Malcolm X was an intriguing leader of the Black Power movement in the early 1960s, in part because of two sides of his persona – charismatic and angry. The origins of those traits are part of “The Dead Are Rising,” the biography of Malcolm X compiled by journalist Les Payne and his daughter Tamara Payne.
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. His parents, active followers of the teachings of Marcus Garvey, taught their eight children to take pride in their African and Caribbean heritage. Within a few years, the family would endure the brutal bias of the Ku Klux Klan, including the loss of land ownership and, Malcolm believed, the death of his father.
As young adults, the Little siblings followed in their father’s footsteps as community organizers, albeit in a different direction. They became devout followers of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Malcolm became a national spokesperson for the organization, though he eventually questioned Muhammad’s leadership and began to study how Islam was practiced in the Middle East and in Africa. It was a transformative experience shortly before his assassination in 1965.
The identity of his killer is one of many questions explored by the Paynes in “The Dead Are Arising.” The scenes leading up to that event read like a movie script. The authors provide a detailed timeline and in-depth interviews with people witnessed Malcolm’s murder.
On Malcolm’s Commitment
“Malcolm is open. He’s committed to his discipline of curiosity, of wanting to learn more, and he doesn’t fight this person when he explains that this is not true Islam. He has it all wrong, and Malcolm says, ‘Well, let’s look. Let’s hear him out.’ And then he continues this relationship with this person to learn more. So even when he splits, and leaves the organization, he’s still in touch with this person who helps him with his travels to Mecca and on his hajj. This is important to see this part of Malcolm. Malcolm has always stayed true to himself as far as his curiosity and intelligence. He never betrays that.”
On the Black Movement in Africa and the Middle East
“He found, basically, that there are people who are not Black who identify with the Black movement. He found, for example, in North Africa that there are people who would be considered Freedom Fighters who fight for the freedom of Black people but they weren’t Black. But let’s also understand that the whole Black and White aspect of Malcolm comes from this country, (it) was something of the history of being in this country. In America. That is America. America, to this day, is about Black and White. I understand that people bring up People of Color, but the foundation is Black and White.”
On Using the Term “Black”
“Malcolm was really dealing with how Black people were viewing themselves. At that time, Black people referred to each other as Negroes, and Malcolm would say, ‘Black people,’ and Black people at that time would consider that derogatory and would be offended – my father even said, ‘I was offended’ – but what Malcolm said that was very important was, ‘What does Negro mean? It means Black in Spanish. And what you’re saying is that I can call you Black in Spanish, but not in English.’ Malcolm was really dealing with that, and providing ways for Black people to respond to this.”