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Posts Tagged ‘Malcom X’

W. E. B. Du Bois to Malcolm X: The Untold History of the Movement to Ban the Bomb 

By Vincent Intondi

Zinn Education Project July 30, 2015

Coretta Scott King (R) with Women Strike for Peace founder Dagmar Wilson (L) in a march on the United Nations Plaza, New York City, Nov. 1, 1963. Image: © Bettmann/CORBIS, used with permission.

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. announced his strong opposition to the war in Vietnam, the media attacked him for straying outside of his civil rights mandate. In so many words, powerful interests told him: “Mind your own business.” In fact, African American leaders have long been concerned with broad issues of peace and justice—and have especially opposed nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this activism is left out of mainstream corporate-produced history textbooks.

On June 6, 1964, three Japanese writers and a group of hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) arrived in Harlem as part of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki World Peace Study Mission. Their mission: to speak out against nuclear proliferation.

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Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama

Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American activist, organized a reception for the hibakusha at her home in the Harlem Manhattanville Housing Projects, with her friend Malcolm X. Malcolm said, “You have been scarred by the atom bomb. You just saw that we have also been scarred. The bomb that hit us was racism.” He went on to discuss his years in prison, education, and Asian history. Turning to Vietnam, Malcolm said, “If America sends troops to Vietnam, you progressives should protest.” He argued that “the struggle of Vietnam is the struggle of the whole Third World: the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism.” Malcolm X, like so many before him, consistently connected colonialism, peace, and the Black freedom struggle. Yet, students have rarely heard this story.

With the recent developments in Charleston surrounding the Confederate flag, there is a renewed focus on what should be included in U.S. history textbooks and who should determine the content. Focusing on African American history, too often textbooks reduce the Black freedom movement to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. Rosa Parks and Dr. King are put in their neat categorical boxes and students are never taught the Black freedom struggle’s international dimensions, viewing slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement as purely domestic phenomena unrelated to foreign affairs. However, Malcolm X joined a long list of African Americans who, from 1945 onward, actively supported nuclear disarmament. W. E. B. Du Bois, Bayard Rustin, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Black Panther Party were just a few of the many African Americans who combined civil rights with peace, and thus broadened the Black freedom movement and helped define it in terms of global human rights.

W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois

If students learn about Du Bois at all, it is usually that he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or that he received a PhD from Harvard. However, a few weeks after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Du Bois likened President Truman to Adolph Hitler, calling him “one of the greatest killers of our day.” He had traveled to Japan and consistently criticized the use of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s, fearing another Hiroshima in Korea, Du Bois led the effort in the Black community to eliminate nuclear weapons with the “Ban the Bomb” petition. Many students go through their entire academic careers and learn nothing of Du Bois’ work in the international arena.

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Bayard Rustin speaking at the 1958 Anti-Nuclear Rally in England. Image: Contemporary Films.

If students ever hear the name Bayard Rustin, it is usually related to his work with the March on Washington. He has been tragically marginalized in U.S. history textbooks, in large part because of his homosexuality. However, Rustin’s body of work in civil rights and peace activism dates back to the 1930s. In 1959, during the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin not only fought institutional racism in the United States, but also traveled to Ghana to try to prevent France from testing its first nuclear weapon in Africa.

These days, some textbooks acknowledge Dr. King’s critique of the Vietnam War. However, King’s actions against nuclear weapons began a full decade earlier in the late 1950s. From 1957 until his death, through speeches, sermons, interviews, and marches, King consistently protested the use of nuclear weapons and war. King called for an end to nuclear testing asking, “What will be the ultimate value of having established social justice in a context where all people, Negro and White, are merely free to face destruction by Strontium-90 or atomic war?” Following the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, King called on the government to take some of the billions of dollars spent on nuclear weapons and use those funds to increase teachers’ salaries and build much needed schools in impoverished communities. Two years later, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, King argued the spiritual and moral lag in our society was due to three problems: racial injustice, poverty, and war. He warned that in the nuclear age, society must eliminate racism or risk annihilation.

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Letter from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament inviting Dr. King and Bayard Rustin to their mass march. Click to read letter at the King Center website.

