Monday, February 21, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Assassination of Malcolm X

The universe has a way of balancing things - light and dark, hot and cold, black and white... The American Civil Rights Movement was once possessed of a similar equilibrium; as Dr. King was preaching nonviolence and unity to a nation still violently enamoured of segregation, Malcolm X was raising consciousness with talk of revolution and rage.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOf course, neither way was entirely wrong or right, which is yet another of those balancing acts that occurs in life. As a white man I can comfortably say that Dr. King's message (and methods) are more to my liking, but that as a gay man in a straight society I understand where Malcolm's anger came from; while I may fear the expression of it (especially when it might be needlessly directed at me) when it must be expressed I can only hope that it can be done in a healing, rather than hurting, manner.

That equilibrium, then, which pitted the southern Baptist way of Dr. King against the Harlemized militancy of the Nation of Islam, teetered irrevocably on this day in 1965, when, shortly after he began addressing a crowd of 400 at the Audubon Ballroom a commotion erupted on the floor of the auditorium below him. As Malcolm attempted to ascertain what the problem was, he was approached by a man who shot him at point blank range with a sawed-off shotgun; two other men fired on him with handguns. In total, he was hit 16 times.

As Malcolm was rushed to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital (where he would be pronounced dead on arrival) his assailants were beaten and berated by the crowd that had been robbed of the opportunity to hear their hero speak, even as the man himself had been robbed of the right to speak to them. His assailant, Talmadge Hayer, was caught at the scene of the crime to which he later confessed; Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were later detained, and although Hayer resolutely maintained their innocence (even backing up his claim with the Hayer affidavits while simultaneously implicating Leon David and Wilbur McKinley), it was Hayer, Butler, and Johnson who served the time. None of which matters much, since ultimately it was Malcolm X who paid the penalty...

In death Malcolm X has hopefully experienced the peace that, to his way of thinking and in his experience, would never have been available to him in life as a black man in America; that he had to die to do it is a shame and a disgrace which must never be forgotten.

Two documents best depict the life and times of Malcolm X: the first, a posthumous memoir The Autobiography of Malcolm X (co-written by Alex Haley) has always faced challenges as to its veracity; the second, Spike Lee's masterful 1992 film Malcolm X (starring Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett and based on the earlier book) is considered a landmark of the biopic genre.

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1 comment:

lcdseattle said...

What type of eye-glass frames would Mr. Gagne be sporting if not for the tastes of Malcolm.