Saturday, February 21, 2015

Remember the Past: The Assassination in the Ballroom

The stage after the assassination. The circles are bullet holes.
Fifty years ago today, Brother Minister Malcolm X stood before a crowded room in the Audubon Theatre and Ballroom to speak. Some time after he began speaking, someone yelled, "Nigger, get your hand out my pocket." A ruckus began, the bodyguards moved towards the commotion and in the distraction and confusion, several assassins approached the podium and shot down Brother Minister Malcolm X.

In my plans to blog about lesser known Black Americans and their contributions, Malcolm X doesn't quite fit squarely into that category. He's well known. People know his name even if they aren't really sure what he stood for. There's a movie about his life. He's often held up in contrast to Dr. Martin L. King. Although he's not considered a "safe negro" like the other blacks who are discussed ad naseum year after year in attempts to "honor" February and Black History Month, he is discussed to some degree.

I choose to discuss him today because today marks the 50th anniversary of his death, and I fear not many people know or care.

Just like Dr. King has been turned into a saint and boiled down to a few quotes and ideas that are easy to remember and repeat, Brother Minister Malcolm has been held up in contrast as the "by any means necessary" leader who viewed all whites as "blue-eyed, blond haired devils" and the man who said "chickens coming home to roost never made me sad; they made me glad" about JFK being assassinated (which was viewed quite negatively). He was more than that.
Just as Dr. King was much more than only promoting non-violent, civil disobedience to get things accomplished and gain equality, and his planned speeches for the days after his assassination were a huge shift in tone and rhetoric (esp. with regard to the Vietnam War), too many people forget that in the many months before his death, Malcolm X's pilgrimage to Mecca had altered his view of Islam as he had been taught in the Nation of Islam. Too many forget that after he'd witnessed Muslims of ALL shades while in Mecca, he began to see that racial integration and tolerance was actually feasible in the States. In essence, he began to change his views and rhetoric. But 21 bullets from assassins stopped that before we got to know the more tolerant Brother Minister, before we would ever know what a Malcolm X preaching integration was like.

But much like the many forgotten leaders of the past--some names we remember, some we forget--we don't always view the whole person. We boil them down into easily digestible bits. We forget they were people and not merely historical figures for us to extract the parts we like and ignore the parts we don't.
They lived.
They breathed.
They had opinions.
Sometimes those opinions changed.
They died.
Sometimes they were killed.

Malcolm Little: thief, drug-abuser, conk and zoot-suit wearer, convict.

Malcolm X: leader, rhetorician, Muslim, father, husband, friend, servant. assassinated... this day... fifty years ago.

We owe it to the people of history to gain better understandings of who they were.
We owe it to ourselves to learn more about those we don't know.
We owe it to ourselves to remember and help the next generations remember.

Pay attention.
Remember the past.
Share it with the future.

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