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George Breitman

Introduction to
Afro-American History
by Malcolm X

(March 1967)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.28 No.2, March-April 1967, pp.1-2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Malcolm X believed that the education, or re-education, of the black people of this country was necessary for the building of a new mass movement capable of fighting effectively for human rights. He therefore took every opportunity he could get – on television and radio, at press conferences, interviews and public meetings, large or small – to teach, to explain, to show the connections between various aspects of the freedom struggle, to induce people to think for themselves. He always adapted his speaking style to the particular audience he faced, using the vocabulary and the rhythm best suited for communication. The speech that follows, which has been transcribed from the tape of a public meeting on January 24, 1965, is typical of those he made in the last months of his life to the people of Harlem.

Malcolm left the Nation of Islam (“Black Muslims”) in March 1964 for reasons partly explained in this speech. That month he organized the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and in June, 1964, he founded the non-religious Organization of Afro-American Unity. He was abroad – in Africa, the Middle East and Europe – during half of this independent phase of his life, which ended after a short fifty weeks with his assassination in New York on February 21, 1965. Yet he managed, during the 25 weeks he spent at home, to hold 17 or 18 public rallies in Harlem, most of them at the Audubon Ballroom. It was in that hall, as he started to speak at one of those rallies, that he was killed.

Sometimes there were invited guest speakers at these public meetings – African students, Dick Gregory, Muhammad Babu of the Tanzanian cabinet, Fannie Lou Hamer; Che Guevara was invited once, but couldn’t make it, and sent a message of solidarity. Sometimes films were shown. But the main speaker was usually Malcolm himself. He was often over-worked and exhausted, but he was never too tired to present, patiently and calmly, facts and ideas and arguments that he believed his brothers and sisters needed to arm themselves for the freedom fight.

The January 24, 1965, speech was typical of his final period, but it also had special features. At that time the leaders of the Organization of Afro-American Unity had decided that their organization needed a new program. To arouse interest in it, they arranged a series of three public meetings at the Audubon. At the first of these (January 24), Malcolm was to speak on Afro-American history, from the ancient black civilizations through slavery to the present day. At the second (January 31), he was to discuss current conditions and the methods used to keep black people oppressed. At the third (which would have been February 7, although Malcolm twice made a mistake about that date in his January 24 talk), he was to speak about the future of the Afro-American struggle and the new OAAU program was to be presented.

This schedule was never completed. Malcolm did speak about the past on January 24, and he did speak about the present on January 31, but the third meeting was not held on February 7, because Malcolm had some important speaking engagements in England and France that week.

The third meeting in the Audubon series therefore was postponed to Monday, February 15; the regular Sunday time was not possible because Malcolm was scheduled to speak in Detroit on February 14. But a few hours after Malcolm’s return from England, his home was fire-bombed, early in the morning of February 14, while he, his wife and four children were asleep. As a result, the February 15 meeting was devoted to a discussion of the bombing, and the presentation of the new OAAU program was postponed. At the next meeting, February 21, Malcolm was shot down as he started to speak at the Audubon.

Two other Audubon speeches (December 13 and December 20, 1964) will be found in the collection, Malcolm X Speaks (Merit Publishers, 1965, and Grove Press, 1966). The text of the OAAU program, which Malcolm approved although he did not write it, is printed as an appendix in my book, The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary (Merit Publishers, 1967).


George Breitman

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