Dr. King’s wife largely inspired his antinuclear stance. Coretta Scott King began her activism as a student at Antioch College. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, King worked with various peace organizations, and along with a group of female activists, began pressuring President Kennedy for a nuclear test ban. In 1962, Coretta King served as a delegate for Women Strike for Peace at a disarmament conference in Geneva that was part of a worldwide effort to push for a nuclear test ban treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. Upon her return, King spoke at AME church in Chicago, saying: “We are on the brink of destroying ourselves through nuclear warfare . . . . The Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement must work together ultimately because peace and civil rights are part of the same problem.”

Soon, we will commemorate the 70th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not long after comes the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Students will then return to school and to their history textbooks. However, most will not learn how these issues are connected. They will not learn of all those in the Civil Rights Movement who simultaneously fought for peace. But this must change, and soon. The scarring of war and poverty and racism that Malcolm X spoke of continues. It’s time that students learn about the long history of activism that has challenged these deadly triplets.

vincent_intondiVincent J. Intondi is an associate professor of history at Montgomery College and director of research for American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute. He is the author of African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement(Stanford University Press, 2015).

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Malcolm X y el pensamiento nacionalista caribeño

Francisco J. Concepción

El Post Antillano    22 de mayo de 2015

thrykjyjUsualmente, la visión que tenemos de nuestro Caribe es que solo recibimos, pero no damos nada a los imperios. Somos las víctimas del imperialismo europeo y luego del imperialismo estadounidense. Solemos ver nuestra historia como sujetos pasivos que solo hemos sido sometidos por las fuerzas externas. Esta visión de la historia solo nos ayuda a comprender una parte de nuestra realidad. No voy a declarar una gran resistencia, una gran lucha, un gran cimarronaje, tampoco voy a inventarme próceres que no hicieron lo que quisiéramos que hubieren hecho. Pero quiero hoy mirar un poco más profundamente cómo es que desde el Caribe hemos transformado, con nuestras ideas, el mundo que nos rodea.

Malcolm X, Malcolm Little, como se llamó al nacer, hubiera cumplido noventa años el pasado 19 de mayo si no hubiera sido asesinado en el 1965. Malcolm X fue asesinado el 21 de febrero de 1965, Albizu murió el 21 de abril de 1965, no olvidemos eso. Hoy, y ya hace unos veinte años, Malcolm es reconocido como una de los pensadores políticos negros de Estados Unidos más importantes y, tal vez, más originales. Todos conocemos las películas, los libros, las reseñas, sus debates con Martin Luther King, y los debates que su figura ha provocado. Uno de esos debates está relacionado con el uso de la violencia como forma de resistencia ante el racismo blanco.

Mientras que Martin Luther King se destacó como el negro de los blancos por su promoción de la no-violencia, Malcolm se convirtió en el promotor principal de la autodefensa de los negros ante la agresión blanca.

La voz de este líder miembro de la Nación del Islam, luego fundador de la Organización por la Unidad Afroamericana, se convirtió en el reto principal que tuvo que enfrentar el sistema de privilegio blanco, y de clase, en Estados Unidos. Esta voz tan reconocida está enmarcada en un contexto determinado que aún tiene que ser estudiado con detenimiento. La voz de Malcolm X está impregnada de la voz de su padre, quien fuera un predicador bautista y seguidor de Marcus Garvey, el organizador, pensador y dirigente político oriundo de Jamaica. Pero la voz de Malcolm también refleja la voz de su madre, Louise Little, oriunda de Granada, la isla del Caribe que fuera invadida por Estados Unidos bajo la administración de Ronald Reagan.

Desde esta perspectiva, no hay duda de que Malcolm refleja una voz plenamente caribeña, por el legado de Marcus Garvey, quien se destacara por una prédica radicalmente contraria a la integración racial y a favor del nacionalismo negro dentro de Estados Unidos. Ese nacionalismo que ha sido sofocado y escondido detrás del saneamiento que se hizo de la imagen de Malcolm X con la publicación de su autobiografía. Manning Marable, en su libro Malcolm X: A life of reinvention, demuestra que la autobiografía de Malcolm trata de esconder su radicalismo nacionalista detrás de su conversión al islam sunita que se anunció en el 1964. Este ocultamiento ha servido para dejar de un lado la dimensión caribeña del pensamiento de Malcolm, sobre todo, porque los autores blancos, que escriben desde el mismo privilegio que atacó Malcolm, han enfatizado su historia y discursos luego de 1964 y han tratado de obviar, tildándolo de locuras, su nacionalismo que estuvo atado a su experiencia en la Nación del Islam y al pensamiento de Marcus Garvey.

