Three Speeches in Detroit (1963-1965): Malcolm X from the Grassroots to the African Revolution

Lessons delivered then have implications for the 21st century - Part 2

Malcolm X greeted by Atty. Milton Henry during his final trip to Detroit on Feb. 14, 1965
Malcolm X greeted by Atty. Milton Henry during his final trip to Detroit on Feb. 14, 1965

African American History Month Series No. 4

Note: These remarks were delivered at an African American History Month virtual webinar hosted by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition on Monday February 22, 2021. The event was held in honor of Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik Shabazz, on the 56th anniversary of his martyrdom. Other speakers and performers at the meeting included Detroit educator and poet, Wanda Olugbala; Sara Torres, musician and member of Moratorium NOW! Coalition; Julie Hurwitz, Vice President of the Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild; Sammie Lewis, a leading organizer for Detroit Will Breathe; Derek Grigsby, an organizer for Moratorium NOW! Coalition; Kenya Fentress, organizer for Racial Profiling Across 8 Mile; Anthony Ali of Detroit Will Breathe served as moderator; and David Sole of Moratorium NOW! Coalition delivered a proclamation honoring organizational member Walter Knall for his years of service to the African American struggle and the peoples’ movement as a whole. The event was closed out with a music video by Ben Will produced in honor of Black History Month and the inter-generational struggle for freedom. This is Part 2 of this talk. The entire program can be seen on YouTube at Detroit Will Breathe.

By Abayomi Azikiwe

Malcolm X would spend nearly five months abroad between July and November of 1964. He studied Islam and politics in Egypt at the invitation of then President Gamal Abdel Nassar. He traveled to Ghana for the second time that year to meet with African Americans living and working there as part of the First Republic of President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. In addition, Malcolm visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and other countries, seeking to build alliances with Islamic and progressive forces.

Yet a major impediment to the realization of his organizational objectives was the ongoing feud with his former organization. The leadership of the NOI had been concerned when Malcolm departed the organization only to begin another one. Several attempts had been made on Malcolm’s life and his followers. When he arrived back in New York City during late November 1964, he was prepared to move forward with the OAAU and other projects.

Malcolm maintained a rigorous schedule of speaking engagements, OAAU meetings, Islamic classes taught by the MMI, along with traveling to cities around the U.S. In early February, he traveled to Britain to speak at the London School of Economics and meet with Black organizations. He was also invited to speak in Paris before a number of African organizations residing in France. Nonetheless, the French customs officials denied him admission to the country. He was turned around and went back to England where he addressed the meeting by telephone.

After returning to New York City on February 13, Malcolm was preparing for yet another speaking engagement in Detroit. However, during the early morning hours of February 14, his home was firebombed. The entire family was able to exit the home without injury. The bombing of the house, which was owned by the NOI and the subject of an eviction order, was an ominous sign of worse things to come.

However, Malcolm was determined to honor his speaking engagement in Detroit on the afternoon of February 14. After securing his family, he took a plane to Detroit and checked into the Statler-Hilton Hotel downtown. He was seen by a physician and would later address a meeting at Ford Auditorium on the riverfront.

His comments during the final visit to Detroit at Ford Auditorium focused on the interrelationship between the struggles of people of African descent in the U.S. and around the world. He discussed his travels in Africa and the Middle East while pointing to the necessity of global unity.

Some of his remarks included this passage: “So we saw that the first thing to do was to unite our people, not only unite us internally, but we have to be united with our brothers and sisters abroad. It was for that purpose that I spent five months in the Middle East and Africa during the summer. The trip was very enlightening, inspiring, and fruitful. I didn’t go into any African country, or any country in the Middle East for that matter, and run into any closed door, closed mind, or closed heart. I found a warm reception and an amazingly deep interest and sympathy for the Black man in this country in regards to our struggle for human rights. While I was traveling, I had a chance to speak in Cairo, or rather Alexandria, with President [Gamal Abdel] Nasser for about an hour and a half. He’s a very brilliant man. And I can see why they’re so afraid of him, and they are afraid of him — they know he can cut off their oil [laughter and applause]. And actually, the only thing power respects is power. Whenever you find a man who’s in a position to show power against power then that man is respected. But you can take a man who has power and love him all the rest of your life, nonviolently and forgivingly and all the rest of those oft-time things, and you won’t get anything out of it.”

Malcolm would deliver three other speeches in that coming week. He would address a public meeting and press conference on February 15 at the Audubon Ballroom where he discussed the bombing of his house and various political issues. On the following day he would speak at an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Rochester, New York. Two days after, February 18, he would speak at Barnard College in New York.

A public meeting of the OAAU was scheduled for Sunday February 21, 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom. After being introduced by one of his assistants, several men emerged from the audience and shot Malcolm X to death. His death has been commemorated every year since 1965 in the U.S. and around the planet.

Lessons from the Life, Times and Contributions of Malcolm X

The strength of Malcolm X’s message remains with us today some 56 years since his assassination. African Americans remain under national oppression, economic exploitation and institutional racism. They are still subjected to U.S. military service in order to carry out the political and economic imperatives of imperialism.

A resurgence in Black Consciousness and anti-racism is a healthy development in the U.S. The national response to the police and vigilante killings of African Americans has alerted the international community that racism remains alive and well in the U.S. despite its claims of being a defender of human rights and social justice.

Malcolm X was hated and feared by the ruling class in the U.S. and the entire imperialist system. Consequently, his assassination was carried out in a failed attempt to arrest the African American liberation movement.

In recent days, news related to the assassination of Malcolm X and the involvement of the New York police and the FBI, has been raised again. Ray Wood, a former undercover New York City police officer, from the BOSS division (intelligence unit), claimed in a death bed confession letter that he was sent to infiltrate the OAAU.

An article published recently in News One says of the latest revelation: “The recent accusations echo theories raised in the 2020 Netflix documentary, ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’ The series followed Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, an activist and self-trained investigator who dedicated his life work to solving the civil rights icon’s murder. In the documentary Muhammad interviews several important figures involved in the investigation, explores different conspiracy theories including possible federal and state law enforcement involvement. Muhammad also attempts to explore an accusation that Malcolm X’s alleged killer was a Newark community leader who worshipped at a local Mosque. After the documentary aired, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced it would review the case, with the possibility to reopen if leads proved sufficient.”

Of course, this is not the first time that confessions have been offered in regard to culpability and involvement in the assassination. These claims should be thoroughly investigated independently. Any reliance on the police and FBI, who are the accused parties, will bear no fruitful results.

What is important to understand is that the only real tribute to Malcolm X will be administered by those who believe in his message and objectives. Justice will be achieved when the systems of exploitation and oppression are completely eradicated, and a new society is built on the basis of freedom, self-determination and social emancipation.

Part 1 – Speeches in Detroit (1963-1965): Malcolm X from the Grassroots to the African Revolution

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Three Speeches in Detroit (1963-1965): Malcolm X from the Grassroots to the African Revolution – Fighting Words

Leave a Reply