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On Malcolm X’s 92nd birthday, TRNN revisits this documentary, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of his death. Interviews include Angela Davis and Danny Glover. (Executive Producer Paul Jay, co-production with Telesur and support from the Bertha Foundation)

Story Transcript

MALCOLM X: One thing that I found in all of my travels was that all of the Africans, not only the Africans, but the Asians and the Muslims, look upon us as their long-lost brothers. And America had actually tricked many of them into a hands-off policy by giving them the impression that she was honestly trying to do something to solve the problem. My argument over there was designed to prove that it is impossible for the United States government to solve the race problem. It’s impossible. ~~~ REPORTER: Are you prepared to work with some of the leaders of the other civil rights organizations to this end? MALCOLM X: Certainly. Certainly. We will work with any groups, organizations, or leaders in any way, as long as it’s genuinely designed to get results. ~~~ ANGELA DAVIS: It’s very sad that he was assassinated when he was, because he was in the process of making amazing transformations. MALCOLM X: There’s a worldwide revolution going on. It goes beyond Mississippi. It goes beyond Alabama. It goes beyond Harlem. GLOVER: Malcolm is overlooked as one of the pantheons of black liberation. MALCOLM X: What is it revolting against? The power structure. The American power structure? No. The French power structure? No. The English power structure? No. Then what power structure? An international Western power structure. Malcolm grew up in a two-parent household initially, a two-parent household in Nebraska, where his father was a preacher of sorts working for the United Negro Improvement Association under Marcus Garvey’s auspices. And he was a powerful, fiery, strong father, husband, and political leader. EDDIE CONWAY: While Malcolm was in Harlem, he engaged in a lot of petty criminal activities with his running buddy Shorty. When he went to Boston they created a burglary ring and they were robbing houses. And he got caught at some point and went to prison for that. When he was released from the prison system, he became an active member of the Nation of Islam. ~~~ MALCOLM X: Mr. Muhammad teaches us that a man is judged by his conscious behavior. And the conscious behavior collectively of the white race toward nonwhite people has been the type of behavior that is practiced only by a devil or devils. REPORTER: So then in essence you feel that white men, per se, are devils? MALCOLM X: He teaches us that God told him that the white race is a race of devils. ~~~ WHITE SEGREGATIONIST: Well, it’s just not the things we’re used to down here. I mean, they come in and they sit down. And we’re not used to them sitting down beside us, ’cause I wasn’t raised with them, I never have lived with them, and I’m not going to start now. JARED BALL: The Nation of Islam, for whatever its failings or shortcomings or flaws are or were, existed in a very hostile environment, where the country’s, the world’s most powerful intelligence apparatus began targeting this and affiliated groups to destroy them. ~~~ UNIDENTIFIED: The messenger of the Lord of the world, the most honorable Elijah Muhammad [incompr.] As-salamu alaykum. ELIJAH MUHAMMAD: I want to show you, my people, the way out to your salvation. This problem is to be solved by God, and the solution of the problem has been given to me. ~~~ BALL: –to come up within an organization like the Nation of Islam, and then this, again, serendipitous never to be repeated mistake of the mainstream press giving him a platform, Malcolm rose to a level of prominence in this country and around the world that I think a leader of that kind could never expect today. ~~~ O’CONNOR: What is your real name? MALCOLM X: Malcolm. Malcolm X. O’CONNOR: Is that your legal name? MALCOLM X: As far as I’m concerned it’s my legal name. O’CONNOR: Have you been to court to establish that you–? MALCOLM X: I didn’t have to go to court to be called Murphy or Jones or Smith. (Excuse me for answering you this way.) O’CONNOR: That’s alright. MALCOLM X: But if a Chinese person were to say his name was Patrick Murphy, you would look at him like he’s insane, because Murphy is an Irish name, a European name, or the name that has a Caucasian or a white background, and a yellow–Chinese is yellow man, and he has nothing to do or no connection whatsoever with the name Murphy. KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think people don’t give Malcolm enough credit for the organizing that he did even within the Nation. He basically helped build that organization from the ground up, went to city after city, inspiring people, getting people to organize, creating structures, creating teams, getting folks to be dedicated, in terms of their lives, to a given vision. MALCOLM X: We don’t care what your religion is. We don’t care what organization you belong to. We don’t care how far in school you went or didn’t go. We don’t care what kind of job you have. We have to give you credit for shocking the white man by not letting him divide you and use you one against the other. JARED BALL: There was this question that emerged within the Nation of, well, he’s getting a little too popular. He’s making Elijah look bad. He’s this, that, and the third. But what also has to be remembered is that the counterintelligence program of the FBI was encouraging this through their own letter-writing campaigns and their own planting of agents within the Nation of Islam and elsewhere, were encouraging