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Chapter 12 Savior

During the spring of nineteen fifty-two I joyously wrote Elijah Muhammad and my family that the Massachusetts State Parole Board had voted that I should be released. But still a few months weretaken up with the red tape delay of paper work that went back and forth, arranging for my parolerelease in the custody of my oldest brother, Wilfred, in Detroit, who now managed a furniture store.

  Wilfred got the Jew who owned the store to sign a promise that upon release I would be givenimmediate employment.

  By the prison system wire, I heard that Shorty also was up for parole. But Shorty was having troublegetting some reputable person to sign for him. (Later, I found out that in prison Shorty had studiedmusical composition. He had even progressed to writing some pieces; one of them I know he named"The Bastille Concerto. ")My going to Detroit instead of back to Harlem or Boston was influenced by my family's feelingexpressed in their letters. Especially my sister Hilda had stressed to me that although I felt Iunderstood Elijah Muhammad's teachings, I had much to learn, and I ought to come to Detroit andbecome a member of a temple of practicing Muslims.

  It was in August when they gave me a lecture, a cheap Li'l Abner suit, and a small amount of money,and I walked out of the gate. I never looked back, but that doesn't make me any different from amillion inmates who have left a prison behind them.

  The first stop I made was at a Turkish bath. I got some of that physical feeling of prison-taint steamedoff me. Ella, with whom I stayed only overnight, had also agreed that it would be best for me to startagain in Detroit. The police in a new city wouldn't have it in for me; that was Ella's consideration-notthe Muslims, for whom Ella had no use. Both Hilda and Reginald had tried to work on Ella. But Ella,with her strong will, didn't go for it at all. She told me that she felt anyone could be whatever hewanted to be, Holy Roller, Seventh Day Adventist, or whatever it was, but she wasn't going to becomeany Muslim.

  Hilda, the next morning, gave me some money to put in my pocket. Before I left, I went out andbought three things I remember well. I bought a better-looking pair of eyeglasses than the pair theprison had issued to me; and I bought a suitcase and a wrist watch.

  I have thought, since, that without fully knowing it, I was preparing for what my life was about tobecome. Because those are three things I've used more than anything else. My eyeglasses correct theastigmatism that I got from all the reading in prison. I travel so much now that my wife keepsalternate suitcases packed so that, when necessary, I can just grab one. And you won't find anybodymore time-conscious than I am. I live by my watch, keeping appointments. Even when I'm using mycar, I drive by my watch, not my speedometer. Time is more important to me than distance.

  I caught a bus to Detroit. The furniture store that my brother Wilfred managed was right in the blackghetto of Detroit; I'd better not name the store, if I'm going to tell the way they robbed Negroes.

  Wilfred introduced me to the Jews who owned the store. And, as agreed, I was put to work, as asalesman.

   "Nothing Down" advertisements drew poor Negroes into that store like flypaper. It was a shame, theway they paid three and four times what the furniture had cost, because they could get credit fromthose Jews. It was the same kind of cheap, gaudy-looking junk that you can see in any of the blackghetto furniture stores today. Fabrics were stapled on the sofas. Imitation "leopard skin" bedspreads,"tiger skin" rugs, such stuff as that. I would see clumsy, work-hardened, calloused hands scrawlingand scratching signatures on the contract, agreeing to highway-robbery interest rates in the fine printthat never was read.

  I was seeing in real life the same point made in a joke that during the 1964 Presidential campaign _Jet_magazine reported that Senator Barry Goldwater had told somewhere. It was that a white man, aNegro, and a Jew were given one wish each. The white man asked for securities; the Negro asked for alot of money; the Jew asked for some imitation jewelry "and that colored boy's address."In all my years in the streets, I'd been looking at the exploitation that for the first time I really saw andunderstood. Now I watched brothers entwining themselves in the economic clutches of the white manwho went home every night with another bag of the money drained out of the ghetto. I saw that themoney, instead of helping the black man, was going to help enrich these white merchants, whousually lived in an "exclusive" area where a black man had better not get caught unless he workedthere for somebody white.

  Wilfred invited me to share his home, and gratefully I accepted. The warmth of a home and a familywas a healing change from the prison cage for me. It would deeply move almost any newly freedconvict, I think. But especially this Muslim home's atmosphere sent me often to my knees to praiseAllah. My family's letters while I was in prison had included a description of the Muslim homeroutine, but to truly appreciate it, one had to be a part of the routine. Each act, and the significance ofthat act, was gently, patiently explained to me by my brother Wilfred.

  There was none of the morning confusion that exists in most homes. Wilfred, the father, the familyprotector and provider, was the first to rise. "The father prepares the way for his family," he said. He,then I, performed the morning ablutions. Next came Wilfred's wife, Ruth, and then their children, sothat orderliness prevailed in the use of the bathroom.

