Malcolm X recalls his conversion to Islam while he was in prison and discusses his views regarding the value of Islam. He provides his opinions on the civil rights movement and the oppression and racism imposed on blacks by the white race. He explains why nonviolence is not the correct tactic against segregation and racism--he feels that nonviolence makes men defenseless. He goes on to say that the entire U.S. economic and political system is inadequate and incapable of producing justice and equality. He provides his opinions of prominent black politicians including Adam Clayton Powell and Congressman William Dawson, but says he feels that the approach of passing laws to end segregation is not working. In his opinion, it would take a police state to enforce the civil rights legislation. Malcolm X explains the change in his views after his visit to Mecca and provides his opinions on American leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy; he feels that both of these men were deceitful. He also believes that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt could have done more for American blacks while they were in power. He mentions Rev. Milton Galamison, who he feels is fighting a difficult battle against oppression in the New York City public schools.
Malcolm X (1925-1965), formerly Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, converted to the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) while he was in prison. After his release in 1952 he became a minister and spokesman of the Nation of Islam, second in prominence only to Elijah Muhammad. As a Black Muslim, he preached the racial superiority of blacks and black nationalism. Malcolm X was a critic of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s strategy of nonviolence. He is considered a forefather of the Black Power movement. Tensions within the Nation of Islam led to his departure in 1964. He converted to mainstream Islam and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. His experience there with Muslims of all colors convinced him that different races could coexist. He founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. On February 21, 1965, at the Organization of Afro-American Unity meeting in Manhattan, three men who were members of the Nation of Islam assassinated him.
Image: Original caption: Malcolm X addresses a crowd at street rally on a rainy day in central Harlem. June 29, 1963. Copyright: Bob Adelman/Corbis.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN MALCOLM X JUNE 2 TAPE #1
RPW:This is the first tape of a conversation with Mr. Malcolm X June 2nd. From what I have read, which includes books I could find and a good many articles of the Black Muslim position and on yourself, it seems that the identity of the Negro is a key fact that you deal with. Is that true – that impression?
MX: Yes. Not so much in a sense of Black Muslim religion. Both of them have to be separated. The black people in this country are taught that their religion and the best religion is the religion of Islam, and when one accepts the religion of Islam he’s known as a Muslim – he becomes a Muslim. That means he believes there’s no God but Allah and that Mohammed is the apostle of Allah. Now, besides teaching him that Islam is the best religion, since the main problem that American Afro-Americans have is a lack of cultural identity, it is necessary to teach him that he had some type of identity, culture, civilization before he was brought here. But now, teaching him about his historic or cultural past is not his religion. This is not – it’s not religious. The two have to be separated.
RPW:Yes. What about the matter of personal identity as related to cultural and blood identity?
MX: I don’t quite understand.
RPW:I mean, I’m trying to get it clear. That is, a man may know that he belongs to, say, a group – this group or that group – but he feels himself lost within that group – trapped within his own deficiencies and without personal purpose. That would be personal identity, you see.
MX: Yes, well, the religion of Islam actually restores one’s human feelings – human rights, human incentives, human – his talent. The religion of Islam brings out of the individual all of his dormant potential. It gives him the incentive to develop his dormant potential so that when he becomes a part of the brotherhood of Islam and is identified collectively in the brotherhood of Islam with the brothers in Islam, at the same time this also gives him the – it has the psychological effect of giving him the incentive as an individual to develop all of his dormant potential to its fullest extent.
RPW:It’s personal regeneration, then, as associated essentially with this.
RPW:Sometimes in talking with Negroes in other organizations, other persuasions, I have found that there’s a deep suspicion of any approach which involves the old phrase “self-improvement”, you see and to state the matter an objective, impersonal matters such as civil rights, integration, job programs, and not on the question of self improvement or, you might say, the individual’s responsibility. You do take a different line.
MX: Definitely. Most of the – or I should say, many of the Negro leaders actually suffer themselves from an inferiority complex, even though they say they don’t, and because of this they have subconscious defensive mechanisms which they have erected without even realizing it, so that when you mention something about self improvement, the implication is that the Negro is something distinct or different and therefore needs to learn how to improve himself. Negro leaders resent this being said, not because they don’t know that it’s true but they’re thinking – they’re looking at it personally, they think that the implication is directed even at them and they duck this responsibility, whereas the only real solution to the race problem in this country is a solution that involves individual self improvement and collective self improvement wherein our own people are concerned.
RPW:Would you tell me or would you be willing to, or do you think it’s relevant, some detail of your own conversion to Islam?
MX: Well, that was in prison.
RPW:I know that fact, yes. I understand this was in the interior feeling of the other process.
