Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Book Review – ‘Malcolm X, visits abroad April 1964-February 1965’

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 1, 2011

In Malcolm X, Visits Abroad Marika Sherwood uncovers the story of the iconic black leader’s visit to Manchester in December 1964, a  Manchester very different from today. Whilst black people had been living in the city since the mid-19 Century,   mass migration in years after  the Second World War  meant that black people were now working on the railways and buses and  in mills and factories. They faced a hostile city in which a colour bar was openly practised in  many lodging houses, pubs and dancehalls  as there was no legislation forbidding it.   Marika writes, ‘According to those I interviewed, the city was very segregated with the West Indians and Africans living in Moss Side and Pakistanis in another district called Chorlton-on-Medlock’.

In the early 1960s Malcolm was viewed  at home and abroad as a dangerous man. His  political journey  had started after he had become involved  with petty crime and drugs and been  jailed.  Like many political activists going to prison provided him with the time and space to educate himself. On leaving prison he left behind his family name (the name of slave owners) and took “X” to denote his rebirth and entry into the black Muslim separatist movement of the Nation of Islam.

The NOI struck a chord  with some black people in the 1950s in the USAwith its espousal of separation of the races and a fundamentalist approach to Islam and it began to attract considerable numbers of converts.  By 1957 Malcolm was the National Representative of the founder, Elijah Muhammad, and a key figure in what had become a  nationwide mass movement.    As Malcolm developed his political thinking, however,  he  began to reject that of the NOI.  Marika notes that  ‘his disappointment at his inability to persuade the NOI to engage in political action is well documented.  We also know that his discovery of Muhammed’s hidden mistresses and illegitimate children disturbed him deeply’.  Malcolm’s comment on the death of President Kennedy in 1963 that it was a “a case of chickens coming home to roost”  led to his final break with the NOI.

Malcolm was invited to speak in Manchesterby the Federation of Students’ Islamic Societies, which was made up of undergraduates  who were from Iraq, Malaya and Mauritius.  The invitation had asked  Malcolm to “explain his stand on the question of racism in the US and also to clear the misconception the media had of the man.”  His  visit to Manchester was not without problems. The President of the Students’ Union was not keen on the meeting, perhaps wary of public controversy,  and permission was only given two days before.  Publicised merely by the words “Malcolm X speaks”, so many people wanted to attend  the meeting that the door of the Union had to be closed one hour before the start  as the hall was already packed. That day the university came to a standstill.

Malcolm X was one of the most influential black leaders of his generation and this is confirmed by some of the people who attended this meeting and are quoted in the book.   ‘His talk was a historical survey of slavery and the Black situation. ..He was a most charismatic speaker, slow, clear and powerful.’   Malcolm’s analysis of the situation had led him to form the Organization of Afro-American Unity and to now believe that black people in the USA would not get civil rights and freedom from the Government. Their struggle was about achieving human rights  and must be taken to the United Nations.

Incredibly  no one filmed or even recorded the meeting so Marika has painstakingly  used interviews, newspaper and individuals’ memories to recreate the event.  She has produced in this book an important chapter in the life of one of the most influential  Black leaders of modern times. Malcolm’s travels and his political development continued until 21 February 1965when he was assassinated at a public meeting  in circumstances which are still deeply controversial.  But, as Marika points out in the book, many of the issues he grappled with including the effects of globalisation and his growing interest in socialism to counter racialism and inequality are as pertinent today as they were in the 1960s.

 Malcolm X,  Visits Abroad April 1964-February 1965 byMarika Sherwood (SavannahPress). ISBN 978-09519720-0-7. Available price £5.00 incl p&p from marika@marikasherwoodl@org.uk

By Bernadette Hyland

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