a dissent–a dissension, rather, between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad. ~~~ JOURNALIST: President Kennedy–I believe you called him a trickster. MALCOLM X: He has to be a trickster. Even if he’s the president, that doesn’t stop him from being a trickster if he’s been making tricks. Any time a president, a man running for president tells Negroes what he’s going to do for them when he gets in office, and after he gets in office he has time to do something for everybody else except the people that put him in office, he tricked the people who put him in office. ~~~ GLOVER: –the idea that Kennedy represented the new America, the more tolerant America, or the more helpful America, the image that was promoted about Kennedy right there. JOHN F. KENNEDY: And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. CONWAY: Malcolm’s critique of Kennedy was that he didn’t represent anything except the ruling elite. History proved that he was right: that same phenomenon reoccurred several years ago with President Obama. MALCOLM X: He has the time to take a stand against U.S. Steel, against Castro, against Khrushchev, against Laos and South Vietnam and all these other places all over the world. But when it comes to the time to correcting the injustices that are being inflicted against Negroes in this country, Kennedy sits up there like Nero–he’s fiddling while Birmingham is burning. EUGENE CONNOR (VOICEOVER): You can never whip these birds if you don’t keep you and them separate. I found that out in Birmingham. You’ve got to keep the white and the black separate. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: All this is a certainly a shocking and frightening expression of the sickness of our society and the deep hatred that pervades so much of our society. And I think this reveals that we have, in certain sections of our country, a barbaric expression. BALL: –people asking questions. Well, the Nation of Islam talks tough, but they’re not on the front lines of any of these struggles here. We see students, we see CORE, we see, eventually, SNCC, we see SCLC, we see all these other mainstream civil rights organizations on the front line. They’re getting beaten, they’re getting arrested. And the Nation of Islam, with all its organization and strength, talks a big game, but nobody’s directly engaging. And Malcolm started to raise a certain questions. MALCOLM X: As long as they thought that Martin Luther King had things under control in Birmingham, Kennedy didn’t see fit to send any troops down there. As long as the dogs were biting little black babies and black women and black children, Kennedy never thought of sending any troops into Birmingham. It was only after the Negroes showed that they were fed up and that they were capable of retaliating against the injustices that were being inflicted upon them by the whites that Kennedy called for the troops. FRANKLIN: It drew some stark lines about who was really working for the interests of black people, who was capitulating, who was getting what deal in order to continue being black leadership, who was getting money, even. WALTER CRONKITE: President Kennedy has been the victim of an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas. It is not known as yet whether the president survived the attack against him. Immediately, a Secret Service man said he saw blood spurt from the president’s head. He fell into the laps of Mrs. Kennedy, and Mrs. Kennedy shouted, oh, no. GLOVER: I remember the moment. I remember that day on November 22. I remember how he came over the loudspeaker and how all of us who had imposed or positioned a great deal of hope in Kennedy were overwhelmed. CRONKITE: We just have a report from our correspondent Dan Rather in Dallas that he has confirmed that President Kennedy is dead. MALCOLM X: I’ve been silenced for the past 90 days because of some statements I made concerning the president of the United States, which were distorted. And–. JOURNALIST: They were distorted. MALCOLM X: Yes, [incompr.] JOURNALIST: What did you say, Malcolm? MALCOLM X: Well, I said the same thing that everybody says, that his assassination was the result of the climate of hate, only I said the chickens came home to roost. UNIDENTIFIED: This statement’s from messenger Elijah Mohammed, the leader of the Muslims in America. Minister Malcolm Shabazz, addressing a public meeting, did not speak for the Muslims when he made comments on the death of the president, John F. Kennedy. He was speaking for himself and not Muslims in general. And Minister Malcolm has been suspended from public speaking for the time being. HERB BOYD: The American apartheid–that’s what he was saying is that this is a response to all of the indignities and all of the brutality that you’ve delivered to black America. BALL: When Malcolm accepts the silence and he accepts the punishment, he hears more and more about his negative relationship and place within the Nation. ~~~ JOURNALIST: And these reports that Malcolm X has been marked for death you say are spread by Malcolm X himself? UNIDENTIFIED: That is his source of propaganda to stay in the press. He have no other means of reaching the press. He doesn’t have a program. He’s trying to reduplicate something that has been tried over the years by other so-called Negro leaders. BALL: Learning of Elijah Muhammad’s indiscretions hurt Malcolm X. I mean, Elijah had become a father figure. The Nation of Islam itself had become a family. As he would say later, the people who he thought were being sent to kill him were people he met or trained or prepared to do that kind of work within the Nation. MALCOLM X: I feel responsible