Ese pensamiento político está enmarcado en la historia fruto de la plantación. Esa plantación que tanto caracteriza al sur de Estados Unidos, pero también al Caribe. No olvidemos que Colin Woodard, en su libro American Nations, demuestra que la plantación sureña de Estados Unidos tiene su origen en Barbados, es decir, que esa plantación, como sistema, es de origen caribeño. Esa misma plantación que caracteriza la construcción de la mentalidad negra del Caribe. Esa plantación que marca profundamente las palabras del Coronel Riggs cuando anuncia que dará guerra contra todos los puertorriqueños, como muestra el libro de Nelson A Denis, War against all Puerto Ricans. Malcolm parte del análisis de la negritud que es fruto de la plantación, por eso es que podemos decir que su voz es parte de una reflexión caribeña que intenta colocar nuestra realidad, como hijos de la plantación, en medio de un mundo que está en proceso de globalizarse.

Malcolm X hace una aportación importante al pensamiento nacionalista, sobre todo al puertorriqueño, al reconocer que hay una dimensión internacional de dicho pensamiento. El ataque que hace Carlos Pabón, en su libro Polémicas, al nacionalismo puertorriqueño, donde afirma que adoptó un tercermundismo que le dirigió a un nacionalismo menos socialista y más insular, se debilita ante la evidencia del desarrollo internacionalista del nacionalismo negro en el pensamiento de Malcolm X. Si Malcolm comienza a hablar de la Conferencia de Bandung, de 1954, como el modelo del internacionalismo negro y de la unidad afroamericana, es porque dicho evento, tercermundista por excelencia, constituye un cambio radical en la construcción de las voces poscoloniales del mundo. En 1955 Malcolm adopta el tercermundismo poscolonial como el modelo para lo que luego sería su propuesta política en la década de los sesenta.

El Caribe, mundo de la plantación, pero también del cimarrón, es el referente fundamental del desarrollo del pensamiento de Malcolm X. Su reunión con Fidel Castro, a principios de los sesenta, es un ejemplo más de cómo el Caribe va configurando el pensamiento de Malcolm. Al final de su vida, cuando funda la Organización por la Unidad Afroamericana, anuncia que no se trata de una organización solo de Estados Unidos. Malcolm dice que se trata de una organización que quiere lograr la liberación del negro en todo el hemisferio occidental, desde el Caribe, América Latina y Estados Unidos. Esa organización es una alianza transnacional, al estilo de la Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) de Marcus Garvey, fundada en Jamaica, luego llevada a Estados Unidos.

Malcolm X representa un nacionalismo internacionalista, poscolonial, de origen caribeño que aspira a establecer alianzas transnacionales que debiliten el sistema de privilegio blanco. Este nacionalismo transnacional que se refleja en el pensamiento de Malcolm no es muy distinto del nacionalismo de Pedro Albizu Campos, quien comienza su proyecto político viajando por América Latina y el Caribe. En este momento no podemos dejar de considerar que probablemente el pensamiento de Malcolm X y de Albizu era mucho más semejante, a pesar de sus diferencias originales, al final de sus vidas. Ambos, muertos en el 1965, asesinados por el mismo poder, representan una estirpe nacionalista poscolonial que se articuló como un reto al privilegio imperialista blanco. Ambos fueron voces que promovieron el uso de la violencia de los de “abajo” como un instrumento válido de defensa de los pueblos.

Malcolm X es un pensador caribeño, de eso no tengo dudas, y su aportación tiene que ser parte de nuestros debates hoy. El reto es mayor, una globalización que reestructura y restablece las cadenas de poder que el antiimperialismo de los sesenta pretendió combatir. La voz de Malcolm X se refleja en las aspiraciones a un mundo de justicia, pero de una justicia de verdad, justicia con equidad.

