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Chapter 13 Minister Malcolm X

I quit the Ford Motor Company's Lincoln-Mercury Division. It had become clear to me that Mr.

  Muhammad needed ministers to spread his teachings, to establish more temples among the twenty-two million black brothers who were brainwashed and sleeping in the cities of North America.

  My decision came relatively quickly. I have always been an activist, and my personal chemistryperhaps made me reach more quickly than most ministers in the Nation of Islam that stage ofdedication. But every minister in the Nation, in his own time, in his own way, in the privacy of hisown soul, came to the conviction that it was written that all of his "before" life had been onlyconditioning and preparation to become a disciple of Mr. Muhammad's.

  Everything that happens-Islam teaches-is written.

  Mr. Muhammad invited me to visit his home in Chicago, as often as possible, while he trained me, formonths.

  Never in prison had I studied and absorbed so intensely as I did now under Mr. Muhammad'sguidance. I was immersed in the worship rituals; in what he taught us were the true natures of menand women; the organizational and administrative procedures; the real meanings, and the interrelated meanings, and uses, of the Bible and the Quran.

  I went to bed every night ever more awed. If not Allah, who else could have put such wisdom intothat little humble lamb of a man from the Georgia fourth grade and sawmills and cotton patches. The"lamb of a man" analogy I drew for myself from the prophecy in the Book of Revelations of a symboliclamb with a two-edged sword in its mouth. Mr. Muhammad's two-edged sword was his teachings,which cut back and forth to free the black man's mind from the white man.

  My adoration of Mr. Muhammad grew, in the sense of the Latin root word _adorare_. It means muchmore than our "adoration" or "adore." It means that my worship of him was so awesome that he wasthe first man whom I had ever feared-not fear such as of a man with a gun, but the fear such as onehas of the power of the sun.

  Mr. Muhammad, when he felt me able, permitted me to go to Boston. Brother Lloyd X lived there. Heinvited people whom he had gotten interested in Islam to hear me in his living room.

  I quote what I said when I was just starting out, and then later on in other places, as I can bestremember the general pattern that I used, in successive phases, in those days. I know that then Ialways liked to start off with my favorite analogy of Mr. Muhammad.

  "God has given Mr. Muhammad some sharp truth," I told them. "It is like a two-edged sword. It cutsinto you. It causes you great pain, but if you can take the truth, it will cure you and save you fromwhat otherwise would be certain death."Then I wouldn't waste any time to start opening their eyes about the devil white man. "I know youdon't realize the enormity, the horrors, of the so-called _Christian_ white man's crime. . . .

  "Not even in the _Bible_ is there such a crime! God in His wrath struck down with _fire_ theperpetrators of _lesser_ crimes! _One hundred million_ of us black people! Your grandparents! Mine!

  _Murdered_ by this white man. To get fifteen million of us here to make us his slaves, on the way hemurdered one hundred million! I wish it was possible for me to show you the sea bottom in thosedays-the black bodies, the blood, the bones broken by boots and clubs! The pregnant black womenwho were thrown overboard if they got too sick! Thrown overboard to the sharks that had learnedthat following these slave ships was the way to grow fat!

  "Why, the white man's raping of the black race's woman began right on those slave ships! The blue-eyed devil could not even wait until he got them here! Why, brothers and sisters, civilized mankindhas never known such an orgy of greed and lust and murder. . . ."The dramatization of slavery never failed intensely to arouse Negroes hearing its horrors spelled outfor the first time. It's unbelievable how many black men and women have let the white man fool theminto holding an almost romantic idea of what slave days were like. And once I had them fired up withslavery, I would shift the scene to themselves.

   "I want you, when you leave this room, to start to _see_ all this whenever you see this devil whiteman. Oh, yes, he's a devil! I just want you to start watching him, in his places where he doesn't wantyou around; watch him reveling in his precious-ness, and his exclusiveness, and his vanity, while hecontinues to subjugate you and me.

