I couldn’t understand why they were so angry. I asked my father and he explained that these preachers were trying to make conditions better for Negroes. I was puzzled because I thought us, Negroes, had no problems. We could fish in the Anacostia when we wanted to. We could catch a game at Griffith Stadium and we could go to the movies for a quarter at the Langston or the Senator Theaters. What problems did we have?
In the summer of 1963, my father took my brother and I to a huge demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial to see one of those angry Negro preachers. The one from the south and, man, that was one hot day! I had never seen so many white people in my life! River Terrace was different. Everyone looked like me. My doctor looked like me. My teachers looked like me. My dentist looked like me. I didn’t know what to think of this mass of humanity, but they were so nice to my brother and me. My father lifted me up on his shoulders to see this preacher who looked like my father, talking to all of these white people.
One day, on my way home from Woodson Junior High School, I remember hearing some grownups shouting, “they killed him… they killed him!”.
The Muslim preacher is dead! What’s a Muslim?
My first year at St. Emma, I met other Negro kids from all over the world! The guys from New York were so cool. They spoke differently. Their music was exotic, latin and jazz. They wore beautiful sweaters on the weekend called Blye’s. They talked politics. They talked about that Muslim man that was killed the year before. The New Yorkers spoke with passion about him, the kind of passion that made you want to know about this man.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
One of the cool guys from New York stuck a paperback book in my hand. Read it! Malcolm X’s life was so different than my own. Those same white people that were so nice to my brother and me killed Malcolm’s father when he was just a boy. His father was a preacher like my father. I couldn’t imagine my father being killed. Now, I understand why he was so angry.
That dude is crazy!
Lemuel broke out in a Dashiki! I had never seen one before. Lem was spouting all this crazy stuff about we come from Africa and we should be proud of our heritage. I think he changed his name, too. Malcom X got rid of his slave name so Lem did too, I guess. I didn’t think the “good reverend” was ready for me to change my name, but Lem was entertaining!
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that Lem and the cool guys from New York were setting the foundation for my appreciation of Malcolm X and all that he stood for. I truly believe that Dr. King was successful in what he did, due in part, to the stature of Malcolm X on the national scene. As a young man, I couldn’t accept nonviolence as a tactic. Turn the other cheek in River Terrace? I don’t think so. The strength and integrity that Malcolm exemplified was a model for all of my peers.
Just before his untimely death, Malcolm X was becoming a world citizen. He was learning that not all white people were like those that had killed his father. He had made peace with himself and was preparing to start a new phase of his development that encompassed people of all races that were willing to work for the betterment of mankind.
Today, on his eighty-third birthday, I say, ‘thank you, Malcolm. You will never be forgotten.'