  "In the name of Allah, I perform the ablution," the Muslim said aloud before washing first the righthand, then the left hand. The teeth were thoroughly brushed, followed by three rinsings of the mouth.

  The nostrils were also rinsed out thrice. A shower then completed the whole body's purification inreadiness for prayer.

  Each family member, even children upon meeting each other for that new day's first time, greetedsoftly and pleasantly, "As-Salaam-Alaikum" (the Arabic for "Peace be unto you"). "Wa-Alaikum-Salaam" ("and unto you be peace") was the other's reply. Over and over again, the Muslim said in hisown mind, "Allahu-Akbar, Allahu-Akbar" ("Allah is the greatest").

   The prayer rug was spread by Wilfred while the rest of the family purified themselves. It wasexplained to me that a Muslim family prayed with the sun near the horizon. If that time was missed,the prayer had to be deferred until the sun was beyond the horizon. "Muslims are not sun-worshipers.

  We pray facing the East to be in unity with the rest of our 725 million brothers and sisters in the entireMuslim world."All the family, in robes, lined up facing East. In unison, we stepped from our slippers to stand on theprayer rug.

  Today, I say with my family in the Arabic tongue the prayer which I first learned in English: "Iperform the morning prayer to Allah, the Most High, Allah is the greatest. Glory to Thee Oh Allah,Thine is the praise, Blessed is Thy Name, and Exalted is Thy Majesty. I bear witness that nothingdeserves to be served or worshiped besides Thee."No solid food, only juice and coffee, was taken for our breakfasts. Wilfred and I went off to work.

  There, at noon and again at around three in the afternoon, unnoticed by others in the furniture store,we would rinse our hands, faces and mouths, and softly meditate.

  Muslim children did likewise at school, and Muslim wives and mothers interrupted their chores tojoin the world's 725 million Muslims in communicating with God.

   Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays were the meeting days of the relatively small Detroit TempleNumber One. Near the temple, which actually was a storefront, were three hog-slaughtering pens. Thesquealing of hogs being slaughtered filtered into our Wednesday and Friday meetings. I'm describingthe condition that we Muslims were in back in the early 1950's.

  The address of Temple Number One was 1470 Frederick Street, I think. The first Temple to be formed,back in 1931, by Master W. D. Fard, was formed in Detroit, Michigan. I never had seen any Christian-believing Negroes conduct themselves like the Muslims, the individuals and the families alike. Themen were quietly, tastefully dressed. The women wore ankle-length gowns, no makeup, and scarvescovered their heads. The neat children were mannerly not only to adults but to other children as well.

  I had never dreamed of anything like that atmosphere among black people who had learned to beproud they were black, who had learned to love other black people instead of being jealous andsuspicious. I thrilled to how we Muslim men used both hands to grasp a black brother's both hands,voicing and smiling our happiness to meet him again. The Muslim sisters, both married and single,were given an honor and respect that I'd never seen black men give to their women, and it feltwonderful to me. The salutations which we all exchanged were warm, filled with mutual respect anddignity: "Brother". . . "Sister". . . "Ma'am". . . "Sir." Even children speaking to other children used theseterms. Beautiful!

   Lemuel Hassan then was the Minister at Temple Number One. "As-Salaikum," he greeted us. "Wa-Salaikum," we returned. Minister Lemuel stood before us, near a blackboard. The blackboard hadfixed upon it in permanent paint, on one side, the United States flag and under it the words "Slavery,Suffering and Death," then the word "Christianity" alongside the sign of the Cross. Beneath the Crosswas a painting of a black man hanged from a tree. On the other side was painted what we were taughtwas the Muslim flag, the crescent and star on a red background with the words "Islam: Freedom,Justice, Equality," and beneath that "Which One Will Survive the War of Armageddon?"For more than an hour, Minister Lemuel lectured about Elijah Muhammad's teachings. I sat raptlyabsorbing Minister Lemuel's every syllable and gesture. Frequently, he graphically illustrated pointsby chalking key words or phrases on the blackboard.

  I thought it was outrageous that our small temple still had some empty seats. I complained to mybrother Wilfred that there should be no empty seats, with the surrounding streets full of ourbrainwashed black brothers and sisters, drinking, cursing, fighting, dancing, carousing, and usingdope-the very things that Mr. Muhammad taught were helping the black man to stay under the heel ofthe white man here in America.

  From what I could gather, the recruitment attitude at the temple seemed to me to amount to a self-defeating waiting view . . . an assumption that Allah would bring us more Muslims. I felt that Allahwould be more inclined to help those who helped themselves. I had lived for years in ghetto streets; Iknew the Negroes in those streets. Harlem or Detroit were no different. I said I disagreed, that Ithought we should go out into the streets and get more Muslims into the fold. All of my life, as youknow, I had been an activist, I had been impatient. My brother Wilfred counseled me to keep patience.