MX: Yes, well, I was in prison and I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in anything, and I had begun to read books and things. In fact, one of the persons who started me to thinking seriously was an atheist – another Negro inmate whom I heard in a discussion with white inmates and who was able to hold his own at all levels, and he impressed me with his knowledge and I began to listen very carefully to some of the things he said, and it was he who switched my reading habits in the direction away from fiction to nonfiction, so that by the time one of my brothers told me about Islam, although I was an atheist, I was open minded and I began to read in that direction, in the direction of Islam, and everything that I read about it appealed to me. And one of the main things that I read about it that appealed to me was in Islam a man is honored as a human being and not measured by the color of his skin. At this point I hadn’t yet gotten deep into the historic condition that Negroes in this country are confronted with, but at that point in my prison studies I read – I studied Islam as a religion. Also then as I later came to know it, in its connection with the plight or problem of the Negro in this country.
RPW:This is getting ahead a little bit but it seems to apply here. If Islam teaches the human worth of all men without reference to color, how does that fact relate to the message of black superiority and the doom of the white race?
MX: Well, the white race is doomed not because it’s white but because of its misdeeds, and the people listen very closely to what the Muslims have always declared, they will find that in every declaration there is the fact that, even as Moses told Pharaoh, you are doomed if you don’t do so-and-so, or as Daniel told I think it was Belshazar, or Nebuchadnezzar, you are doomed if you don’t do so-and-so. Now, always that “if” was there, which meant that the one who was doomed could avoid the doom if he would change his way of behaving. Well, it’s the same way here in America. When the Muslims deliver the indictment of the American system, it is not the white man per se that is being doomed.
RPW:It’s not blood itself, it’s the – there’s no blood damnation, then.
MX: No, but see, it’s almost impossible to separate the actions – it’s almost impossible to separate the oppression and exploitation – criminal oppression and criminal exploitation of the American Negro from the color of the skin of the person who is the oppressor or the exploiter. So he thinks he’s being condemned because of his color but actually he’s being condemned because of his deeds, his conscious behavior.
RPW:Let’s take a question like this. Can a person, an American of white blood, be guiltless?
MX: Well, you can only answer it this way, by turning it around. Can the Negro who is the victim of the system escape the collective stigma that is placed up on all Negroes in this country? And the answer is “no”. Because Ralph Bunch is an internationally recognized and respected diplomat can’t stay in a hotel in Georgia, which means that no matter what the accomplishment, the intellectual, the academic or professional level of the Negro is, collectively he stands condemned. Well, the white race in America is the same way. As individuals it is impossible for them to escape the collective crime committed against the Negroes in this country collectively.
RPW:Let’s take an extreme case like this, just the most extreme example I can think of. Let us say a while child of three or four, something like that, who is outside of conscious decisions or valuations, is facing accidental death, you see. Is the reaction to that child the same as a Negro child facing the same situation?
MX: Well, just take the Negro child – the white child. The white child, although he has not committed any of – as a person has not committed any of the deeds that have produced the plight that the Negro finds himself in, is he guiltless? The only way you can determine that is to take the Negro child who is only four years old – can he escape, though he’s only four years old, can he escape the stigma of discrimination and segregation? He’s only four years old.
RPW:Let’s put him in front of an oncoming truck, and put a white man on the pavement who must risk his life to leap for the child. Let’s reverse it.
MX: I don’t see where that –
RPW:Some white men would leap and some wouldn’t.
MX: It would not – it still wouldn’t alter the fact that after that white man saved that little black child he couldn’t take that little black child in many restaurants, hotels and places right along with him. Even after the child – the life of the black child was saved, that same white man would have to toss him right back into the discrimination – into discrimination, segregation and these other things.
RPW:Well, supposed that t – let’s take a case – supposed that white man is prepared to go to jail to break segregation.
MX: His going to jail to break segregation still has – if he broke segregation.
RPW:Let’s keep it on the individual. This one white man –
MX: You can’t solve it individually.
RPW:But what you added toward the one white man who goes to jail – not once, but over and over again, see –
MX: This has been going on for the past ten years. White individuals have been going to jail, segregation still exists, discrimination still exists.
RPW:Yes, that’s true. But what is the attitude toward the white man who does this, who goes to jail?
MX: My personal attitude is that he has done nothing to solve the problem.
RPW:What is your attitude toward his moral nature?
MX: I’m not even interested in his moral nature. Until the problem is solved we don’t – we’re not interested in anybody’s moral nature. What I’m boiling down to say is, that a few isolated white people whose individual acts are designed to eliminate this, that or the next thing, but yet it is never eliminated, is in no way impressive to me.
RPW:That is, you couldn’t call that man a friend?
MX: If his own race were being trampled upon as the race of Negroes are being trampled upon, he would use a different course of action to protect his rights.
RPW:What course of action?
MX: I have never seen white people who would sit – would approach a solution to their own problems nonviolently or passively. It’s only when they are so-called fighting for the rights of Negroes that they nonviolently, passively and lovingly, you know, approach the situation. But when the whites themselves are attacked, they believe in defending themselves and things of that sort. But those type of whites who are always going to jail with Negroes are the ones who tell Negroes to be loving and be kind and be patient and be nonviolent and turn the other cheek. So if I did see a white man who was willing to go to jail or throw himself in front of a car in behalf of the so-called Negro cause, the test that I put to him, I’d ask him, do you think Negroes – when Negroes are being attacked they should defend themselves even at the risk of having to kill the one who’s attacking them? If that white man told me, yes, I’d shake his hand – I’d trust in him. But I don’t trust any white man who teaches Negroes to turn the other cheek or to be nonviolent, which means to be defenseless in the face of a very brutal criminal enemy. No. That’s my yardstick for measuring whites.
