African American leaders all fought for the same cause. Though, they all did it differently, they all had strikingly similar lives, tactics, and ways of persuasion. Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, and even Malcolm X all played a large role in African American reform.
I had the chance to interview Malcolm X with Alex Haley. It was unbelievable the things that I learned, finally understood, and took with me to live my life by. All of these leaders took what someone else had done, and amplified it and fit it to their needs. I asked Malcolm X about some of the leaders that he modeled after. He gave a very interesting perspective.
He told about me that he was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother was a homemaker with a family of eight. His father was a Baptist minister and an extremely strong supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Malcolm had to move twice before his fourth birthday because of death threats his family received from white supremacists. Eventually, their home was burned to the ground and his father was killed. His brothers and sisters were all split up after his mother lost her mind.
Malcolm continued his education and graduated at the top of his junior high class. He knew about Booker T. Washington and how he had become educated. Malcolm wanted to do the same. “After graduating from the Hampton Agricultural Institute in 1875 Washington returned to Malden and found work with a local school” (Booker). Malcolm wanted to go on and do something great just as Booker had done by forming the Tuskegee Airman. This stage in his life was the largely effected by Washington.
Malcolm’s dreams soon disappeared when “a favorite teacher told Malcolm his dream of becoming a lawyer was ‘no realistic goal for a nigger'”(Biography). He lost all interest in school and eventually moved to Boston. He got into crime and was arrested in Boston in 1946. While he was in prison, his brother visited him and informed him about Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Malcolm became very interested and when he finally got out of jail, was a devout follower. He than named himself “X”.
After studying for the time that he was in jail, he took a trip to Saudi Arabia to learn more about his religion. He knew that Martin Luther King had done the same by taking a trip to learn more about himself.
In 1955, Malcolm heard some news that made him shudder. A young boy had been kidnapped and killed in Chicago. Till was kidnapped and murdered on or about August 28, 1955 by Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam. The murder occurred after Till purportedly whistled at Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, while shopping at the Bryant’s’ store. Fewer than four weeks after Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, an all white, all male jury acquitted the two of the murder. They subsequently detailed to a magazine journalist how they beat Till, took him to the river, shot him in the head, tied a large metal fan to his neck with barbed wire, and pushed his body into the river (Justice 1).
The news made Malcolm sick. He did not understand why this young child was treated like he was. He understood that the biggest factor was because of the color of his skin. Malcolm soon became a speaker in front of large crowds. He was appointed a minister. Malcolm was so excited; he was actually living the life of Booker. Washington had become a national figure when he began speaking. Malcolm wanted to do the same, he wanted to preach to everybody about race.
Seeking to build upon the success in Montgomery, King and other southern black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. In 1959, King toured India and further developed his understanding of Gandhian nonviolent strategies. Later that year, King resigned from Dexter and returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father (Carson).
He knew that Martin Luther King had become a powerful speaker, and did not want to interfere with that area. He knew that Washington and DuBois were fighting against each other. He did not want the same thing to happen here.
The culmination of the conflict came in 1903 when DuBois published his now famous book, The Souls of Black Folks. The chapter entitled “Of Booker T. Washington and Others” contains an analytical discourse on the general philosophy of Washington. DuBois edited the chapter himself to keep the most controversial and bitter remarks out of it. Nevertheless, it still was more than enough to incur Washington’s continued contempt for him (Hynes).
Malcolm knew that if he worked with Martine Luther King, the effect would be better, instead of working against him. Malcolm stressed that it did not benefit anybody that Washington and Booker were on opposite sides when they should have been on the same side. They were fighting against each other instead of fighting together against a higher power. When Martin Luther King made the walk on Washington D.C., he knew that things were starting to change for the better.
In 1964, another life disaster occurred when Malcolm found out that Elijah Muhammad was having relations with other women. He felt as if everything that he was preaching was a complete fraud.
As for the constitutional amendments, Malcolm felt that they still had a long way to go before everything would be peaceful. He knew that Rosa Parks had made a statement by sitting on the bus, but not enough was done about it.
Towards the end of the interview, Malcolm began asking me some questions about where I stood on Civil Rights.
He asked, “What do you think about my point of view on Booker and Dubois?”
I answered to him, “I think you are completely right. While they were busy fighting each other and trying to beat each other, they were completely missing the point of what they were fighting about. If they would have joined together and worked as a team, they may have gotten a lot more done.”
He than asked, “Do you think that more should be done about Civil Rights, or do you think that everything is alright how it is now?”
I responded to him by saying, “I think that the Civil Rights Movement has a long way to go. But, unless there are some leaders that arise and unite everybody, than there is nothing that can be done about the current situation. The Civil Rights Movement needs leaders, not just followers.”
Malcolm looked at me and than asked, “How would you expect to gain leaders?”
I told him, “There needs to be a union or a conference of some sort where the most important people of the movement thus far take control of the situation. They can plan things, write letters, interview people. They can do whatever they need to do to get noticed.”
