While it’s remarkable that a man who didn’t live past age 39 has achieved immortality, Malcolm X accomplished so much in his brief, dramatic life that the reasons are clear. He was one of the most significant figures of the 20th Century, an African-American whose life, experiences, influences, and effects crossed continents and oceans.
Born in 1925 to a family of activists for Marcus Garvey’s internationalist United Negro Improvement Association, young Malcolm faced numerous obstacles including the murder of his father, likely by Klansmen. Descending to crime and prison, he recreated himself with the aid of the Nation of Islam, one of the many groups that rose following the US government’s destruction of Garvey’s UNIA.
Malcolm employed his astounding intellect, oratorical skill, and organisational brilliance to build the NOI from a few scattered temples of a few hundred people into a nation-wide organisation, and became an electrifying international figure. His success provoked jealousy among other leaders of the NOI, and fear at the highest levels of US intelligence, amply demonstrated in the books Malcolm X: The FBI File by Claybourne Carson and The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X by Karl Evanzz.
Such jealousy, fear, and intrigue from shadowy heights of US power collided on Feb. 21, 1965, when five NOI assassins murdered the man described by the FBI as a potential “Black messiah.” Malcolm’s final testament, the Autobiography which he co-authored with Alex Haley, is a modern classic.
On this episode of MF GALAXY, we’ll hear from a man who was an apprentice of Malcolm X: A. Peter Bailey. Bailey is a journalist, activist, former editor of Ebony Magazine, a founding member of Malcolm’s secular, united-front Organisation of Afro-American Unity, and editor of its newsletter The Blacklash. With Rodnell P. Collins, a nephew of Malcolm X, Bailey is the author of Seventh Child: A Family Memoir of Malcolm X. He’s also one of the key figures behind the classic book Malcolm X: The Man and His Times.
Bailey spoke with my by telephone from Washington DC on May 16, 2005, just before Malcolm’s 80th birthday. He discussed:
Along the way, Bailey cites Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s widow; the Pan-Africanist scholar and activist Dr. John Henrik Clarke, the credited editor of Malcolm X: The Man and His Times; and novelist John Oliver Killens, author of And Then We Heard the Thunder.
We began by discussing the controversy around creating the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Centre out of the remnants of the Audubon Ballroom where assassins killed Malcolm X in 1965.