for having played a major role in developing a criminal organization. It was not a criminal organization at the outstart. It was an organization that had the power, the spiritual power, to reform the criminal. And this is what you have to understand. As long as that strong spiritual power was in the movement, it gave the moral strength to the believer that would enable him to rise above all his negative tendencies. I know, ’cause I went into the movement with more negative tendencies than anybody in the movement. FRANKLIN: Malcolm didn’t leave the nation. The Nation left Malcolm. The Nation told Malcolm, you are out. And Malcolm tried to sort of come back in the Nation and figure out ways, in terms of his relationship with Muhammad Ali (Cashius Clay at the time) to bring him in and try to get back into the Nation. It was only after many attempts that he realized that his status within the Nation was never going to be–he was never going to be reinstated. MALCOLM X: I, for one, disassociate myself from the movement completely, and I dedicate myself to the organizing of black people into a group that are interested in doing things constructive, not for just one religious segment of the community, but for the entire black community. PETER GOLDMAN: The efforts to silence him began very soon after he announced his break. MALCOLM X: The Organization of Afro-American Unity shall include all people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. In essence what it is saying: instead of you and me running around here seeking allies in our struggle for freedom in the Irish neighborhood or the Jewish neighborhood or the Italian neighborhood, we need to seek some allies among people who look something like we do. GOLDMAN: All through that last year, Elijah Muhammad was chafing at the inability of his people, the Fruit of Islam, the sort of paramilitary wing of the Nation of Islam, their inability to kill Malcolm. MALCOLM X: Today I’m speaking for myself. Formerly, I spoke for Elijah Muhammad, and everything I said was Elijah Muhammad teaches us thus and so. I’m speaking now from what I think, from what I have seen, from what I have analyzed, and the conclusions that I have reached. MAX STANFORD: The last meeting I had with him, he said, you know, I’m no longer a black nationalist. So I said, well, what do you call yourself? He says, I’m an internationalist. ~~~ JOURNALIST: Malcolm, just to–. JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to go into the United Nations at this point and ask that charges be brought against the United States for its treatment of American Negroes? MALCOLM X: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. [applause] Please. The audience will have to be quiet. Yes. As I pointed out when I was doing my traveling, that nations look–African nations and Asian nations and Latin American nations look very hypocritical when they stand up in the United Nations condemning the racist practices of South Africa and that which is practiced by Portugal and Angola and saying nothing in the UN about the racist practices that are manifest every day against Negroes in this society. GLORIA RICHARDSON: Later on in those last months, when he made his other trips to Africa, and that he’d begun to realize that in terms of how we in this country describe black or describe black nationalism was not–did not fly very well. MALCOLM X: It’s not a case of being good and bad, good or bad, blacks or whites; it’s a case of being good or bad human beings. JARED BALL: He’s exposed to political leadership, radical political leadership, all over the world. He does have to raise these questions. Well, if they’re white and–at least what we would call white–and leading North African revolutionaries and they’re Muslims, we can’t just say that they’re all blue-eyed devils. ~~~ JOURNALIST: Do you feel that your message, apparent message of love that you brought back from Islam is the real reason they’re after you, because you’re not hating as hard as they want you to? MALCOLM X: Well, I never did hate anybody hard. But I do know that when I wrote that letter saying that there were white people in Mecca, it shook up a lot of Muslims, because most of the Muslims who follow Mr. Muhammad absolutely believed that it was impossible, physically impossible–I should say divinely impossible–for a white person to go to Mecca. PETER GOLDMAN: In 1964, Malcolm was projected as the devil figure in terms of, you know, the liberation movement. PETER BAILEY: You have to put it into the context of the times. This is the height of the so-called Cold–propaganda, tremendous propaganda war between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1964, when they had the UN debates on the Congo, two African diplomats, for the first time in history, when they they were making up speeches, they said that the United States has the right to intervene in the Congo. Who’s to say that we don’t have the right to intervene to help to protect black people from what is happening in Mississippi. That was unheard of. ~~~ JOURNALIST: Malcolm, do you intend to lead the charge in the United Nations? MALCOLM X: Well, I find that to say you’re going to lead something creates a lot of hostility, division, jealousy, and envy. I hope to work with any group of leaders or any group of organizations to do whatever is necessary to see that this problem is brought before the United Nations. UNIDENTIFIED: At about 3:15 p.m. this afternoon, there were about 400 persons present in the ballroom here, representing an organization known as the Afro American Unity organization, headed up by Malcolm X. He sustained one shot in the lower-right chin, and