Monday, May 16, 2011

Malcolm X After Death

I have always had an interest in Malcolm's life. What he thought, what he believed, what he actually said. And now after years of reading books and websites and so on about Malcolm I feel like I understand the thought and the beliefs and the change of thoughts and beliefs that occurred during his life.
I recently came across a documentary entitled Political Assassinations and the topic of the documentary was Malcolm X. The talk of Malcolm's life and all the above parts of it aside. I found myself strangely interested in his death. The actual shooting, the investigation of his shooting and the national reaction to his death. Sure this is a daunting task, probably better fit for people who write books instead of blogs but I was able to find alot of things searching the web that I would like to share.
First let me give credit to The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University because without them I would never have found all the information I present here now. They're site is chock full of newspaper clippings from major media outlets written around the time of his death. It gives a very real perspective of how the media felt about Malcolm during his day.

The Shooting
The Audubon Ballroom. Harlem, New York 3:15pm
Anonymous Eyewitness: "Everybody turned and so did I, and then I heard Malcolm saying 'Be cool now, don't get excited' and then I heard this muffled sound and I saw Malcolm hit with his hands still raised and then he fell over the chairs behind him. And everybody was shouting and I saw someone firing a gun from under his coat behind me, I hit it [the floor] too. And he was firing like he was in some Western, running backward toward the door and firing at the same time." (New York Times, Feb. 22, 1965)
The "someone" this eyewitness saw was named Thomas Hagan, a 22 year old Black Muslim firing what the Police Dept. Community Relations Bureau stated was a "double barreled shotgun with shortened barrels and stock" at a prone Malcolm. The melee that ensued after the shock of the shooting left Hagan himself shot in the leg and being pummeled by Malcolm supporters. Hagan then begged the police for assistance and after rescuing him, the police found in his coat pocket 4 unused .45-caliber shotgun shells (New York Times, Feb. 22, 1965).
The Assistant Chief Inspector would state Malcolm was hit with 6 shots in the chest and 1 in the arm, which is contrary to the police saying Malcolm was struck with 7 bullets (New York Times, Feb. 22, 1965)
. The Los Angeles Times (Feb. 22, 1965) would report that an autopsy found 16 wounds in Malcolm's body. Doctors messaged his heart but Malcolm was pronounced dead on arrival at 3:30pm.
Witness, Stanley Scott: "There was a scuffle in the back of the auditorium, possibly to distract from the assassins...shots rang out...men,women and children ran for cover. The stretched out on the floor and ducked under tables. His wife Betty--who was in the audience--ran about screaming hysterically, 'they're killing my husband' (New York Times, Feb. 22, 1965).
Witness "Registered Nurse": "Two men rushing the stage and firing from underneath their coats...I rushed to the stage even while the firing was going on...I don't know how I got on stage, but I threw myself down on who I thought was Malcolm--but it wasn't. I was willing to die for the man. I would have taken the bullets myself. Then I saw Malcolm and the firing stopped, and I tried to give him artificial respiration...I think he was dead then" (New York Times, Feb. 22, 1965).
Such chilling accounts of the assassination make the blood both boil and freeze. How one could recall such a deed so vividly makes it feel like you were there and that you yourself had seen and would never forget it. The media was very useful here but it wouldn't always be so.

The "Obituary"
New York Times, Feb. 22, 1965:
"Malcolm X had the ingredients for leadership but his ruthless and fanatical belief in violence not only set him apart from the responsible leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the overwhelming majority of Negroes. It marked him for notoriety and a violent end....Malcolm X's life was strangely and pitifully wasted. But this was because he did not seek to fit into society or the life of his own people....The world he saw through those horned-rimmed glasses of his was distorted and dark, But it was made darker still with his exaltation of fanaticism."
First thing I thought when I read that..."what the fuck kind of obituary is this?"
Then I had to remind myself its the 60s, and the writer--probably white, was not the biggest supporter of Malcolm's goals. The "fanaticism" argument is very prevalent in alot of the articles posted on the Columbia University site. I cannot imagine living during this time and being ignorant of what Malcolm stood for and this being my introduction or this being a proper farewell for him. Malcolm is colored a racist, a bigot, a radical, violent, ruthless and just about anything except a good man. His messages are cherry picked for the purpose of self-fulfilling prophecy. This is one of the times I am glad to be looking back and not being a person who lived during this time.

The Burial
This is perhaps my favorite part. The very unorthodox funeral for Malcolm seems to fit his life to me. Malcolm died El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a believer in Orthodox Islam and as such there are certain ways of committing bodies to the ground. One of the big issues was that Malcolm was buried 6 days after death, Islamic law requires burial within 24 hours. His wife postponed the service so that Malcolm's African friends could attend. The service itself was held in a C.O.G.I.C (Church of God In Christ)church, a Christian church! One of Malcolm's religious advisors Sheik Faisal pointed out all the deviations of Malcolm's funeral from Islamic Law. Faisal stated that: "Death is a private matter between Allah and the deceased" and that "nothing should be done during the services that create emotion or a sense of bereavement". Yet both happened. There were sermons and eulogies both of which are a no-no, it was widely covered in the media, thus it wasn't necessarily a "private" matter.
The funeral did adhere to some Islamic fundamentals too. Malcolm was wrapped in the seven white shrouds in accordance and even though the service took place in a Christian church there were no hints of Christianity. The rule of no Christianity was a very serious one, if there were any Christian sermons or prayers etc Malcolm would have be deemed a non-believer in Islam altogether (New York Times. Feb. 28, 1965).

I felt a strange completeness, I felt closure after reading those clippings. Of course there are still many things to learn and more than just what a very few articles could cover but it gives a very broad overview which is something I never had before. So hopefully the reader of this blog learned a few things after reading it and as we approach Malcolm's 86th birthday on May 19, 2011 and although he has been dead for over 45 years there is still much to know, much more to uncover, many more books on him to read (Manning Marable recently released a book on him and I still haven't read the Alex Haley autobiography) but this will have to do for now.

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