  "Every time you see a white man, think about the devil you're seeing! Think of how it was on _your_slave foreparents' bloody, sweaty backs that he _built_ this empire that's today the richest of allnations-where his evil and his greed cause him to be hated around the world!"Every meeting, the people who had been there before returned, bringing friends. None of them everhad heard the wraps taken off the white man. I can't remember any black man ever in those living-room audiences in Brother Lloyd X's home at 5 Wellington Street who didn't stand up immediatelywhen I asked after each lecture, "Will all stand who believe what you have heard?" And each Sundaynight, some of them stood, while I could see others not quite ready, when I asked, "How many of youwant to _follow_ The Honorable Elijah Muhammad?"Enough had stood up after about three months that we were able to open a little temple. I rememberwith what pleasure we rented some folding chairs. I was beside myself with joy when I could report toMr. Muhammad a new temple address.

  It was when we got this little mosque that my sister Ella first began to come to hear me. She sat,staring, as though she couldn't believe it was me. Ella never moved, even when I had only asked allwho believed what they had heard to stand up. She contributed when our collection was held. Itdidn't bother or challenge me at all about Ella. I never even thought about converting her, astoughminded and cautious about joining anything as I personally knew her to be. I wouldn't haveexpected anyone short of Allah Himself to have been able to convert Ella.

  I would close the meeting as Mr. Muhammad had taught me: "In the name of Allah, the beneficent, themerciful, all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds, the beneficent, merciful master of theday of judgment in which we now live -Thee alone do we serve, and Thee alone do we beseech forThine aid. Guide us on the right path, the path of those upon whom Thou has bestowed favors -not ofthose upon whom Thy wrath is brought down, nor the path of those who go astray after they haveheard Thy teaching. I bear witness that there is no God but Thee and The Honorable ElijahMuhammad is Thy Servant and Apostle. "I believed he had been divinely sent to our people by AllahHimself.

  I would raise my hand, for them to be dismissed: "Do nothing unto anyone that you would not like tohave done unto yourself. Seek peace, and never be the aggressor-but if anyone attacks you, we do notteach you to turn the other cheek. May Allah bless you to be successful and victorious in all that youdo."Except for that one day when I had stayed with Ella on the way to Detroit after prison, I had not been in the old Roxbury streets for seven years. I went to have a reunion with Shorty.

  Shorty, when I found him, acted uncertain. The wire had told him I was in town, and on some"religious kick." He didn't know if I was serious, or if I was another of the hustling preacher-pimps tobe found in every black ghetto, the ones with some little storefront churches of mostly hardworking,older women, who kept their "pretty boy" young preacher dressed in "sharp" clothes and driving afancy car. I quickly let Shorty know how serious I was with Islam, but then, talking the old street talk,I quickly put him at his ease, and we had a great reunion. We laughed until we cried at Shorty'sdramatization of his reactions when he heard that judge keep saying "Count one, ten years . . . counttwo, ten years -" We talked about how having those white girls with us had gotten as tea years wherewe had seen in prison plenty of worse offenders with far less time to serve.

  Shorty still had a little band, and he was doing fairly well. He was rightfully very proud that in prisonhe had studied music. I told him enough about Islam to see from his reactions that he didn't reallywant to hear it. In prison, he had misheard about our religion. He got me off the subject by making ajoke. He said that he hadn't had enough pork chops and white women. I don't know if he has yet, ornot. I know that he's married to a white woman now. . . and he's fat as a hog from eating hog.

  I also saw John Hughes, the gambling-house owner, and some others I had known who were stillaround Roxbury. The wire about me had made them all uncomfortable, but my "What you know,Daddy?" approach at least enabled us to have some conversations. I never mentioned Islam to most ofthem. I knew, from what I had been when I was with them, how brainwashed they were.

  As Temple Eleven's minister, I served only briefly, because as soon as I got it organized, by March1954, I left it in charge of Minister Ulysses X, and the Messenger moved me on to Philadelphia.