Crédito foto: Cheikh.Ra Films, http://www.flickr.com, bajo licencia de Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

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The Legacy of Malcolm X

Malcolm X died fifty years ago today, just as he was moving toward revolutionary ideas that challenged oppression in all its forms.

Jacobin  February 21, 2015

Michael Ochs Archives / Corbis

Michael Ochs Archives / Corbis

Racial segregation was not the law in the postwar North, but it was the reality. In virtually all aspects of life, Northern blacks encountered racism and segregation. Blacks who left the South found themselves forced to live in huge urban ghettos and educate their children in inferior schools. Skilled or professional jobs were reserved for whites. Blacks were constantly subject to white authority, especially police harassment.

Almost a quarter of blacks said they had been mistreated by the police, and 40 percent said they had seen others abused. Any illusions held by Southern blacks about the liberal North were not held by those already living there. And while Northern blacks were inspired by the struggles in the South, their conditions made them receptive to a movement independent of — and quite different from — the one led by Martin Luther King Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Council.

In the first years of the civil rights struggle, the most significant organizational expression of this new movement was the Nation of Islam. By the late 1950s, the group’s membership reached an estimated one hundred thousand, with Malcolm X as its most prominent member.

In formal terms, the ideas of the Nation of Islam were profoundly conservative. The organization combined elements of orthodox Islam with ideas of its own making, preaching a doctrine of hard work, thrift, obedience, and humility. Seeing economic independence from white society as crucial, the organization also encouraged its members to “buy black.” The Nation of Islam established dozens of businesses, owned farmland, and built mosques in most major Northern cities. The organization did not condemn capitalism, only whites. Indeed, many Black Muslims looked to emulate the success of white capitalists.

Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad called for establishing an independent black state — in the United States or elsewhere. But beyond pressing for demands or defending their interests, the organization was hostile to political involvement. That such an inward-looking religious sect was capable of substantial growth is a testimony to the widespread bitterness of large numbers of urban blacks. To hundreds of young recruits, the Nation of Islam represented self-respect, self-reliance, and pride.

The bold and articulate Malcolm X quickly became a pull for more militants to join the Nation of Islam, with appeals designed to highlight the hypocrisy of white elites. In response to the charge that the Nation was racist, Malcolm said, unapologetically, “If we react to white racism with a violent reaction, to me that’s not black racism. If you come to put a rope around my neck and I hang you for it, to me that’s not racism. Yours is racism, but my reaction has nothing to do with racism.”

Malcolm X rejected the view that integration into American society was either possible or desirable and viewed the federal government and the Democratic Party not as allies, but as part of the problem. And he was sharply critical of liberals who talked about racism in the South, but had nothing to say about conditions in the North, saying, “I will pull off that liberal’s halo that he spends such efforts cultivating!”

Malcolm X was also sharply critical of the civil rights movement’s leaders. Far from leading the struggle, he saw them as containing it.

He went on to attack the whole premise of nonviolence that underlay the Southern desegregation movement. Instead, he argued for black self-defense: “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts a hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion. In fact, that’s the old-time religion. . . . Preserve your life, it’s the best thing you’ve got. And if you’ve got to give it up, let it be even-steven.”

Technically, Malcolm X was only amplifying the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, and indeed always prefaced any of his speeches with the phrase “Elijah Muhammad teaches . . .” But Malcolm X had turned these ideas into an indictment of the system, increasingly breaking out of the straitjacket of the Nation of Islam.

While Muhammad shunned politics, Malcolm was becoming more political. One Muslim complained, “It was Malcolm who injected the political concept of ‘black nationalism’ into the Black Muslim movement, which was essentially religious in nature.”

Aware that the growing politicization of the movement was having an effect on the Nation of Islam, including its leading spokesperson, Elijah Muhammad had taken measures to reassert his control.

A police attack in Los Angeles in 1962 drove home the bankruptcy of the Nation of Islam’s politics. In April 1962, a Black Muslim had been killed and several wounded by the Los Angeles police department. Malcolm X immediately flew out to Los Angeles to direct the organization’s response. The Nation of Islam preached self-defense, and the police murder seemingly called for retaliatory action. But Elijah Muhammad prevented his followers from organizing a sustained self-defense campaign.