RPW:Now, the question – what is defenseless at this point?
MX: Any time you tell a man to turn the other cheek or to be nonviolent in the face of a violent enemy, you’re making that man defenseless. You’re robbing him of his God-given right to defend himself.
RPW:Let’s take a concrete case again on the question of defenseless, just to be sure I understand you, if, say, in the case of Dr. Aram (Aaron) Henry in Mississippi, Biloxi, Mississippi, his house has been bombed and shot through and that sort of thing. Well, he is armed. I’ve been in his house. I know he’s armed. His guards are sitting there with arms in their hands at night, and everybody knows this. Now, I can’t see how anyone would ask him not to defend himself, see. If defense is literally defense, as it’s taken in ordinary legal terms, or a mounted aggression for purposes of defense in another thing in a society – do you see what I’m getting at? A man sitting in his own house – (talking together) is one thing. A man who goes out and performs an act of violence as – it’s some sort of idea of long range defense.
MX: I think that a Negro should reserve the right to execute any measure necessary to defend himself – any way, any form – necessary to defend himself, he should reserve the right to do that just the same as others have the right do to it.
RPW:Or political assassination, for instance?
MX: I don’t know anything about that. I wouldn’t even answer a question like that. But I say that the Negro, when they cease to look at him as a Negro and realize that he is a human being, then they will realize that he is just as capable, has the right to do anything that any other human being on this earth has the right to do to defend himself.
RPW:But there are millions of white people who would say right away that the Negro should have – any Negro should have the same legal rights and defense that a white man has.
MX: And I think you’ll find also that if the Negro ever realizes that he should begin to fight for real for his freedom, there are many whites who will fight on his side with him. It’s not a case of where people think he’ll be the underdog or be outnumbered, but there are many white people in this country who realize that the system itself as it is constructed is not so constructed that it can produce freedom and equality for the Negro, and the system has to be changed. It is the system itself that is incapable of producing freedom for the twenty-two million Afro-Americans. It’s like a chicken can’t lay a duck egg – a chicken can’t lay a duck egg because the system of the chicken isn’t constructed in a way to produce a duck egg, and just as that chicken system can’t produce – is not capable of producing a duck egg, the political and economic system of this country is absolutely incapable of producing freedom and justice and equality and human dignity for the twenty-two million Afro-Americans.
RPW:You don’t see in the American system the possibility of self regeneration then?
MX: No. There’s nothing –
MX: No. The American system itself is incapable – is as incapable of producing freedom for the Afro-Americans as the system of a chicken is of producing a duck egg.
RPW:You don’t see any possibility of gains or better solutions through political – Negro political action or economic action?
MX: No. Any time that the Negro becomes involved in mature political action, then the resistance of the politicians who benefit from the exploited political system as it now stands will be forced to put – exercise more violent action to deprive the Negro of his mature political action.
RPW:Do you think that Adam Clayton Powell’s political career has been one of mature political action? He thinks highly of you – speaks to me highly of you.
MX: Adam Clayton Powell’s entire political career has to be looked at in the entire context of the American history and the history and the position of the Afro-American or Negro in American history, and then when – when you take all of these factors combined you can see where Adam Clayton Powell is a remarkable man and has done a remarkable job, in fighting for the rights of black people in this country. On the other hand, he probably hasn’t done as much as he could or as much as he should because he is the most independent Negro politician in this country. There’s no politician in this county of national stature who is more independent of the political machine as Adam Clayton Powell is.
RPW:Dawson is a pure victim of it, of course – in Chicago – Congressman Dawson.
MX: Yes. I don’t know too much about Dawson, but from what I’ve heard he’s more – he has no independence of action when it comes to the political machinery – in Chicago.
RPW:But is that line – is his – Adam Clayton Powell’s line a line of what you’d call mature political action? Or has that been frustrated?
MX: In my opinion, mature political action is the type of action that enables the – that involves a program of re-education and information that will enable the black people in the black community to see the fruits that they should be receiving from the politicians who are over them, and thereby they are then able to determine whether or not the politician is really fulfilling his function, and if he is not fulfilling his function they then can set up the machinery to remove him from that position by whatever means necessary. To me political action involves making the politician who represents us know that he either produces or he is out, and he’s out one way or another.
RPW: There’s only one way to put a politician out ordinarily – to vote him out.
MX: Well, I think that the black people in this country have reached the point where they should reserve the right to do whatever is necessary to see that they exercise complete control over the politicians in the politics of their own community by whatever means necessary.
RPW:Just to go back to the matter of your conversion – some details of that – was it fast or slow – as simple a matter as that – a flash of intuition.
MX: It was fast. I – strange as it may seem, I turned – I took an about-turn over night.
RPW:Really over night – just like that?
