Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Do you think Malcolm X deserves a nationally recognized Holiday?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

No.  Malcolm is far too divisive and misunderstood and his philosophy evolved too late for him to be recognized with a national holiday in the same way that Dr. King is.  

I’m personally a huge fan of Malcolm X and find him incredibly fascinating and inspirational.  Here’s what I wrote about Malcolm a while back:

I love Malcolm X.  He was an magnetic leader who was absolutely devoted to his cause.  His speeches were electrifying and, even now, when you go back and listen to his speeches or watch video clips of Malcolm, you can almost feel the intensity and passion he had.  He was so fearless, his charisma was so raw, and his words were so sharp that it’s almost frightening to watch.  Even still photos of Malcolm X are intense.

What really captivates me about Malcolm X is that there was an unusual earnestness to what he believed and what he said.  Obviously, he wasn’t saying anything that white people were happy to hear, but he also wasn’t saying things that a lot of black people wanted to hear, either.  I mean, Malcolm criticized the non-violent protests and tactics of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, and he did so with language that was often brutal and cutting towards MLK and other Civil Rights leaders.  The non-violent protests aren’t the only reason the Civil Rights Movement was successful.  Malcolm’s rhetoric gave Americans a glimpse into how genuinely angry many of the country’s oppressed people were.  Although I’m over-simplifying things and it wasn’t coordinated in any way, MLK and Malcolm X appeared as almost a good cop/bad cop duo.  Many Americans couldn’t help but think, “Okay, this Civil Rights thing is inevitable.  Do we want to do it Dr. King’s way, or do we want to do it Malcolm X’s way?”.  Malcolm hinted as much when he showed up in Selma, Alabama during the protests there and said, “I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult.  I really did come thinking I could make it easier.  If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.”

Malcolm’s earnestness, however, was most apparent in the last year of his life.  There had been issues in the Nation of Islam with Malcolm because he was so popular with the media and many members of the NOI felt he was overshadowing the NOI’s leader, Elijah Muhammad.  When Malcolm X realized that Muhammad had been carrying on affairs with some of his secretaries and fathered children outside of his own marriage, Malcolm was disgusted.  Malcolm was deeply, genuinely disappointed because Elijah Muhammad had been his mentor.  In Malcolm X’s view of Islam, Elijah Muhammad’s actions had been haraam and Malcolm felt so strongly about it that he no longer had the respect for the NOI leader that he once was so passionate about.  To me, that is an incredible display of faith — because of his strong, abrasive language and perspective, Malcolm didn’t have many supporters outside of the Nation of Islam, but he couldn’t bring himself to remain faithful to the NOI because he felt the NOI’s leader wasn’t remaining faithful to Islam. 

Then Malcolm made his hajj and had this transformative experience during the pilgrimage.  At Mecca, he prayed with and ate with and completed the steps of the hajj process with Muslims who were black, brown, and even white.  When he returned from Mecca, he was a different person.  He was still a black nationalist, but he renounced racism.  He talked of how he had “learned the truth”, and it has always amazed me that someone who built a national profile on such combative language and extremist views could go in front of that same audience and say that he was wrong.  Malcolm X had the strength to admit that his beliefs had evolved and that people of different races could live together and work together and love each other.  In my opinion, that’s Malcolm’s greatness, and it’s summed up best in The Autobiography of Malcolm X:

"I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda.  I’m for truth, no matter who tells it.  I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.  I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."

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