Monday, February 23, 2015

Roosevelt Island Resident Reflects On Malcolm X 50 Years After His Assassination

Roosevelt Island resident Ike Nahem reflects on the legacy of Malcolm X. Below are excerpts from article by Mr. Nahem appearing in Dissident Voice:

On February 21, 1965 – 50 years ago this week – Malcolm X, the great African-American and US freedom fighter and outstanding world revolutionary leader, was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights on Broadway and 165th Street in New York City. Commemorations of this bitterly sad anniversary that truly altered US and world history have been held in New York City, Malcolm’s home base, across the United States, and throughout the world.

Malcolm X was a peerless orator of tremendous wit and power as well as an indefatigable and effective political organizer. On that fateful and horrible 1965 day he was murdered in cold blood, in front of his wife and six daughters, while addressing a full house of over 400 people, under the auspices of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the non-religious political formation he founded after his split from Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (called the “Black Muslims” in the US media)....

... A Hero of My Youth and Always

My first lasting memory of Malcolm X was when, as a 13-year old boy in southern Indiana I was shaken by a graphic photo-spread of his assassination in the old LOOK magazine which my parents subscribed to. I had developed the habit of reading newspapers and following what was called "current events" in school so I was aware of and instinctly sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement, as were my parents, although they had no direct involvement. A year or two later, we moved to the relatively big city of Cincinnati, Ohio and I went from a segregated small-town high school to a late-1960s urban cauldron.

The racial and social composition of my new high school was, more or less, about 40% “white” working class and middle class, 40% Black working class, with the rest, including me, mostly Jewish. It was a volatile mix in extremely volatile times, with the Black rights struggle literally exploding nationally as the Vietnam War -- and mounting opposition to it -- escalating. Interesting alliances and struggles formed in my new high school alongside racial antagonisms and tension. Black and white students united to change the schools draconian dress code; T-shirts, long-haired “hippies,” and Afros proliferated. My high school was even written up in LIFE magazine in one of the era’s ubiquitous pieces on the alienation and rebelliousness of “today’s youth.”

A few of my radicalizing Jewish friends and I gravitated to some of the outspoken Black students. I started sneaking off to attend civil rights protests. At one point we organized a controversial protest over the required recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the US flag at morning homeroom. Where the closing line says, “One Nation Under God, With Liberty and Justice For All,” we added, “”If You’re White.” That landed us in the Principal’s office.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Black ghetto in Cincinnati exploded and my High School was shut down by students who refused to attend classes, considering it an insult to King’s memory that schools remained open.

One day in 1967 I was looking to spend my sparse allowance money on some music at a rock-and-roll and "soul music" store in downtown Cincinnati when there in the stacks, in a section called "Spoken Word," I saw an LP titled "The Wit and Wisdom of Malcolm X," excerpts from his speeches. At $1.49 I could afford it. It was an earthshaking experience for me. What eloquence and logic I found within those grooves. What powerful use of language, what masterful employment of analogy and metaphor. What uncompromising exposure of hypocrisy and duplicity. What passion and compassion

Perhaps most unexpected for me was the profound and brilliant humor. At the time I had ambitions to be a comedian and I devoured comedy albums and movies as well as books on comedy “theory” -- Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Slappy White, the Marx Brothers, Burns and Allen, Flip Wilson, Don Rickles, and all the regulars on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. I found out that the feared and hated (by some) Malcolm X was funny as hell! I played that soon-to-be scratchy album on my rickety record player to the point where I'm sure I drove my mother crazy. Soon after that purchase I stayed up all day and night and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X nonstop barricaded in my room. Like so many millions of others, reading The Autobiography was a real turning point in my life outlook and in the development of my political and social consciousness....

... From Pariah to Icon

It would be hard to find a figure in US history more slandered, vilified, and misrepresented while he was alive than Malcolm X. He was labeled a “hatemonger,” a “racist-in-reverse,” a promoter and man of violence, and worse. This was not confined to blatant racists and segregationists but was the standard line in more respectable and genteel liberal society. When it came to Malcolm X, especially after he broke free from the dogma and narrow confines of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, moved sharply to the left, and began to speak out and organize freely, the gloves came off among most liberal voices, and a furious hatred came to the surface. This was captured in the classic Phil Ochs satiric ballad, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” whose opening stanza goes, “I cried when they shot Medgar Evers, Tears ran down my spine, And I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy, as though I’d lost a father of mine…But Malcolm X got what was coming, He got what he asked for this time, so love, love me, love me…I’m a liberal.”...

... Today, fifty years after his murder Malcolm X has become as icon. There is a US Stamp issued with his likeness, major streets are named after him, the legendary Autobiography is considered a classic, still selling briskly and assigned to numerous high school and college classes. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and numerous other liberal and conservative political figures have cited it as a major influence on their lives....

... Nevertheless, this latter iconization of Malcolm X, more often than not, is the other side of the coin that previously disparaged him when he was alive, in the sense that he has been transformed by “mainstream” forces into a harmless icon, with his sharp revolutionary anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political program diluted and softened. The conscious or unconscious operation strains to turn Malcolm X, who was above all else a genuine revolutionary, into a conventional liberal or conservative, someone who can be folded into the traditional spectrum of bourgeois Democratic and Republican party US politics. This is a travesty of the actual Malcolm X and his actual political and moral trajectory....
Click here for the full article by Mr. Nahem in Dissident Voice and more on Malcolm X from PBS documentary Make It Plain (Video here).

Mr. Nahem describes himself as:
a longtime anti-war, labor, and socialist, and activist. Nahem is the coordinator of Cuba Solidarity New York and a founder of the New York-New Jersey July 26 Coalition ( Nahem is an Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Teamsters Union. He can be reached at with comment or criticism.


roger said...

I know for a fact that a City Councilmember will NOT fund a 501(c)(4) such as RIRA, They do nothing anyhow! For many many years RIRA has cherrypicked organizations to recieve Public Purpose Funds who are in sync with their ideology. The cronyism is appalling ! The process is quite unfair to say the least. With RIRA in the game it throws a monkey wrench in the entire process. Just to think (RIRA) A bonafied 501(c)(4) lobbyist group making decisions on behalf of legit 501(c)(3) org's - is unbelievable... I cannot fathom how RIOC would even allow RIRA to have final judgement in deciding who gets what.According to the publics opinion it is quite unfortunate that the ABO had to go to such lenghts to set some balance but sadly, when there are fake acting organizations who claim to represent the entire community when in fact it's quite the opposite it's time to stop everything..