Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Glen Ford: Remembering Malcolm X

Remembering Malcolm X, champion of democracy, on his 85th birthday
By Glen Ford article link
May 19, 2010 | The Progressive | Black Agenda report

Malcolm X would be 85 this week, and his life has much to teach us.

Born on May 19, 1925, Malcolm X, perhaps the greatest proponent of democracy in modern Black America, emerged from a secretive, militarized, dictatorial, theocratic sect.

Minister Malcolm X, the public face of the Nation of Islam until his ouster in 1964, was as responsible as any one person for the earthquake that rocked Black America in the '60s.

At the core of Malcolm’s black nationalism was the demand for accountability to the black masses from all those who purport to govern or lead them. The people occupy center stage in Malcolm’s political drama, while “Negro leadership” jockeys for white favor and financing. Shepherds, as these leaders style themselves, need sheep to stay in business.

Malcolm’s public career is an unbroken exhortation that blacks behave, not as sheep, but men and women — foiling both the white oppressor and the black mis-leader.

The 1963 March on Washington was not the brainchild of the “Big Six” black civil rights leadership, said Malcolm in his most famous speech, “Message to the Grassroots.” The demand and momentum for change came from the black man and woman in the street, who vowed to descend on the nation’s capital “and tie it up, bring it to a halt; don’t let the government proceed. They even said they was [sic] going out to the airport and lay down on the runway and don’t let no airplanes land. I’m telling you what they said. ... That was the black revolution.”

Malcolm’s revolutionary black nationalism is people power, pushing back the oppressor and imposing the popular will on collaborationist “leadership.” His relentless critique of the “Big Six” — Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young — freed the black political conversation from the gags of false unity, empowering the rank and file to demand accountability from their “spokesmen.”

With Malcolm charging the “Big Six” with cutting deals every time they met with white people behind closed doors, black leaders were forced to at least pretend they were beholden to a mass constituency. Malcolm was the people’s surrogate in intra-black politics. He championed the “grassroots” in a black polity dominated by clerics claiming accountability to a “higher” authority and heads of secular organizations largely dependent on “white” subsidies.

Malcolm challenged the very legitimacy of black leadership structures that are unconnected to the lives and expressed aspirations of the masses.

A liberated but doomed El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz spoke for his newly created Organization for Afro-American Unity:

“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”

That’s a democracy to struggle and die for.

Glen Ford is executive editor of
He can be contacted at

The Progressive home page


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