MX: Yes. And while I was in prison, it wasn’t the most – I was indulging in all types of vice right within the prison, and I never was ostracized as much by the penal authorities while I was participating in all of the evils of the prison as they tried to ostracize me after I became a Muslim.
RPW:Why was that?
MX: Well, the prison systems in this country actually are exploited and they are not in any way rehabilitated. They are not designed to rehabilitate the inmates, though the public propaganda is that their function. But most people who work in prisons earn money through contraband – they earn extra money by selling contraband, dope, things of that sort, to the inmates, and – so that really it’s an exploited –
RPW:This was a matter of defending their commercial interests or economic interests and not a matter of fear of the Muslim movement, is that it? Or both?
MX: It’s both. They have a fear of the Muslim movement and the Muslim religion because it has a tendency to make the people who accept it stick together. And I had one warden tell me since I’ve been out – and this is an inmate in prison – prison in New York – Warden Fay ________ up at Green Haven – Fay –
MX: Fay – F-A-Y – in 1959 or 8, along in there, I visited an inmate in prison and he told me that he didn’t want anybody in there trying to spread this religion. I asked him at that time if it didn’t make a better inmate out of the Negroes who accepted it, and he said yes. So I asked him then what was it about it that he considered to be so dangerous, and he pointed out that it was the cohesiveness that it produced among the inmates. They stuck together. What you did to one you did to all. So they couldn’t have that type of religion being taught in the prison.
RPW:Just a matter of maintaining their own control then?
RPW:Has there been any change in your religious beliefs since your break last fall?
MX: Well, I have gone through the process of re-evaluating, giving a personal re-evaluation to everything that I ever believed – that I did believe while I was a member and a minister in the Black – in what we call the Black Muslim movement.
RPW:May I ask how you’ve come out of that evaluation?
MX: Well, first I might say that when a person – a man separates from his wife, at the out start is the physical separation but it’s not a psychological separation. He still thinks of her and – in probably warm terms, and – but after the physical separation has existed for a period of time it becomes a psychological separation as well as physical, and he can then look at her more objectively. My split or separation from the Black Muslim movement at first was only a visible separation. In my heart it was still there and it was impossible for me to look at it objectively. After I made my tour into the Middle East and Africa and visited Mecca and other places, I think that the separation became psychological as well as physical, so that I could look at it more objectively and separate that which was good from that which was bad.
RPW:Well, what did you find, if I may ask, good and what bad in this re-evaluating?
MX: Well, I think now I – it’s possible for me to approach the whole problem with a broader scope – much broader scope. When you look at something through an organizational eye, whether it’s a religious organization, political organization or civic organization, if you look at it only through the eye of that organization you see what the organization wants you to see, but you lose your ability to be objective. But when you aren’t affiliated with anything and then you look at something, you look at it with your eye to the best of your ability and see it as it is.
RPW:For an example, what specific thing do you now see as it is and not through organizational eyes?
MX: Well, I think I look at the problem of the twenty-two million Afro-Americans as being a problem that’s so broad in scope that it’s almost impossible for any organization to see it in its entirety, and because the average Negro organization especially can’t see the problem in it’s entirety they can’t even see that the problem is so big that their own organization as such by itself can never come up with a solution. The problem is so broad that it’s going to take the inner working of all organizations – going to take a united front of all organizations, looking at it with more objectivity, to come up with a solution that will stand.
RPW:Would you work then with SCLC – Dr. King’s organization?
MX: Well, even as a Muslim – a minister in the Muslim movement I always that I would work with any organization, but I can say it even with more honesty now. Then when I said it I was – made the reservation that I would work with any organization as long as it didn’t make us compromise our religious principles. Now, I think the that the problem of the American Negro goes beyond the principles of any organization, whether it’s religious, political or otherwise. The problem of the Negro is so criminal that many individuals and organizations are going to have to sacrifice what they call their organizational principles if someone comes up with a solution that will really solve the problem, because a solution they want – they should accept the solution but if it’s a solution they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with their organization, then it means they’re more concerned with their organization than they are with getting a solution to the problem.
RPW:I’m trying to see how it would be possible to work with Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence, you see.
MX: Well, see now, violence with Dr. King is only a method – that’s not his objective.
RPW:So it’s not his objective?
MX: Well, his objective I think is to gain respect for Negroes as human beings, and nonviolence is his method. Well, my objective is the same as King’s. We may disagree on methods, but we don’t have to argue all day on that. Let’s forget the methods or the differences in method. As long as we agree that the thing that the Afro-American wants and needs is recognition and respect as a human being.
RPW:This is the end of tape #1 of a conversation with Mr. Malcolm X – proceed.
(end of tape)Collapse
TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN MALCOLM X TAPE #2
RPW:This is Tape #2 of a conversation with Mr. Malcolm X – proceed. Would your change in evaluation of Black Muslim movement in America – have you changed your view about separatism – political separatism to actual formation of an independent state of some kind?