  The City of Brotherly Love black people reacted even faster to the truth about the white man than theBostonians had. And Philadelphia's Temple Twelve was established by the end of May. It had taken alittle under three months.

  The next month, because of those Boston and Philadelphia successes, Mr. Muhammad appointed meto be the minister of Temple Seven-in vital New York City.

  I can't start to describe for you my welter of emotions. For Mr. Muhammad's teachings really toresurrect American black people, Islam obviously had to grow, to grow very big. And nowhere inAmerica was such a single temple potential available as in New York's five boroughs.

  They contained over a million black people.

   It was nine years since West Indian Archie and I had been stalking the streets, momentarily expectingto try and shoot each other down like dogs.

   "_Red!_" . . ."My man!" . . ."Red, this _can't_ be you-With my natural kinky red hair now close-cropped, in place of the old long-haired, lye-cooked conk they had always known on my head, I knowI looked much different.

  "Gim'me some _skin_, man! A drink here, bartender-what? You _quit!_ Aw, man, come off it!"It was so good seeing so many whom I had known so well. You can understand how that was. But itwas West Indian Archie and Sammy the Pimp for whom I was primarily looking. And the first nastyshock came quickly, about Sammy. He had quit pimping, he had gotten pretty high up in the numbersbusiness, and was doing well. Sammy even had married. Some fast young girl. But then shortly afterhis wedding one morning he was found lying dead across his bed-they said with twenty-fivethousand dollars in his pockets. (People don't want to believe the sums that even the minorunderworld handles. Why, listen: in March 1964, a Chicago nickel-and-dime bets Wheel of Fortuneman, Lawrence Wakefield, died, and over $760, 000 in cash was in his apartment, in sacks and bags . . .

  all taken from poor Negroes . . . and we wonder why we stay so poor. )Sick about Sammy, I queried from bar to bar among old-timers for West Indian Archie. The wirehadn't reported him dead, or living somewhere else, but none seemed to know where he was. I heardthe usual hustler fates of so many others. Bullets, knives, prison, dope, diseases, insanity, alcoholism. Iimagine it was about in that order. And so many of the survivors whom I knew as tough hyenas andwolves of the streets in the old days now were so pitiful. They had known all the angles, but beneaththat surface they were poor, ignorant, untrained black men; life had eased up on them and hypedthem. I ran across close to twenty-five of these old-timers I had known pretty well, who in the space ofnine years had been reduced to the ghetto's minor, scavenger hustles to scratch up room rent and foodmoney. Some now worked downtown, messengers, janitors, things like that. I was thankful to Allahthat I had become a Muslim and escaped their fate.

  There was Cadillac Drake. He was a big jolly, cigar-smoking, fat, black, gaudy-dressing pimp, aregular afternoon character when I was waiting on tables in Small's Paradise. Well, I recognized himshuffling toward me on the street. He had gotten hooked on heroin; I'd heard that. He was the dirtiest,sloppiest bum you ever laid eyes on. I hurried past because we would both have been embarrassed ifhe recognized me, the kid he used to toss a dollar tip.

  The wire worked to locate West Indian Archie for me. The wire of the streets, when it wants to, issomething like Western Union with the F.B.I. for messengers. At one of my early services at TempleSeven, an old scavenger hustler, to whom I gave a few dollars, came up when services were dismissed.

  He told me that West Indian Archie was sick, living up in a rented room in the Bronx.

  I took a taxi to the address. West Indian Archie opened the door. He stood there in rumpled pajamasand barefooted, squinting at me.

  Have you ever seen someone who seemed a ghost of the person you remembered? It took him a few seconds to fix me in his memory. He claimed, hoarsely, "Red! I'm so glad to see you!"I all but hugged the old man. He was sick in that weak way. I helped him back. He sat down on theedge of his bed. I sat in his one chair, and I told him how his forcing me out of Harlem had saved mylife by turning me in the direction of Islam.

