The Guardian • Issue #2054

Angela Davis and the importance of Malcolm X today

Malcolm X.

Malcolm X. Photo: Public domain.

On 19th May 2023, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! interviewed Angela Davis, author, feminist political activist and distinguished academic to mark Malcolm X’s birth on 19th May 1925. Why is Malcolm X’s legacy so enduring?

Davis says that Malcolm X understood that “ideology’s role is precisely to make the conditions of our lives appear to be normal. And as a matter of fact, the more normal something appears to be, the more likely it is to be produced in and through ideology.”

She added, “We’re on the verge of substantial shifts in the way people think about race and racism. And those who want to prevent these shifts from happening are frantically trying to turn back the clock. At least 36 states have adopted or introduced laws that impede educational projects about race and racism.” The vision of black activists had to be broader. “It had to move, Malcolm said, across the borders of nation-states. It had to be transnational. It had to be international. The framework that Malcolm urged us to use was human rights.”

Professor Davis is a long-time member of the Communist Party USA and a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. The Communist Party has a long history of supporting the class struggle of African Americans, and was the only left-wing party to espouse the idea of complete racial equality. This attracted a significant black constituency, but this was also used during the Red Scare and by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to attack and discredit the Civil Rights Movement.

In the USA, Britain, and South Africa, X is remembered as a human rights activist, who helped end racial segregation in the USA. He advocated Black empowerment and the promotion of Islam within the Black community. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X advocated that black people should protect themselves “by any means necessary,” against violence, including that instigated by the white police force.

Born Malcolm Little he changed his surname to “X,” as “Little” was a slave-owner’s name. After his pilgrimage to Mecca, he became a hajj, and changed his name to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

The FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in 1950, when he wrote to President Truman opposing the Korean War (1950-1953), stating that he was a communist. On 1st December 1963, when asked to comment on the assassination of John F Kennedy, Malcolm said that it was a case of the “chickens coming home to roost,” in reference to Kennedy’s policies towards Cuba, Guatemala, and Indo-China.

On 2nd July 1964, the Civil Rights Act bill was signed into law by President Johnson, making it illegal to separate people in public places by race or to discriminate against anyone based on their race, colour, religion, gender, or national origin. Malcolm met with Martin Luther King Jr. on 26th March 1964, during the Senate debates regarding the Civil Rights Act. He later addressed public meetings of the US Socialist Workers Party at their Militant Labor Forum in New York City. In an interview in The Egyptian Gazette Malcolm X said he wanted to “take the racist American government before the World Court and have the racists in it exposed and condemned as the criminals that they are.” On 21st February 1964, while addressing the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan, he was assassinated, and died from 21 gunshot wounds.

Thomas Hayer, Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson were convicted of his murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Butler and Johnson had alibis and no physical evidence linked them to the crime. The New York City Police Department, the FBI and the CIA were accused of a massive cover-up. In 2021, Butler and Johnson were exonerated of the murder after it was revealed that the FBI and the NYPD had withheld key evidence during their trial.

On 21st February 2023 the Civil Rights attorney, Ben Crump, and two of Malcolm X’s daughters, filed a wrongful death lawsuit for US$100 million against the NYPD, FBI, and the CIA. Ilyasah Shabazz, the co-administrator of the estate, said that these agencies had concealed evidence from the accused who were “wrongfully convicted for the assassination of Malcolm X.” The fight for racial justice continues in the USA.

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