  And for me to be patient was made easier by the fact that I could anticipate soon seeing and perhapsmeeting the man who was called "The Messenger," Elijah Muhammad himself.

  Today, I have appointments with world-famous personages, including some heads of nations. But Ilooked forward to the Sunday before Labor Day in 1952 with an eagerness never since duplicated.

  Detroit Temple Number One Muslims were going in a motor caravan-I think about ten automobiles-tovisit Chicago Temple Number Two, to hear Elijah Muhammad.

  Not since childhood had I been so excited as when we drove in Wilfred's car. At great Muslim ralliessince then I have seen, and heard, and felt ten thousand black people applauding and cheering. But onthat Sunday afternoon when our two little temples assembled, perhaps only two hundred Muslims,the Chicagoans welcoming and greeting us Detroiters, I experienced tinglings up my spine as I'venever had since.

  I was totally unprepared for the Messenger Elijah Muhammad's physical impact upon my emotions.

  From the rear of Temple Number Two, he came toward the platform. The small, sensitive, gentle,brown face that I had studied in photographs, until I had dreamed about it, was fixed straight aheadas the Messenger strode, encircled by the marching, strapping Fruit of Islam guards. The Messenger,compared to them, seemed fragile, almost tiny. He and the Fruit of Islam were dressed in dark suits, white shirts, and bow ties. The Messenger wore a gold-embroidered fez.

  I stared at the great man who had taken the time to write to me when I was a convict whom he knewnothing about. He was the man whom I had been told had spent years of his life in suffering andsacrifice to lead us, the black people, because he loved us so much. And then, hearing his voice, I satleaning forward, riveted upon his words. (I try to reconstruct what Elijah Muhammad said fromhaving since heard him speak hundreds of times.)"I have not stopped one day for the past twenty-one years. I have been standing, preaching to youthroughout those past twenty-one years, while I was free, and even while I was in bondage. I spentthree and one-half years in the federal penitentiary, and also over a year in the city jail for teachingthis truth. I was also deprived of a father's love for his family for seven long years while I was runningfrom hypocrites and other enemies of this word and revelation of God-which will give life to you, andput you on the same level with all other civilized and independent nations and peoples of this planetearth. . . ."Elijah Muhammad spoke of how in this wilderness of North America, for centuries the "blue-eyeddevil white man" had brainwashed the "so-called Negro." He told us how, as one result, the black manin America was "mentally, morally and spiritually dead." Elijah Muhammad spoke of how the blackman was Original Man, who had been kidnapped from his homeland and stripped of his language, hisculture, his family structure, his family name, until the black man in America did not even realize whohe was.

  He told us, and showed us, how his teachings of the true knowledge of ourselves would lift up theblack man from the bottom of the white man's society and place the black man where he had begun, atthe top of civilization.

  Concluding, pausing for breath, he called my name.

  It was like an electrical shock. Not looking at me directly, he asked me to stand.

  He told them that I was just out of prison. He said how "strong" I had been while in prison. "Everyday," he said, "for years, Brother Malcolm has written a letter from prison to me. And I have written tohim as often as I could."Standing there, feeling the eyes of the two hundred Muslims upon me, I heard him make a parableabout me.

  When God bragged about how faithful Job was, said Elijah Muhammad, the devil said only God'shedge around Job kept Job so faithful. "Remove that protective hedge," the devil told God, "and I willmake Job curse you to your face."The devil could claim that, hedged in prison, I had just used Islam, Mr. Muhammad said. But the devil would say that now, out of prison, I would return to my drinking, smoking, dope, and life of crime.

  "Well, now, our good brother Malcolm's hedge is removed and we will see how he does," Mr.

  Muhammad said. "I believe that he is going to remain faithful."And Allah blessed me to remain true, firm and strong in my faith in Islam, despite many severe trialsto my faith. And even when events produced a crisis between Elijah Muhammad and me, I told him atthe beginning of the crisis, with all the sincerity I had in me, that I still believed in him more stronglythan he believed in himself.

  Mr. Muhammad and I are not together today only because of envy and jealousy. I had more faith inElijah Muhammad than I could ever have in any other man upon this earth.

  You will remember my having said that, when I was in prison, Mr. Muhammad would be my brotherWilfred's house guest whenever he visited Detroit Temple Number One. Every Muslim said thatnever could you do as much for Mr. Muhammad as he would do for you in return. That Sunday, afterthe meeting, he invited our entire family group and Minister Lemuel Hassan to be his guests fordinner that evening, at his new home.

