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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Archives: New York Daily News

Archives: New York Daily News: "TRUTH ABOUT MALCOLM X; [SPORTS FINAL Edition]
STANLEY CROUCH. New York Daily News. New York, N.Y.
Copyright Daily News, L.P. Feb 21, 2005

Forty years ago today, Malcolm X was shot down in front of his family and an audience of followers at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. When he died, Malcolm X had been estranged from the Nation of Islam for about a year and had begun to call Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the cult, a liar, a fraud and a womanizer.

Those were mighty hot words to direct at the Nation of Islam, which was feared throughout the black community as a known gathering place for violent criminals of all sorts who had been converted in prison, the way Malcolm himself had. Before his ascent in the cult world of homemade Islam, Malcolm Little had been known as "Big Red," a street hustler with a big mouth, a cocaine habit and a willingness to get rowdy and wild if the occasion called for it.

Sent to prison for a series of burglaries, Malcolm turned to Islam, or a version of it, promoted as the "black man's true religion" which held the secrets to liberation from white domination and black self-hatred. A convert, he began the liberation by replacing his "slave name" with an Islamic name or an X.

Malcolm X appeared on the national scene in 1959, presented by the media as the face of what white racism had done to black people. He was a minister of hate who used fiery rhetoric to teach that the white man was a devil invented 6,000 years ago by a mad black scientist. White audiences were appalled or darkly amused by this cartoon version of Islam, but more than a few black Americans were influenced by the Nation of Islam and by its dominant mouthpiece - light-skinned, freckle-faced, red-haired Malcolm X, the voice of black rage incarnate.

Some Negroes left the Christian church, others changed their names. A number stopped eating pork and demanded beef barbecue, and a good many eventually stopped frying their hair and became more nationalistic and hostile to whites, in their own rhetoric and in the rhetoric they liked to hear.

Malcolm X proved how vulnerable Negroes were to hearing another Negro put some hard talk on the white man. The long heritage of silence, both in slavery and the redneck South, was so strong that speech became a much more important act than many realized. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized this, observing that many of those who went to hear Malcolm X were less impressed with his ideas than they were with the contemptuous way he spoke to white power.

Since his death, Malcolm X has been elevated from a heckler of the civil rights moment to a civil rights leader - which he never was - and many people now think that he was as important to his moment as King. He was not, and Malcolm X was well aware of this. But in our country, where liberal contempt for black people is boundless, we should not be surprised to see a minor figure lacquered with media "respect" and thrown in the lap of the black community, where he is passed off as a great hero.

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