the others? Two of the three men, who were imprisoned, Norman Butler and Robert 15x Johnson, convicted and given life sentences, I’m absolutely convinced were innocent. The real murderers of Malcolm X have not been caught or punished. I think that now is the moment for us to rededicate ourselves to learning the truth about what happened on February 21st. The place to begin is to make all evidence public, and we have to begin with the federal government, and the FBI.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Manning Marable, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

MANNING MARABLE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Marable is writing a biography of Malcolm X that will come out in a few years, has a major piece in his magazine, Souls, a critical journal of black politics, culture and society. Tonight, we’ll be at Columbia University talking more about his investigation. Thank you very much.

MANNING MARABLE: Thank you, Amy.

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