  Mr. Muhammad said that his children and his followers had insisted that he move into this larger,better eighteen-room house in Chicago at 4847 Woodlawn Avenue. They had just moved in that week,I believe. When we arrived, Mr. Muhammad showed us where he had just been painting. I had torestrain my impulse to run and bring a chair for the Messenger of Allah. Instead, as I had heard hewould do, he was worrying about my comfort.

  We had hoped to hear his wisdom during the dinner, but instead he encouraged us to talk. I satthinking of how our Detroit Temple more or less just sat and awaited Allah to bring converts-and,beyond that, of the millions of black people all over America, who never had heard of the teachingsthat could stir and wake and resurrect the black man. . . and there at Mr. Muhammad's table, I foundmy tongue. I have always been one to speak my mind.

  During a conversational lull, I asked Mr. Muhammad how many Muslims were supposed to be in ourTemple Number One in Detroit.

  He said, "There are supposed to be thousands.""Yes, sir," I said. "Sir, what is your opinion of the best way of getting thousands there?""Go after the young people," he said. "Once you get them, the older ones will follow through shame."I made up my mind that we were going to follow that advice.

  Back in Detroit, I talked with my brother Wilfred. I offered my services to our Temple's Minister, Lemuel Hassan. He shared my determination that we should apply Mr. Muhammad's formula in arecruitment drive. Beginning that day, every evening, straight from work at the furniture store, I wentdoing what we Muslims later came to call "fishing." I knew the thinking and the language of ghettostreets: "My man, let me pull your coat to something-"My application had, of course, been made and during this time I received from Chicago my "X." TheMuslim's "X" symbolized the true African family name that he never could know. For me, my "X"replaced the white slavemaster name of "Little" which some blue-eyed devil named Little hadimposed upon my paternal forebears. The receipt of my "X" meant that forever after in the nation ofIslam, I would be known as Malcolm X. Mr. Muhammad taught that we would keep this "X" until GodHimself returned and gave us a Holy Name from His own mouth.

  Recruit as I would in the Detroit ghetto bars, in the poolrooms, and on the corners, I found my poor,ignorant, brainwashed black brothers mostly too deaf, dumb, and blind, mentally, morally, andspiritually, to respond. It angered me that only now and then would one display even a little curiosityabout the teachings that would resurrect the black man.

  These few I would almost beg to visit Temple Number One at our next meeting. But then not half ofthose who agreed to come would actually show up.

  Gradually, enough were made interested, though, that each month, a few more automobileslengthened our caravans to Temple Two in Chicago. But even after seeing and hearing ElijahMuhammad in person, only a few of the interested visitors would apply by formal letter to Mr.

  Muhammad to be accepted for Nation of Islam membership.

  With a few months of plugging away, however, our storefront Temple One about tripled itsmembership. And that so deeply pleased Mr. Muhammad that he paid us the honor of a personalvisit.

  Mr. Muhammad gave me warm praise when Minister Lemuel Hassan told how hard I had labored inthe cause of Islam.

  Our caravans grew. I remember with what pride we led twenty-five automobiles to Chicago. Andeach time we went, we were honored with dinner at the home of Elijah Muhammad. He wasinterested in my potential, I could tell from things he would say.

  And I worshiped him.

  In early 1953, 1 left the furniture store. I earned a little better weekly pay check working at the GarWood factory in Detroit, where big garbage truck bodies were made. I cleaned up behind the welderseach time they finished another truck body.

  Mr. Muhammad was saying at his dining table by this time that one of his worst needs was more young men willing to work as hard as they would have to in order to bear the responsibilities of hisministers. He was saying that the teachings should be spreading further than they had, and templesneeded to be established in other cities.

  It simply had never occurred to me that / might be a minister. I had never felt remotely qualified todirectly represent Mr. Muhammad. If someone had asked me about becoming a minister, I wouldhave been astonished, and told them I was happy and willing to serve Mr. Muhammad in the lowliestcapacity.

  I don't know if Mr. Muhammad suggested it or if our Temple One Minister Lemuel Hassan on hisown decision encouraged me to address our assembled brothers and sisters. I know that I testified towhat Mr. Muhammad's teachings had done for me: "If I told you the life I have lived, you would findit hard to believe me. . . . When I say something about the white man, I am not talking about someoneI don't know. . . ."Soon after that, Minister Lemuel Hassan urged me to address the brothers and sisters with anextemporaneous lecture. I was uncertain, and hesitant-but at least I had debated in prison, and I triedmy best. (Of course, I can't remember exactly what I said, but I do know that in my beginning effortsmy favorite subject was Christianity and the horrors of slavery, where I felt well-equipped from somuch reading in prison. )"My brothers and sisters, our white slavemaster's Christian religion has taught us black people here inthe wilderness of North America that we will sprout wings when we die and fly up into the sky whereGod will have for us a special place called heaven. This is white man's Christian religion used to_brainwash_ us black people! We have _accepted_ it! We h............

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