MX: Well, I might say this, that the problem –the solution for the Afro-American is two-fold, long-range and short-range. I believe that a psychological, cultural and philosophical migration back to Africa will solve our problems. Not a physical migration, but a cultural, psychological, philosophical migration back to Africa, which means restoring our common bond, will give us the spiritual strength and the incentive to strengthen our political and social and economic position right here in America, and to fight for the things that are ours by right here on this continent, and at the same time this will also tend to give incentive to many of our people then to want to also visit and even migrate physically back to Africa, and those who stay here can help those who go back, and those who go back can help those who stay here in the same way that Jews who go to Israel, the Jews in America help those in Israel, and the Jews in Israel help those in America.
RPW:That’s the long range – the second thing was your long range solution, is that it?
RPW:The second thing is the long range solution. There are two aspects of the solution, one is the short range –
MX: Yes. The short range involves the long range. Immediate steps have to be taken to re-educate our people into the – a more real view of political, economic and social conditions in this country and our ability in a self improvement program to gain control politically over every community in which we predominate, and also over the economy of that same community as here in Harlem instead of all the stores in Harlem being owned by white people they should be owned and operated by black people, the same as in a German neighborhood the stores are run by Germans, and in a Chinese neighborhood they’re run by Chinese. In the Negro neighborhood the businesses should be owned and operated by Negroes and thereby they would be creating employment for Negroes.
RPW:That is, you are thinking then, of these, you might say, localities as being then operated by Negroes, not in terms of a political state, a separate nation?
MX: No. The separating a section of America for Afro-Americas is similar to expecting a heaven in the sky somewhere after you die.
RPW:It’s not practical then?
MX: To say it is not practical one has to also admit that integration is not practical.
RPW:I don’t quite follow that.
MX: In stating that the idea of a separate state is not practical, I am also stating that the idea of integration – forced integration as they have been making an effort to do in this country for the past ten years, is also just as impractical.
RPW:Both these poles – these two opposite (talking together)
MX: Yes. Both of them are impractical.
RPW:Do you then envisage a Negro section, the Negro communities which are self determining a better solution?
MX: Yes, I do. A re-education program is devised to bring out people to the intellectual, economic, political and social level wherein we can control, own, operate our own communities economically, politically, socially and otherwise – what any solution doesn’t involve, that is, not even a solution. If I can’t run my neighborhood you won’t want me in your neighborhood.
RPW:You are saying in other words you see neighborhoods and communities that are all Afro-American and self determining, but these are parts of a larger political unity in the United States?
MX: Yes, because once the black man becomes the political master of his own community, it means that the politicians of that community will also be black, which also means that he then will be sending black representation or representatives, not only to represent him at the local level and at the state level but even at the federal level. All throughout the South, in areas where the black man predominates, he would have black representatives in Washington, D.C. Well, my contention is that the political system of this country is so designed criminally to prevent this, that if the black man even started in that direction, which is a mature step and it’s the only way to really resolve this problem is to prove that he’s the intellectual equal of others, why, the racist and the segregationist would fight that hard, and then they’re fighting the present efforts to integrate.
RPW:They’ll fight it – yes. Let me ask you two questions around this. One, there are Negroes now holding prominent place at the federal level – (talking together)
MX: I don’t mean those kind of Negroes, who are placed in big jobs as window dressing. I refer to a Negro politician as a Negro who is selected by Negroes, who is backed by Negroes. Most of those Negroes have been given those jobs by the white political machine, and they serve no other function other than to – as window dressing.
RPW:Ralph Bunch too.
MX: Any Negro who occupies a position that was given to him by the white man – if you analyze his function, his function never enables him to really take a firm, uncompromising, militant stand on problem that confront our people. He opens up his mouth only to the degree that the political atmosphere at the time will allow him to do so without rocking the boat too much.
RPW:Is your organization supporting the voter registration drive in Mississippi this summer?
MX: Yes, we’re going to –
MX: Yes. We’re going to give active support to voter registration drives, not only in Mississippi but in New York City. I just can’t see where Mississippi is that much different from New York City. Maybe in method –
RPW:I don’t either.
MX: No, I don’t see – I never will – let anyone make a – maneuver me into making a distinction between the Mississippi form of discrimination and the New York City form of discrimination. It’s both discrimination. It’s all discrimination.
RPW:Are you actually putting workers in Mississippi this summer?
MX: We will. They won’t be nonviolent workers.
RPW:Nonviolent in which sense – upon attack or –
MX: We will never send a Negro anywhere and tell him to be non-violent.
RPW:If he’s shot at, shoot back?
MX: If he’s shot at, shoot back.
RPW:What about the matter of nonselective reprisals. Say, if a Negro is shot in Mississippi, and – like Medgar Evers, for instance – then shooting a white man or trying to shoot a responsible white man?
MX: Well, I’ll tell you, if I go home and someone in my – my child has blood running down her leg and someone tells me that a snake bit her, I’m going out and kill the snake, and when I find the snake I’m not going to look and see if he has blood on his jaws.
RPW:You mean you’d kill any snake you find?
MX: I grew up in the country on a farm.
RPW:So did I.
MX: And it was – whenever someone said even that a snake was eating the chickens or bothering the chickens, we’d kill snakes. We never knew whether that was the snake that did it.