the other six hit him in the chest and body. BETTY SHABAZZ: I saw people crawling on the floor. And so I got down too. Then, when I was looking out and I saw someone look in amazement to the front, I knew they had shot my husband. UNIDENTIFIED: He raised his hand in a Muslim greeting, As-salamu alaykum. At that point, I heard a rumbling behind me. And I turned around in my seat to see what it was. Then we saw–like, I saw two guys standing up. And the next thing, Malcolm X had his hand up. He had said–he said, stay cool, stay calm. Just then, the gunfire went off, and his hand was up. I remember this. I turned around quickly. And the next thing I saw was Malcolm falling back in a dead faint. ~~~ JOURNALIST: What did Malcolm X mean to you? UNIDENTIFIED: He meant a great deal to me and my people. I’m sorry that a good man is gone. It the first I hear of it. I couldn’t have cried any more, I don’t believe, if I had have lost my mother. JOURNALIST: What did he mean to you? Can you tell me a bit more of that? UNIDENTIFIED: He meant deliverance for my people. And I hope we all walk in the same footsteps as Malcolm X was walking in. UNIDENTIFIED: He was a hero to me. He stood out among all black people. He showed the white man where it was at. He got respect. UNIDENTIFIED: Why was he [offered (?)] in Princeton and all these big white universities? Because they respected him too, the way I respected him. UNIDENTIFIED: In the last year, like Roy Wilkins said, he changed. He wanted to get along with the white people. But you people didn’t want to get along with us. ~~~ JOURNALIST: Who do you believe is responsible for Malcolm X’s death? UNIDENTIFIED: The white power structure in America is behind it. And they’re–well, they’re quick to capitalize on by saying that one of his own kind did it, but they put it up to be done. JOURNALIST: What do you mean the white power structure? UNIDENTIFIED: The white power structure of America. They know they had more to gain by getting Malcolm X out of the way than they had by letting him live. That’s why I say it. JOURNALIST: But what is the white power structure? UNIDENTIFIED: Never mind. I just said the white power structure. You know the white race, don’t you? ~~~ CONWAY: Three members of the Nation of Islam got locked up for Malcolm X’s assassination, but there was always some questionable doubt of agencies, government agencies. ~~~ JOURNALIST: Since the death of Malcolm X, have you encountered any serious trouble? Or do you expect any serious trouble? ELIJAH MUHAMMAD: I have not encountered any serious trouble, and I don’t expect to encounter any serious trouble for Malcolm’s death. This death of Malcolm, God himself had something to do with that. ~~~ FRANKLIN: There’s COINTELPRO documents in which the FBI takes credit for feeding the feud between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam. So I definitely think the United States government takes responsibility. And, unfortunately, I think the Nation of Islam takes responsibility, because the killers came from within, and the atmosphere created by leadership in the Nation allowed that assassination to go forward. MALCOLM X: Brothers and sisters, we are known as having the most peaceful meetings of any large group of people in America, and we intend to continue to have it. So now that everything is back to order, we shall proceed. Let’s have a round of applause for the messenger of Allah! FRANKLIN: When Malcolm was assassinated, he was trying to deal with capitalism as one big issue. How does capitalism affect black folks? How does that economic system compare to other economic systems? And even if we lived under a capitalistic system–remember, at one point he said all capitalists were bloodsuckers. And at another point he said also that his friends were socialists, communists, capitalists, you know, that kind of thing. So I think he was still wrestling with knowing the kind of economic system that we live under and that everybody mostly lives under across the world. ANGELA DAVIS: Malcolm was a real threat. And regardless of what the particular details might be around his assassination, it was so clear that the power structures did not want to see Malcolm and all of those who identified with him continue in that path toward internationalism, linking our struggles in the U.S. with struggles in Africa, with struggles in the Middle East, with struggles in Asia and Latin America. That was the real threat. And I think that had Malcolm not been assassinated, that he would have urged many more people to develop that kind of international perspective. ~~~ INTERVIEWER: You feel, however, that we’re making progress in this country and worldwide? MALCOLM X: No, no, no, no. I will never say that progress is being made. If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. BALL: If anything, that’s what we’ve seen–the nine-inch knife has been slightly removed a little bit over the last few decades, or maybe, I would argue, adjusted in its place within our back. And what we have to do is not accept what we’re being encouraged to accept as progress as progress. We have to accept, we have to develop our own standard for what that would look like. And then, if it doesn’t reach that, we don’t accept it as progress. MACLOLM X: There’s a worldwide revolution going on. It goes beyond Mississippi. It goes beyond Alabama. It goes beyond Harlem. And what is it revolting against? The power structure. The American power structure? No. The French power structure? No. The English power structure? No. Then what power structure? An international Western power structure.


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