Last year, on the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s death, we and Erica Bryant of the Democrat and Chronicle wrote about Malcolm’s visit to Rochester five days earlier. (below)
This anniversary I was thinking about what endures in Malcolm’s teaching, especially for the current generation. A good beginning is Malcolm’s 1964 A Speech to Mississippi Youth (the link comes from an 11th grade A.P. class studying African-American history).
37 teenage civil rights activists from McComb, Mississippi were touring New York under the sponsorship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. On New Year’s Eve at the Hotel Theresa, Malcolm offered his advice.
If today’s students read the whole speech, they will probably find the terrain rough going with its references to White Citizens Councils, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Saigon, Joe Stalin and Tojo.
At the same time, the opening paragraph — “think for yourself” — can stand by itself as a teachable moment and one way to introduce Malcolm to students for whom 1964 and 1965 is a long way away.
One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. If you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you will be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you will be walking east when you think your going west. This generation, especially of our people, has a burden, more so than any other time in history. The most important thing that we can learn to do today is think for ourselves.
Using plain language, Malcolm speaks to adolescents finding their identity as Malcolm did when he cast aside his own early adulthood persona, Detroit Red. Evoking Thoreau, Malcolm’s formulation — “seeing for yourself” — is deceptively simple: easier said than done.
Teachers, consider putting Malcolm’s words on the board and see what responses you get.
LAST YEAR • February 21, 2015
In her story on the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, Erica Bryant has done impressive journalstic sleuthing by uncovering several new accounts of Malcolm’s visit to Rochester only five days before his death.
A while back, I wrote a D & C Guest Essay on Malcolm’s trip to Rochester. (below) Like Bryant, I came across the chilling Democrat and Chronicle headline in which Malcolm essentially predicted his own assassination: Marked for Death, Says Malcolm X . Tragically, Malcolm was correct.
I also learned that Constance Mitchell — the first African-American woman elected to the Rochester City Council — was a friend and frequent correspondent of Malcolm’s. If Mitchell’s memory serves, Malcolm stayed at her house that February night.
As seen in essay, Mitchell, who was not surprised by the assassination, recalls Malcom as a humanist and peacemaker. Ultimately, Mitchell did not think Malcom died in vain. As she said:
There has been tremendous progress in the past 40 years. If Malcolm were alive today, he would probably say this progress is a message from God.