51 years ago when Malcolm X was assassinated 5 days after his prophecy in Rochester. And his Speech to Mississippi Youth

51 years ago when Malcolm X was assassinated 5 days after his prophecy in Rochester. And his Speech to Mississippi Youth
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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, February 17th, 1965, Page 1

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.con s

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.

malcom x

SEE ALSO

Revisiting Rochester black history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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