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Introduction

    The Sunday before he was to officially announce his rupture with Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X cameto my home to discuss his plans and give me some necessary documentation.

  Mrs. Handler had never met Malcolm before this fateful visit. She served us coffee and cakes whileMalcolm spoke in the courteous, gentle manner that was his in private. It was obvious to me that Mrs.

  Handler was impressed by Malcolm. His personality filled our living room.

  Malcolm's attitude was that of a man who had reached a crossroads in his life and was making achoice under an inner compulsion. A wistful smile illuminated his countenance from time to time-asmile that said many things. I felt uneasy because Malcolm was evidently trying to say somethingwhich his pride and dignity prevented him from expressing. I sensed that Malcolm was not confidenthe would succeed in escaping from the shadowy world which had held him in thrall.

  Mrs. Handler was quiet and thoughtful after Malcolm's departure. Looking up suddenly, she said:

  "You know, it was like having tea with a black panther."The description startled me. The black panther is an aristocrat in the animal kingdom. He is beautiful.

  He is dangerous. As a man, Malcolm X had the physical bearing and the inner self-confidence of aborn aristocrat. And he was potentially dangerous. No man in our time aroused fear and hatred in thewhite man as did Malcolm, because in him the white man sensed an implacable foe who could not behad for any price-a man unreservedly committed to the cause of liberating the black man in Americansociety rather than integrating the black man into that society.

  My first meeting with Malcolm X took place in March 1963 in the Muslim restaurant of TempleNumber Seven on Lenox Avenue. I had been assigned by _The New York Times_ to investigate thegrowing pressures within the Negro community. Thirty years of experience as a reporter in Westernand Eastern Europe had taught me that the forces in a developing social struggle are frequently buriedbeneath the visible surface and make themselves felt in many ways long before they burst out into the open. These generative forces make themselves felt through the power of an idea long before theirorganizational forms can openly challenge the establishment. It is the merit of European politicalscientists and sociologists to give a high priority to the power of ideas in a social struggle. In theUnited States, it is our weakness to confuse the numerical strength of an organization and thepublicity attached to leaders with the germinating forces that sow the seeds of social upheaval in ourcommunity.

  In studying the growing pressures within the Negro community, I had not only to seek the opinions ofthe established leaders of the civil rights organizations but the opinions of those working in thepenumbra of the movement-"underground," so to speak. This is why I sought out Malcolm X, whoseideas had reached me through the medium of Negro integrationists. Their thinking was alreadyreflecting a high degree of nascent Negro nationalism.

  I did not know what to expect as I waited for Malcolm. I was the only white person in the restaurant,an immaculate establishment tended by somber, handsome, uncommunicative Negroes. Signs reading"Smoking Forbidden" were pasted on the highly polished mirrors. I was served coffee but becameuneasy in this aseptic, silent atmosphere as time passed. Malcolm finally arrived. He was very tall,handsome, of impressive bearing. His skin had a bronze hue.

  I rose to greet him and extended my hand. Malcolm's hand came up slowly. I had the impression itwas difficult for him to take my hand, but, _noblesse oblige_, he did. Malcolm then did a curious thingwhich he always repeated whenever we met in public in a restaurant in New York or Washington. Heasked whether I would mind if he took a seat facing the door. I had had similar requests put to me inEastern European capitals. Malcolm was on the alert; he wished to see every person who entered therestaurant. I quickly realized that Malcolm constantly walked in danger.

  We spoke for more than three hours at this first encounter. His views about the white man weredevastating, but at no time did he transgress against my own personality and make me feel that I, asan individual, shared in the guilt. He attributed the degradation of the Negro people to the white man.

  He denounced integration as a fraud. He contended that if the leaders of the established civil rightsorganizations persisted, the social struggle would end in bloodshed because he was certain the whiteman would never concede full integration. He argued the Muslim case for separation as the onlysolution in which the Negro could achieve his own identity, develop his own culture, and lay thefoundations for a self-respecting productive community. He was vague about where the Negro statecould be established.

  Malcolm refused to see the impossibility of the white man conceding secession from the United States;at this stage in his * career he contended it was the only solution. He defended Islam as a religion thatdid not recognize color bars. He denounced Christianity as a religion designed for slaves and theNegro clergy as the curse of the black man, exploiting him for their own purposes instead of seekingto liberate him, and acting as handmaidens of the white community in its determination to keep theNegroes in a subservient position.

   During this first encounter Malcolm also sought to enlighten me about the Negro mentality. Herepeatedly cautioned me to beware of Negro affirmations of good will toward the white man. He saidthat the Negro had been trained to dissemble and conceal his real thoughts, as a matter of survival. Heargued that the Negro only tells the white man what he believes the white man wishes to hear, andthat the art of dissembling reached a point where even Negroes cannot truthfully say they understandwhat their fellow Negroes believe. The art of deception practiced by the Negro was based on athorough understanding of the white man's mores, he said; at the same time the Negro has remained aclosed book to the white man, who has never displayed any interest in understanding the Negro.

  Malcolm's exposition of his social ideas was clear and thoughtful, if somewhat shocking to the whiteinitiate, but most disconcerting in our talk was Malcolm's belief in Elijah Muhammad's history of theorigins of man, and in a genetic theory devised to prove the superiority of black over white-a theorystunning to me in its sheer absurdity.