RPW:To read your parallel, then, you would advocate non-elective reprisal – kill any white person around?
MX: I’m not saying that. I’m just telling you about snakes.
RPW:All right, we’ll settle for that.
MX: Well, I mean what I say.
RPW:I know what you say. I know how the parables worked. Let us suppose that we had had – just suppose –
MX: Then perhaps you know the other one – when the snakes out in that field begin to realize that if one of their members get out of line, it’s going to be detrimental to all of them, they’ll keep that – perhaps they’ll then take the necessary steps to keep their fellow snakes away from my chickens or away from my children. If the responsibility is placed upon them.
RPW:Suppose we had – maybe this is a big supposition, but suppose we had an adequate civil rights legislation, and fair employment (talking together)
MX: … answer that, if I may. I believe when a Negro church is bound that a white church should be bound. (talking together) And I can give you the best example. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States struck back. She didn’t go and – she bombed any part of Japan. She dropped a bomb on Hiroshima. Those people in Hiroshima probably hadn’t even – some of them – most of them hadn’t even killed anybody. But still she dropped that bomb. I think it killed eighty-some thousand people. Well, this is internationally recognized as justifiable during war. Any time a Negro community lives under fear that his churches are going to be bombed, then they have to realize they’re living in a war zone, and once they recognize it as such, they can adopt the same measures against the community that harbors the criminals who are responsible for this activity.
RPW:Now we have it. It’s a question of a Negro, say in Birmingham, being outside of the community – being no part of the community so he takes the same kind of reprisal he would take in wartime.
MX: He should realize that he is living in a war zone, and he is at war with an enemy that is suspicious and criminal and inhuman as any war-making country has ever been. And once he realizes that, then he can defend himself.
RPW:By the way, tell me, if you will, what was the exact content of the (interruption) – getting back to what I was about to say a moment ago, suppose we had an adequate civil rights legislation in force – suppose. Suppose you had fair employment practice code in force. Suppose you had a thing that by and large civil rights organizations looked to as their – suppose we had had the objectives demanded by most civil rights organizations now, actually in existence – then what?
RPW:Just suppose – just suppose.
MX: You’d have civil war. You’d have a race war in this county. In order to enforce – you see, you can’t force people to set right toward each other. You can’t force – you can’t legislate heart and conditions and attitudes. And when you have to pass a law to make a man let me have a house or you have to pass a law to make a man let me go to school or you have to pass a law to make a man let me walk down the street, you have to enforce that law, and you’d be living actually in a police state. It would take a police state in this country. I mean a real police state, right now, just to get a token recognition of a law. It took I think fifteen thousand troops and six million dollars to put one Negro in the University of Mississippi – that’s police action – a police state. So actually all of the civil rights problems during the past ten years have created a situation where America right now is moving toward the police state. You can’t have anything otherwise. So that’s your supposition.
RPW:All right. Then you see no possibility of self regeneration for our society then?
MX: When I was in Mecca I noticed that they had no color problem, that they had people there whose eyes were blue and people there whose eyes were black, people whose skin was white, people whose skin was black, people whose hair was blonde and people whose hair was black, from the whitest white person to the blackest black person.
RPW:I read your letter.
MX: There was no racism, there was no problem, but the religious philosophy that they had adopted in my opinion was the only thing and it is the only thing that can remove the white from the mind of the white man and the Negro from the mind of the Negro. Now, I have seen what Islam has done with our people – our people who had this feeling of Negro and the kind of psychological effect of putting them in a mental prison. When they accepted Islam it removed that. For white people whom I have met who had accepted Islam don’t regard themselves as white, but as human beings, and by looking upon themselves as human beings their whiteness to them isn’t the yardstick of perfection or honor or anything else, and therefore this creates within them an attitude that is different from the attitude of the whites that you meet here in America. It was in Mecca that I realized that white is actually an attitude, more so than is ________ and I can prove it because among Negroes we have Negroes who are as white as some white people. Still there’s a difference.
RPW:I was about to ask you about what is a Negro.
MX: Yes, it’s an attitude. I’m telling you what it is. And white is an attitude, and it is the attitude of the American white man that is making him stand condemned today before the eyes of the entire dark world and even before the eyes of the Europeans. It is his attitude, his haughty, holier-than-thou attitude. He has the audacity to call himself even the leader of the free world, but he has a country who can’t even give the basic human rights to over twenty-two million of its citizens. This takes audacity; this takes nerve. So it is this attitude today that is causing the Americans to be condemned.
RPW:What do you think of the western European white as opposed to the American white?
MX: Well, there’s a great deal or difference in them – a great deal of difference in the – when you say western European – even there’s a difference between the western European and the east European.
RPW:That’s what I’m talking about.
MX: Oh, yes. But there’s a great deal of difference – there’s a difference in them. Many of them who belong to these countries that were former colonial powers have racist attitudes, but their racist attitude is never displayed to the degree that the America’s attitude of racism is displayed – never.
RPW:Do you know the book by Essiem Hudam on – called Black Nationalism? I know you must.