  He said, "I always liked you, Red," and he said that he had never really wanted to kill me. I told him ithad made me shudder many times to think how close we had come to killing each other. I told him Ihad sincerely thought I had hit that combinated six-way number for the three hundred dollars he hadpaid me. Archie said that he had later wondered if he had made some mistake, since I was so ready todie about it. And then we agreed that it wasn't worth even talking about, it didn't mean anythinganymore. He kept saying, over and over, in between other things, that he was so glad to see me.

  I went into a little of Mr. Muhammad's teaching with Archie. I told him how I had found out that all ofus who had been in the streets were victims of the white man's society I told Archie what I hadthought in prison about him; that his brain, which could tape-record hundreds of numbercombinations a day, should have been put at the sendee of mathematics or science. "Red, that sure issomething to think about," I can remember him saying.

  But neither of us would say that it was not too late. I have the feeling that he knew, as I could see, thatthe end was closing in on Archie. I became too moved about what he had been and what he had nowbecome to be able to stay much longer. I didn't have much money, and he didn't want to accept whatlittle I was able to press on him. But I made him take it.

   I keep having to remind myself that then, in June 1954, Temple Seven in New York City was a littlestorefront. Why, it's almost unbelievable that one bus couldn't have been filled with the Muslims inNew York City! Even among our own black people in the Harlem ghetto, you could have said"Muslim" to a thousand, and maybe only one would not have asked you "What's that?" As for whitepeople, except for that relative handful privy to certain police or prison files, not five hundred whitepeople in all of America knew we existed.

  I began firing Mr. Muhammad's teaching at the New York members and the few friends theymanaged to bring in. And with each meeting, my discomfort grew that in Harlem, choked with poor,ignorant black men suffering all of the evils that Islam could cure, every time I lectured my heart outand then asked those who wanted to follow Mr. Muhammad to stand, only two or three would. And, Ihave to admit, sometimes not that many.

  I think I was all the angrier with my own ineffectiveness because I knew the streets. I had to get myselftogether and think out the problem. And the big trouble, obviously, was that we were only one amongthe many voices of black discontent on every busy Harlem corner. The different Nationalist groups,the "Buy Black!" forces, and others like that; dozens of their step-ladder orators were trying to increase their followings. I had nothing against anyone trying to promote independence and unity amongblack men, but they still were making it tough for Mr. Muhammad's voice to be heard.

  In my first effort to get over this hurdle, I had some little leaflets printed. There wasn't a much-traveled Harlem street corner that five or six good Muslim brothers and I missed. We would step upright in front of a walking black man or woman so that they had to accept our leaflet, and if theyhesitated one second, they had to hear us saying some catch thing such as "Hear how the white mankidnapped and robbed and raped our black race-"Next, we went to work "fishing" on those Harlem corners-on the fringes of the Nationalist meetings.

  The method today has many refinements, but then it consisted of working the always shifting edges ofthe audiences that others had managed to draw. At a Nationalist meeting, everyone who was listeningwas interested in the revolution of the black race. We began to get visible results almost immediatelyafter we began thrusting handbills in people's hands, "Come to hear us, too, brother.

  The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us how to cure the black man's spiritual, mental, moral,economic, and political sicknesses-"I saw the new faces of our Temple Seven meetings. And then we discovered the best "fishing"audience of all, by far the best-conditioned audience for Mr. Muhammad's teachings: the Christianchurches.

  Our Sunday services were held at two P. M. All over Harlem during the hour or so before that,Christian church services were dismissing. We by-passed the larger churches with their higher ratio ofso-called "middle-class" Negroes who were so full of pretense and "status" that they wouldn't becaught in our little storefront.