  After this first encounter, I realized that there were two Malcolms-the private and the public person.

  His public performances on television and at meeting halls produced an almost terrifying effect. Hisimplacable marshaling of facts and his logic had something of a new dialectic, diabolic in its force. Hefrightened white television audiences, demolished his Negro opponents, but elicited a remarkableresponse from Negro audiences. Many Negro opponents in the end refused to make any publicappearances on the same platform with him. The troubled white audiences were confused, disturbed,felt themselves threatened. Some began to consider Malcolm evil incarnate.

  Malcolm appealed to the two most disparate elements in the Negro community-the depressed mass,and the galaxy of o Negro writers and artists who have burst on the American scene in the pastdecade. The Negro middle class-the Negro "establishment"-abhorred and feared Malcolm as much ashe despised it.

  The impoverished Negroes respected Malcolm in the way that wayward children respect thegrandfather image. It was always a strange and moving experience to walk with Malcolm in Harlem.

  He was known to all. People glanced at him shyly. Sometimes Negro youngsters would ask for hisautograph. It always seemed to me that their affection for Malcolm was inspired by the fact thatalthough he had become a national figure, he was still a man of the people who, they felt, would neverbetray them. The Negroes have suffered too long from betrayals and in Malcolm they sensed a man ofmission. They knew his origins, with which they could identify. They knew his criminal and prisonrecord, which he had never concealed. They looked upon Malcolm with a certain wonderment. Herewas a man who had come from the lower depths which they still inhabited, who had triumphed overhis own criminality and his own ignorance to become a forceful leader and spokesman, anuncompromising champion of his people.

  Although many could not share his Muslim religious beliefs, they found in Malcolm's puritanism astanding reproach to their own lives. Malcolm had purged himself of all the ills that afflict thedepressed Negro mass: drugs, alcohol, tobacco, not to speak of criminal pursuits. His personal life wasimpeccable-of a puritanism unattainable for the mass. Human redemption-Malcolm had achieved it in his own lifetime, and this was known to the Negro community.

  In his television appearances and at public meetings Malcolm articulated the woes and the aspirationsof the depressed Negro mass in a way it was unable to do for itself. When he attacked the white man,Malcolm did for the Negroes what they couldn't do for themselves-he attacked with a violence andanger that spoke for the ages of misery. It was not an academic exercise of just giving hell to "Mr.

  Charlie."Many of the Negro writers and artists who are national figures today revered Malcolm for what theyconsidered his ruthless honesty in stating the Negro case, his refusal to compromise, and his search fora group identity that had been destroyed by the white man when he brought the Negroes in chainsfrom Africa. The Negro writers and artists regarded Malcolm as the great catalyst, the man whoinspired self-respect and devotion in the downtrodden millions.

  A group of these artists gathered one Sunday in my home, and we talked about Malcolm. Theirdevotion to him as a man was moving. One said: "Malcolm will never betray us. We have suffered toomuch from betrayals in the past."Malcolm's attitude toward the white man underwent a marked change in 1964-a change thatcontributed to his break with Elijah Muhammad and his racist doctrines. Malcolm's meteoric eruptionon the national scene brought him into wider contact with white men who were not the "devils" hehad thought they were. He was much in demand as a speaker at student forums in Easternuniversities and had appeared at many by the end of his short career as a national figure. He alwaysspoke respectfully and with a certain surprise of the positive response of white students to hislectures.

  A second factor that contributed to his conversion to wider horizons was a growing doubt about theauthenticity of Elijah Muhammad's version of the Muslim religion-a doubt that grew into a certaintywith more knowledge and more experience. Certain secular practices at the Chicago headquarters ofElijah Muhammad had come to Malcolm's notice and he was profoundly shocked.

  Finally, he embarked on a number of prolonged trips to Mecca and the newly independent Africanstates through the good offices of the representatives of the Arab League in the United States. It wason his first trip to Mecca that he came to the conclusion that he had yet to discover Islam.

  Assassins' bullets ended Malcolm's career before he was able to develop this new approach, which inessence recognized the Negroes as an integral part of the American community-a far cry from ElijahMuhammad's doctrine of separation. Malcolm had reached the midpoint in redefining his attitude tothis country and the white-black relationship. He no longer inveighed against the United States butagainst a segment of the United States represented by overt white supremacists in the South andcovert white supremacists in the North.

  It was Malcolm's intention to raise Negro militancy to a new high point with the main thrust aimed at both the Southern and Northern white supremacists. The Negro problem, which he had always saidshould be renamed "the white man's problem," was beginning to assume new dimensions for him inthe last months of his life.

  To the very end, Malcolm sought to refashion the broken strands between the American Negroes andAfrican culture. He saw in this the road to a new sense of group identity, a self-conscious role inhistory, and above all a sense of man's own worth which he claimed the white man had destroyed inthe Negro.

  American autobiographical literature is filled with numerous accounts of remarkable men who pulledthemselves to the summit by their bootstraps. Few are as poignant as Malcolm's memoirs. Astestimony to the power of redemption and the force of human personality, the autobiography ofMalcolm X is a revelation.

  New York, June 1965



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