ratings. Malcolm X definitely voiced his disapproval of the integrationist philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, but he did become more open in later years, especially after his break from the Nation of Islam and his hajj or spiritual journey to Mecca in April of 1964. Malcolm formed The Muslim Mosque Inc. in March before he traveled to Mecca and the Organization for Afro-American Unity in June after his return to the United States. These organizations were pivotal in advancing his political agenda.
Prior to that, there was evidence of Malcolm’s expanding perspective when he reached out to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in a letter to Whitney Young of the Urban League. Dated July 31, 1963, Malcolm invited Young and Black leaders including Dr. King, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Ralph Bunche, James Forman and others to speak at a rally in August at 116th Street and Lenox Avenue. The purpose was to form a “United Front.” Malcolm urged the leaders to “submerge our ‘minor differences’ in order to seek a common solution to a common problem posed by a common enemy.”
Almost a year later, he sent Dr. King a telegram while he was jailed in St. Augustine, Fla., for attempting to integrate a Whites-only motel and restaurant. Malcolm wrote: “We have been witnessing with great concern the vicious attack of the white races against our poor defenseless people there in St. Augustine. If the Federal Government will not send troops for your aid, just say the word and we will immediately dispatch some [of] our brothers there to organize self-defense units. …”
Malcolm X’s evolution from Black Nationalist to Pan-Africanist to human rights activist was fraught with incredible personal challenges. Writers and historians will be revisiting and revising the narrative of Malcolm X’s life as more and more research is made available through his personal papers, undiscovered archival material, and accounts from new sources. It is up to each of us to read carefully these accounts and take from them what we can.
For me, Malcolm X’s contribution to the history of Black America is immeasurable. Revisions to Malcolm’s personal history may be interesting to some, but it should not detract from his legacy. What matters is Malcolm’s tremendous personal sacrifice, his advocacy of self-determination for African Americans, and his fight for human rights on a global level.
Linda Tarrant-Reid is an author, historian and photographer. Her book Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century will be published in 2012.