“History is not hatred”
—Malcolm X (el Hajj Malik el Shabazz) May 19,1925- Feb. 25, 1965
I have a confession to make. I haven’t always been the culturally conscious, Afro-centric dude that I am today.
As a teen, my days were spent writing raps in composition notebooks with hopes that one day my rap group “The Ice Crew” would get a call from Don Cornelius inviting us to perform on Soul Train.
But when my 12th grade English teacher, Ms. Smith, forced me to read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” a light bulb went off in my head and the glow would become brighter as the years went by.
The book, written by Alex Haley ("Roots"), chronicles how Malcolm Little, aka street hustler “Detroit Red,” went to prison, joined the Nation of Islam, changed his name twice and became one of the most powerful and influential voices in history. Of course that’s the Cliff Notes version, but you get the picture.
This is not to say after reading the autobiography that I, immediately, traded in my Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five cassettes for black history books, but it did start me on a life long journey to stand up for the rights of African Americans , despite the torpedoes that would be launched my way. It was not until my senior year at N.C. Central University that my two worlds collided and created the perfect storm that would produce the lightning strike that would transform a wannabe rapper into a future activist.
In 1988, Hip Hop discovered Malcolm X courtesy of groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, and his speeches now came complete with a funky beat that resonated with my classmates and me. Many of us starting walking around with “By Any Means Necessary” tucked under our arms, even if it was, largely, a fashion statement.
By the time the Spike Lee X biopic, "X," hit the theaters in 1992, I was a true believer, so much so that when the South African school children declared “I am Malcolm X!” during the closing scene, I dropped my popcorn and stood up and repeated the sacred pledge with them.
I am not the only black person positively affected by Malcolm X.
If you scroll through the bios of many African Americans, you will see “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on their top five lists of books that influenced them the most.
Malcolm was a man of his times, boldly projecting political polemics at a system that had stripped African-Americans of their collective manhood and relegated them to second-class citizenship. However, as inflammatory as Malcolm’s words were in the '60s , in today’s political climate with Twitter tirades being traded 24/7 on social media between his ideological heirs and their opponents , his words would barely raise an eyebrow.
This is why it is puzzling that in 2018 some folk have a problem with honoring a man who meant so much to so many. Late last month , Durham City Council member Dedreana Freeman proposed a proclamation honoring Malcolm X’s birthday (May 19), however , this suggestion was quickly dissed and dismissed by Mayor Steve Schewel — despite a similar proclamation being proposed by former Durham NAACP prez Rev. Curtis Gatewood and approved by then Mayor Bill Bell in 2003.
What is even more curious is that the current council has been heralded by many as being the most progressive in the city’s history. Not to mention that during the mayor’s first State of the City address he bragged about the town being welcoming and diverse.
A couple of years ago , a few African-American activists and I formed STICK (Society To Increase Cultural Knowledge) with the primary goal of convincing the Durham Board of Education to include more African/Black History courses in the curriculum. However, it is becoming abundantly clear that it is not the children that need the education, it’s the grown folk.
During Malcolm X’s eulogy actor Ossie Davis said, “if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.” Perhaps Mayor Schewel should read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.” If the book changed my perspective, maybe it will change his. Maybe then he will see why the legacy of Malcolm X is so important to so many African Americans and as Ossie Davis put it , perhaps he will “ know him for what he was and is: a prince, a black shining prince who didn’t hesitate to die because he loved us so.”
Paul Scott’s column appears every first and third Saturday of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShotsFired.com or on Twitter @NWSF