  We went "fishing" fast and furiously when those little evangelical storefront churches each let out theirthirty to fifty people on the sidewalk. "Come to hear us, brother, sister-" "You haven't heard anythinguntil you have heard the teachings of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad-" These Congregations wereusually Southern migrant people, usually older, who would go anywhere to hear what they called"good preaching." These were the church congregations who were always putting out little signsannouncing that inside they were selling fried chicken and chitlin dinners to raise some money. Andthree or four nights a week, they were in their storefront rehearsing for the next Sunday, I guess,shaking and rattling and rolling the gospels with their guitars and tambourines.

  I don't know if you know it, but there's a whole circuit of commercial gospel entertainers who havecome out of these little churches in the city ghettoes or from down South. People such as Sister RosettaTharpe, The Clara Ward Singers are examples, and there must be five hundred lesser lights of thesame general order. Mahalia Jackson, the greatest of them all-she was a preacher's daughter inLouisiana. She came up there to Chicago where she worked cooking and scrubbing for white peopleand then in a factory while she sang in the Negro churches the gospel style that, when it caught on,made her the first Negro that Negroes ever made famous. She was selling hundreds of thousands of records among Negroes before white people ever knew who Mahalia Jackson was. Anyway, I knowthat somewhere I once read that Mahalia said that every time she can, she will slip unannounced intosome little ghetto storefront church and sing with her people. She calls that "my filling station."The black Christians we "fished" to our Temple were conditioned, I found, by the very shock I couldgive them about what had been happening to them while they worshiped a blond, blue-eyed God. Iknew the temple that I could build if I could really get to those Christians. I tailored the teachings forthem. I would start to speak and sometimes be so emotionally charged I had to explain myself:

  "You see my tears, brothers and sisters . . . . Tears haven't been in my eyes since I was a young boy. ButI cannot help this when I feel the responsibility I have to help you comprehend for the first time whatthis white man's religion that we call Christianity has _done_ to us . . . .

  "Brothers and sisters here for the first time, please don't let that shock you. I know you didn't expectthis. Because almost none of us black people have thought that maybe we were making a mistake notwondering if there wasn't a special religion somewhere for us-a special religion for the black man.

  "Well, there is such a religion. It's called Islam. Let me spell it for you, I-s-I-a-m! _Islam!_ But I'm goingto tell you about Islam a little later. First, we need to understand some things about this Christianitybefore we can understand why the _answer_ for us is Islam.

  "Brothers and sisters, the white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze upon a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus! We're worshiping a Jesus that doesn't even _look_ like us! Oh, yes! Now justbear with me, listen to the teachings of the Messenger of Allah, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

  Now, just think of this. The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a_white_ Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that's _his_ God, the white man's God. Thewhite man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we _die_, to wait until _death_, for somedreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we're _dead_, while this white man has his milk and honey inthe streets paved with golden dollars right here on _this_ earth!

  "You don't want to believe what I am telling you, brothers and sisters? Well, I'll tell you what you do.

  You go out of here, you just take a good look around where you live. Look at not only how _you_ live,but look at how anybody that you _know_ lives-that way, you'll be sure that you're not just a bad-luckaccident. And when you get through looking at where _you_ live, then you take you a walk downacross Central Park, and start to look at what this white God had brought to the white man. I mean,take yourself a look down there at how the white man is living!