MX: I was with Essiem in Nigeria last month.
RPW:I wish you’d tell me about him – who is he?
MX: He’s a Nigerian. At present he is a professor at ________ University.
RPW:I didn’t know where he was now. I knew he was a scholar. Do you agree with his analysis that the Black Muslim religion – Islam – in American has served as a concealed device to gratify the American Negro’s aspirations for white middle class values?
MX: No, I don’t think –
RPW:He takes that view, you know.
MX: Yes, but I don’t think that the objective of the American Negro is white middle class values, because what are white middle class values? And what makes the whites who have the middle class values have those values? Where did they get them? They didn’t have these same values, you know, four hundred years or five hundred years ago. Where did they get their values systems that they now have attained to? And my contention is that if you tract it back to it was the people of the East who brought them out of the Dark Ages, who brought them out of the period that ushered in or initiated the atmosphere that brought into the Europe the period known as the Renaissance or the re-awakening of Europe. And this re-awakening actually involved an era during which the people of Europe who were coming out of the Dark Ages were then adopting the value system of the people in the East, of the Oriental society, many of which they were exposed to for the first time during the Crusades. Well, these were African – these were African-Arab-Asian values. The only section of Europe that had a high value system during the Dark Ages was – were those on the Iberian Peninsula and the Spanish Portuguese area – southern France, and that high state of culture existed there because Africans known as Moors had come there and brought it there. So that value system has been handed right down in European society, and today when you find Negroes that they even look like they’re adopting these so-called middle class values – standards – it’s not that they are taking something from the white man, but they are probably identifying again with a level or standard that these same whites have gotten from them back during that period.
RPW:That is, you would approach Essiem Hudam’s theory on that ground – undercutting it?
MX: Undercutting it – definitely. I think that if he had something he didn’t take it back far enough in history to get it – a proper understanding of it.
RPW:Do you know there’ s a theory – this is sometimes enunciated by people like Reverend ________ Walker, for one, or Whitney Young – that the Black Muslim is primarily treated by the white press – it exists but its importance was created by the white press.
MX: Wyatt doesn’t say that as much as Whitney Young does.
RPW:Both of them say it. Both of them said it to me, anyway. ________ is what Wyatt Walker calls it.
MX: Yes, well, I can answer that like this. Wyatt Walker can walk through Harlem – no one would know it. Whitney Young could walk through Harlem – no one would know him. Any of the Black Muslims can walk through Harlem – and the people know them. I don’t think that anyone has been really created more by the white press than the civil rights leaders. The white press itself created them, and they themselves in their pronouncements will tell you they need white allies, they need white help, they need white this.
RPW:Yes, they do.
MX: They are more a creation of the white press and the white community and are more dependent on the white community than any other group in the community.
RPW:Almost word for word what you have said I could turn around to what Wyatt Walker said to me about – not you personally but about the whole Black Muslim movement. If you go outside of New York City Dr. King is known to ninety percent of the Negroes of the united States, and is respected and is identified more or less with him as a hero of one kind or another. That the Black Muslim outside one or two communities like New York, are unknown.
MX: Well, that’s their opinion – that’s their opinion. I myself have never been concerned with whether we are considered known or unknown. There is no problem of ours. I will say this, that any time there’s a fire in a Negro community, and it’s burning out of control, you send any one of them – send Whitney Young in to put it out –
RPW:What do you think of Abram Lincoln?
MX: I think that he probably did more to trick Negroes than any other man in history. Because if he – well, there’s his own – where he always – I have read where he said he wasn’t interested in freeing the slaves.
RPW:He said that, yes.
MX: He was interested in saving the Union. Well, more Negroes have been tricked into thinking that Lincoln was a Negro lover whose primary aim was to free them and he died because he freed them. I think Lincoln did more to deceive Negroes and to make the race problem in this country worse than any man in history.
RPW:How does Kennedy relate to –
MX: Kennedy I relate right along with Lincoln. To me, Kennedy was a deceitful man. He was a cold blooded politician whose purpose was to get elected, and the only time Kennedy made any – took any action to even look like he identified with Negroes was when he was forced to. Kennedy didn’t even make his speech based on this problem being a moral issue until the Negroes exploded in Birmingham.
RPW:(talking together) – yes.
MX: During the whole month that Negroes were being beaten by police and washed down the sewer with water hoses, Kennedy and – King was in jail waiting for the federal government to intervene – Kennedy’s reply was, no federal statute had been violated. And it was only when the Negroes erupted that Kennedy come on the television with all his old pretty words. No – the man was a deceiver – he was a deceitful and I will never bite my tongue in saying that. I don’t think he was anything but a politician, and he used Negroes to get elected and to get votes.
RPW:What about Roosevelt?
MX: The same thing. No president ever had more power than Roosevelt. Roosevelt could have solved many problems, and all he did was put – took Negroes off welfare or – first he put them on welfare – WPA and other projects that he had, and then, if it hadn’t been for Hitler going on the rampage, Negroes would still be on the welfare.
RPW:What about Eleanor Roosevelt?