“Why do they need to get noticed?” Malcolm asked.
“That is the only way that you will get respect, attention, or even change. If you are not making somebody notice you than nothing will ever happen,” I responded.
“So, you think that the Civil Rights Movement should be more organized, but that it should definitely continue in the direction that it has thus far,” Malcolm asked. “When Martin Luther King made the walk on Washington, do you think that we were moving in the right direction?”
“Yes. The movement is in the right direction. Martin Luther King made a huge advancement with that approach. It just needs some leadership, role models, and organization. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but without these people, I do not think that any changes will come about,” I said.
“My favorite quote from Martin Luther King while he was at the march on Washington is this, ‘In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’,'(King)” Malcolm said.
I nodded my head in agreement. “What do you think that Martin Luther King accomplished by doing the march on Washington?”
“He accomplished a lot. The main reason that he made the March in the first place was in response to President Kennedy’s Statement,” Malcolm said.
“What statement was that?” I asked.
“‘We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the questions is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going o treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot each lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?'(Kennedy)” Malcolm quoted.
“I see,” I responded. “So Martin Luther King marched on Washington in response?” I asked.
“Yes he did,” said Malcolm. “I supported him with everything that I had. Just as Booker and DuBois had done, he was making a statement that he was no longer going to sit around and accept what was given to him.”
“So you agreed to make a statement?” I asked
“Like I said before, if you do not make yourself heard, than nothing will change,” Malcolm said. “But, if you make yourself heard in the wrong way than nothing will change either. The difference is that Martin Luther King is an extremely educated man. Booker went to school for years before he finally felt comfortable making statements to large groups of people. I was the same way. I went to school for a while before some unfortunate events took place. But while I was in prison, I took the entire time to learn about what was going on, learn my history, and learn what I needed to do. Once I was released, I knew almost everything I needed to know to take action.”
“Do you think Martin Luther King was ready for such an event? Or do you think he went in too soon?” I asked.
“I think that he was completely prepared. He knew what he was doing up there,” Malcolm said.
“The Civil Rights Movement is going to shape America like America has never been shaped before,” I said. “Are you glad that you are part of this transition?”
“Yes, I am extremely happy that I am a part of it,” Malcolm said. “But, I am not happy because I will be remembered forever in the history books. I am happy that I am a part of it because I am actually a helping hand in the reformation. My actions are helping African Americans across the country to be free and allowed the same rights as a white man.”
“Would you pass your story on to your children and grand-children?” I asked.
“I most certainly would,” Malcolm said. “But, before I told them my story, I would tell them every other story that led up to mine. I would tell them about Booker, Dubois, King, and all of the slaves. This way they could truly understand why I was doing what I was doing. They would also then be able to understand our history and the history of our people.”
The interview went great. I recovered an immense amount of information as well as learned a great deal of information about Malcolm X and his opinion of the other Civil Rights activists. Malcolm X explained in great detail why he began doing the work that he did even though he spent many years in prison. The years in prison were his education years that eventually began his career.
The biggest statement that Malcolm made that had never made a realization to me before was the point that he did not want to be an enemy of Martin Luther King. Booker and DuBois would have made much more an impact of they would not have been competing with each other as Malcolm stated. He took a very intelligent course of not interfering with King in his quest. After hearing his story, it is hard to imagine what he has gone through and why he did the things that he did. Even though he explained his role models and some of the decisions once he became a speaker, it is still very difficult to understand everything involved.
Malcolm X will be a role model for all Civil Rights activists for centuries to come. Just as Martin Luther King, Booker, and DuBios, Malcolm will be in the minds and history books for as long as the story is told. I think that I did my part of getting the story correct for the books. That is the most important part of my interview. I wanted the details so that when people look back centuries from today, they have the correct story and not a story made up by somebody that thinks they know history.
The facts stated here by Malcolm will hopefully be published in every biography that is written. Without these facts, the true story of Malcolm X cannot be told. He offered his emotion, ideas, and reasoning behind every movement that he made. Without that, you can never understand the true nature of his life. It is also important, because hopefully, a few decades down the road, there will be no such thing as discrimination. Malcolm’s story would have to be available at a time like that so that the people understand what he went through to achieve his goal of equality.
Malcolm X is an extremely intelligent man and everybody that reads his story can find a common ground of similarities. Always look up to a role model for a personal goal.
Biography of Malcolm X. 2001. Estate of Malcolm X. 10 Nov. 2005 .
Booker T. Washington. Schoolnet. 10 Nov. 2005 .
Carson, Clayborne. “Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr..” Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Stanford. 10 Nov. 2005 .
Hynes, Gerald. A Biographical Sketch of W.E.B. DuBois. 10 Nov. 2005 .
Justice, Department of. “Justice Department to Investigate 1955 Emmett Till Murder.” May 2004: 1.
Kennedy, John. “Report to the American People.” 11 June 1963.
King, Martin Luther. “I have a Dream.” 28 Oct 1963.