  "And don't stop there. In fact, you won't be able to stop for long-his doormen are going to tell you'Move on!' But catch a subway and keep on downtown. Anywhere you may want to get off, _look_ atthe white man's apartments, businesses! Go right on down to the tip of Manhattan Island that thisdevilish white man stole from the trusting Indians for twenty-four dollars! Look at his City Hall, downthere; look at his Wall Street! Look at yourself! Look at _his_ God!" I had learned early one important thing, and that was to always teach in terms that the people couldunderstand. Also, where the Nationalists whom we had "fished" were almost all men, among thestorefront Christians, a heavy preponderance were women, and I had the sense to offer somethingspecial for them. "_Beautiful_ black woman! The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us that theblack man is going around saying he wants respect; well, the black man never will get anybody'srespect until he first learns to respect his own women! The black man needs _today_ to stand up andthrow off the weaknesses imposed upon him by the slavemaster white man! The black man needs tostart today to shelter and protect and _respect_ his black women!"One hundred percent would stand up without hesitation when I said, "How many _believe_ whatthey have heard?" But still never more than an agonizing few would stand up when I invited, "Willthose stand who want to _follow_ The Honorable Elijah Muhammad?"I knew that our strict moral code and discipline was what repelled them most. I fired at this point, atthe reason for our code. "The white man _wants_ black men to stay immoral, unclean and ignorant. Aslong as we stay in these conditions we will keep on begging him and he will control us. We never canwin freedom and justice and equality until we are doing something for ourselves!"The code, of course, had to be explained to any who were tentatively interested in becoming Muslims.

  And the word got around in their little storefronts quickly, which is why they would come to hear me,yet wouldn't join Mr. Muhammad. Any fornication was absolutely forbidden in the Nation of Islam.

  Any eating of the filthy pork, or other injurious or unhealthful foods; any use of tobacco, alcohol, ornarcotics. No Muslim who followed Elijah Muhammad could dance, gamble, date, attend movies, orsports, or take long vacations from work. Muslims slept no more than health required. Any domesticquarreling, any discourtesy, especially to women, was not allowed. No lying or stealing, and noinsubordination to civil authority, except on the grounds of religious obligation.

  Our moral laws were policed by our Fruit of Islam-able, dedicated, and trained Muslim men.

  Infractions resulted in suspension by Mr. Muhammad, or isolation for various periods, or evenexpulsion for the worst offenses "from the only group that really cares about you." Temple Seven grew somewhat with each meeting. It just grew too slowly to suit me. During theweekdays, I traveled by bus and train. I taught each Wednesday at Philadelphia's Temple Twelve. Iwent to Springfield, Massachusetts, to try to start a new temple. A temple which Mr. Muhammadnumbered Thirteen was established there with the help of Brother Osborne, who had first heard ofIslam from me in prison. A lady visiting a Springfield meeting asked if I'd come to Hartford, whereshe lived; she specified the next Thursday and said she would assemble some friends. And I was rightthere.

  Thursday is traditionally domestic servants' day off. This sister had in her housing project apartment about fifteen of the maids, cooks, chauffeurs and house men who worked for the Hartford-area whitepeople. You've heard that saying, "No man is a hero to his valet." Well, those Negroes who waited onwealthy whites hand and foot opened their eyes quicker than most Negroes. And when they went"fishing" enough among more servants, and other black people in and around Hartford, Mr.

  Muhammad before long was able to assign a Hartford temple the number Fourteen. And everyThursday I scheduled my teaching there.

  Mr. Muhammad, when I went to see him in Chicago, had to chastise me on some point during nearlyevery visit. I just couldn't keep from showing in some manner that with his ministers equipped withthe power of his message, I felt the Nation should go much faster. His patience and his wisdom inchastising me would always humble me from head to foot. He said, one time, that no true leaderburdened his followers with a greater load than they could carry, and no true leader sets too fast apace for his followers to keep up.

  "Most people seeing a man in an old touring car going real slow think the man doesn't want to gofast," Mr. Muhammad said, "but the man knows that to drive any faster would destroy the old car.

  When he gets a fast car, then he will drive at a fast speed." And I remember him telling me anothertime, when I complained about an inefficient minister at one of his mosques, "I would rather have amule I can depend upon than a race horse that I can't depend upon."I knew that Mr. Muhammad _wanted_ that fast car to drive. And I don't think you could pick thesame number of faithful brothers and sisters from the Nation of Islam today and find "fishing" teamsto beat the efforts of those who helped to bring growth to the Boston, Philadelphia, Springfield,Hartford, and New York temples. I'm, of course, just mentioning those that I knew most about becauseI was directly involved. This was through ............

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