Verbal radicalism, often extreme in its denunciations of whites, was acceptable in an earlier period when members of the Nation of Islam were establishing their reputation as opponents of the system. But the explosion of anger among blacks demanded more than words; it demanded action, and that was one thing Elijah Muhammad would not countenance.

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Out of the Nation of Islam

Malcolm X’s break with the Nation of Islam finally came in December 1963. Responding to a question from the audience at a meeting in New York City, Malcolm attributed John F. Kennedy’s assassination to the hate and violence produced by a society that whites themselves had created.

Although the statement was consistent with the hostility Black Muslim ministers had expressed to the US administration in the past, Elijah Muhammad nevertheless informed Malcolm that he would be suspended for ninety days so that “Muslims everywhere can be disassociated from the blunder.” It soon became clear that the suspension was in fact an expulsion.

On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X formally announced his break with the Nation of Islam. The Black Muslim movement, he said, “had gone as far as it can because it was too sectarian and too inhibited.” He advocated greater engagement in the black struggles exploding around the country, warning that the Black Muslims could find themselves “one day suddenly separated from the Negroes’ frontline struggle.”

In order to become involved in the civil rights movement, Malcolm drew the conclusion that he needed to separate politics and religion, saying, “we don’t mix our religion with our politics and our economics and our social and civil activities — not any more . . . We become involved with anybody, anywhere, anytime and in any manner that’s designed to eliminate the evils, the political, economic and social evils that are afflicting the people in our community.”

In the same speech, he described himself as an adherent of black nationalism.

A Budding Anti-Imperialism

Soon after, Malcolm was to take the first of two trips to Africa. These trips had an important impact on his ideas. He met with several important African heads of state — including Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt — and was influenced by the ideas of “third worldism.” In general terms, this was the view that the world was dominated by two superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union — and that the developing countries of the world represented an independent alternative.

When Malcolm X returned to New York, he announced the formation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which brought together the different African heads of state. The OAAU was a black nationalist organization that sought to build community organizations, schools, black enterprises, and voter registration campaigns to ensure community control of black politicians.

After his visit to Africa, Malcolm began to argue that the black struggle in the United States was part of an international struggle, one that he connected to the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

He also began to argue in favor of socialism. Referring to the African states, he pointed out, “All of the countries that are emerging today from under the shackles of colonialism are turning towards socialism.”

He no longer defined the struggle for black liberation as a racial conflict. “We are living in an era of revolution, and the revolt of the American Negro is part of the rebellion against the oppression and colonialism which has characterized this era,” he said. “It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as purely an American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiters.”

Malcolm no longer believed all whites were the enemy, but he maintained the need for separate all-black organization: “Whites can help us, but they can’t join us. There can be no black-white unity until there is first some black unity. There can be no workers solidarity until there is first some racial solidarity. We cannot think of uniting with others, until we have first united ourselves.”

But Malcolm’s new conception of the struggle also led him to question his previous understanding of black nationalism. In January 1965, Malcolm admitted that this previous understanding of black nationalism “was alienating people who were true revolutionaries, dedicated to overthrowing the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary.”

Lost Promise

During this period Malcolm’s political ideas were evolving rapidly — a development cut short by his death. By that time, Malcolm X had already become one of the most important radical black figures in the United States, and his influence was growing, especially among younger activists.

Malcolm X was gunned down just as he was beginning to “think for himself,” as he put it, and to express a radical program for black liberation. His premature death and the subsequent suppression and decline of the black movement have made it easier for second-rate reformists to claim Malcolm as theirs. But anyone who listens to Malcolm’s speeches or reads any of his writings can be in no doubt as to his trajectory, which is summarized well in his famous “Ballot or the Bullet” speech, given April 3, 1964, in Cleveland:

No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the twenty-two million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the twenty-two million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver—no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.

It is impossible to predict how Malcolm’s politics would have developed had he lived. He had embraced ideas that put him squarely on the left of the black nationalist movement. His hostility to the system and the twin capitalist parties, his commitment to end racism, and his identification with anti-imperialism, represented an enormous contribution to radical politics.

Ahmed Shawki is the author of Black Liberation and Socialism, from which the following is adapted.

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