MX: The same thing. Eleanor Roosevelt was the chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, I think it was, at a time when this country – at the time that the human rights – the covenant on human rights was formed, this country didn’t even sign it. This country has never signed the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights. They signed the Declaration on Human Rights, but if they had signed the covenant they would have had to get it ratified by the Congress and the Senate, and they could never get the Congress and the Senate to agree to an international law on human rights when they couldn’t even get Congress and the Senate to agree on a civil rights law. So Eleanor Roosevelt could easily have told Negroes that the deceitful maneuvering of the United States Government that was going on behind the scenes – she never did it. In my opinion, she was just another white woman whose profession was to make it appear that she was on the Negro side. There are a lot of whites who are in this category. They have made Negro loving a profession. They are what I call professional liberals who take advantage of the confidence the Negroes place in them, and therefore this enhances their own prestige and it gives them a key role to play in the politics of this country.
RPW:What about James Baldwin?
MX: Jimmy Baldwin? He is a Negro writer.
RPW:What’s the content of that?
MX: He is a Negro writer who has gained fame because of his indictment and his very acid descriptions – I call it acid description – of what’s going on in this country. I don’t agree with his nonviolent peaceful loving approach. I just saw his play – Blues for Mr. Charlie – which I thought was an excellent play until it ended. And if you’ve seen the end of it you’ll see what that means.
RPW:I haven’t seen it yet.
MX: Well, you see it. All during the play I’m thinking that at the final set that revenge will be taken or justice will be given for the murder that has taken place.
RPW:I understand that the Ford Foundation is financing the play now – I hear this – I’m not certain of it – financing to keep it open a little while longer. That’s a strange situation, isn’t it?
MX: Not to me.
MX: I don’t know, but it’s not strange. As I say, I liked the play – Blues for Mr. Charlie. But the ending of it has the Negro again forgetting that a lynching has just taken place.
RPW:That’s why the Ford Foundation might subsidize it – is that it?
MX: Well, I think that a white – that segments like that of the white power structure will subsidize anything that implies that the Negroes should be forgiving and long suffering.
RPW:Do you know Ralph Ellison’s work?
MX: Not too well. All I know is that he wrote The Invisible Man.
RPW:Yes. Have you read that?
MX: No, but I know that – I got the point.
RPW:Yes. What do you think of his position?
MX: I don’t know what his position is. If his position is that the Negro in this society is an invisible man, then that’s a good position. Whatever else goes with it I don’t know.
RPW:Talking another, somewhat different tack – what about Nehru?
MX: I would like to add to –
MX: - to Ellison’s Invisible Man – see, the Negro has an invisible man. Usually when a man is invisible he knows more about those who are visible than those who are visible know about him. And my contention is that the Negro knows more about the white man and white society than the white man knows about the Negro and Negro society.
RPW:I think that’s true.
MX: The servant always knows his master better than the master knows his servant. The servant watches the master sleep, but the master never sees the servant sleep. The servant sees the master angry; the master never sees the servant angry. So the servant always knows the master better than the master knows the servant. In fact, the servant knows the house better than the master does. And my contention is that the Negro knows this country better than the white man does – every facet of it, and when he wakes up he’ll prove it. Now, about Nehru?
MX: I think that Nehru probably was a good man, although I didn’t go for him. I don’t go for anybody who is passive. I don’t go for anybody who is – who advocates pacifism or peaceful suffering in any form whatsoever – I don’t go for it.
RPW:What about Jesus Christ?
MX: I go for Mao-tse-tung much more than Nehru because I think that Nehru brought his country up in a beggar’s role. The role of India in this reliance upon the West during the years since it got its supposed independence, has just today just as helpless and dependent as it was when it first got its independence. Whereas in China, the Chinese fought for their independence, they became militant right from the out start, and today they’re even though they aren’t loved they are respected. Though the West doesn’t love them, the West respects them. Now, the West doesn’t respect India, but it loves India.
RPW:I see your distinction.
MX: Can you see my distinction?
RPW:I do, indeed.
MX: I admire, really, the stand of China and the stand of Mao-tse-tung, but I can’t admire with respect the stand of Nehru in India – I just can’t do it.
RPW:What about the Reverend Gulammuson?
MX: Reverend Gulammuson is fighting a hard battle against great opposition, and I admire a man who fights a hard battle against great opposition.
RPW:No matter what he’s fighting for or against?
MX: Well, I admire a man who fights a battle against opposition, and if there wasn’t something about Gulamusson that the people – I noticed that the power structure is against Gulammuson, and most of the Negro leaders who get the support of the power structure end up being against Gulammuson. So my suspicious nature is that there’s something that Gulammuson – about Gulammuson that must have some good in it or some rights in it –
RPW:But his policy is one of integration, and that isn’t exactly your policy.
MX: No, but at the same time, the policy is intelligent enough where he can’t be used to attack me, and most of these other Negro leaders who are supposed integrationists aren’t that intelligent.
MX: (laughing) All right, then.
RPW:Now you’re being dragged away?
MX: Yes, I’m being dragged away.
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