Have you ever wondered what America would be like today had not Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X been assassinated?
Which philosophy would have taken root during the turbulent 1970s? Would our battle for equal rights and justice taken a different course?
Would either of those historic figures have catapulted the civil rights movement to the international stage, expanding its scope to include oppressed people from throughout the Diaspora?
Would America embrace King’s underlying theological philosophy, coming to grips with its Christian ethos?
Or would Malcolm’s call for equality by any means necessary ignite a civil and race war.
It’s an interesting—albeit purely subjective– hypothesis.
Who knows, maybe Dr. King would have gone from throwing rocks at the castle wall and decided to run for political office. He could have ended up being a congressman or senator and used the political stage to advance his call for systemic change.
Equally interesting, he probably would have run as a Republican, and the political tables would have been turned forever had Black people continued to embrace that party. (For those who don’t know, many of the Black leaders of King’s era were Republicans. In the 1960s, it was Southern Democrats who blocked civil rights legislation and maintained the racist status quo of American apartheid.)
Maybe King would have called for the creation of an independent political party, sparking a political movement that would have shaken the foundation of American politics.
On the other hand, Malcolm’s path would not have intersected with the political arena. Maybe he would have started a religious coalition to press for change, or a Back to Africa movement in the mode of Marcus Garvey. I could see him heading an international sociocultural organization that would link oppressed people from throughout the Diaspora.
Strange isn’t it, how events change the course of history. Had you not taken some seemingly insignificant action years ago, how would your life have changed?
Now think more globally.
King and Malcolm’s era marked a shifting of political and cultural allegiances for Black Americans, just as their assassinations stagnated and eventually altered the course of the civil rights movement. Taking advantage of the void in Black leadership, some special interest partners became sponsors of the movement, empowering and further entrenching the Negrocracy and a permanent culture of poverty that has stagnated Black empowerment.
From a historical viewpoint (this is, after all, Black History Month), it could be beneficial and enlightening to contrast the two Black leaders, to study anew their philosophies and the possible paths Black America would have taken had they lived.
To do so, however, requires that we view the two fallen leaders as they really were, and not how society and the media have recast and sanitized them over the years.
Dr. King has been reborn by the general media to fit an image that America believes will defuse his sense of urgency and evolving ideology prior to his death. That’s why you rarely hear mention of his ‘Letters from the Birmingham Jail,’ and instead are crammed full of his ‘I’ve Been to the Mountain Top’ speech.
Teachers fill Black children’s heads full of visions of King’s peaceful civil rights demonstrations, but rarely talk of how he challenged the very essence of Christianity and how it was misinterpreted and corrupted to justify American expansionism, slavery and sustaining of bigotry.
Nor are there discussions of a shift in his methodology just prior to his murder to expand his vision to include the capitalistic system and worldwide oppression of people of color.
King began to think more globally in the months leading up to his death. He began to speak of American foreign policies and a system of worldwide apartheid and economic exploitation. He saw the war in Vietnam for what it really was—as a piece of the puzzle. The fact that Black soldiers were forced to fight and bleed in Vietnam only to return to America and be treated as second-class citizens was the boldest of dichotomies.
But King was a realist who understood that Black America didn’t have the numbers or firepower to take on the status quo through threat. His strategy was rooted in his non-violent protest methodology along with a legal redress element. Equally important, King saw himself through a Christian lens and hoped to prick the consciousness of those who supposedly shared his faith to follow basic Christian tenets. And let’s not forget King understood the power of the media, and how shaping opinions through that media could be as influential as a .38 caliber bullet.
There are many who believe King was murdered because he began making references to the men in the board room who orchestrated a global scheme, of which racism was but a tool. Through King’s prism it was essential to expand the campaign for justice from being about Black and White, to an economic and cultural campaign between the haves and have nots.
King was destined for a world stage, conceivably one where he would eventually share space with Malik El Shabazz, aka Malcolm X.
While White historians and the media focus superficially on what distinguished Malcolm from Martin–Malcolm did not believe tigers could, or would, change their stripes and he strongly endorsed the human right of self defense and determination–there was much more that bound them than separated them.
Like Martin, the media has sanitized Malcolm over the years, and much for the same reason.
The Malcolm I remember was one of White America’s most hated Black men. He was Nate Turner in a business suit.
He called racists ‘devils’ and he denounced integration as a fruitless adventure.
He was a field slave while Martin was a house Negro (and I don’t mean that offensively). Malcolm saw as much fault in the failing of the American Negrocracy as he did with White America.
Unlike King, Malcolm was also heavily into African culture, and saw the unity of Africans throughout the Diaspora as a key to the door of Black empowerment.
He frequently talked of the common thread that ran through battles for civil rights in America, with our brother’s fight to end colonialism in dozens of African nations.
As such he also saw the necessity of expanding the fight for human rights to a world stage, as illuminated by his later life efforts to take our case before the Untied Nations.
I never met Martin or Malcolm, but I had opportunities to sit down and talk with his widow, Betty Shabazz, who enlightened me on Malcolm’s evolution. I learned from those conversations that Malcolm and Martin were on the same track, albeit on different trains.
I often reference my conversations with Mrs. Betty Shabazz when I ponder how and why the American media reinvented him years after his death.
The history page that described Malcolm X as a militant race baiter, whose most recalled photograph showed him armed with a .30 caliber rifle peering through a window curtain, was replaced with a smiling Black man extending the hand of brotherhood.
It would be overly simplistic to suggest Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm in Spike Lee’s film ‘humanized’ the Black leader. Obviously, there is more to it than that.
That Malcolm has been recast in American history books is no doubt part of a master plan to rewrite—if not dilute– Black history, to discourage the philosophy of Black Nationalism, which was the podium on which Malcolm stood.
What would have happened if Malcolm had lived longer to ingrain his call for Black Nationalism in more Black Americans? What would our community be like today if we prioritized support for each other, spiritually, economically and culturally?
Imagine a Black community where we treated each other like brothers and sisters, brought goods and services from each other, and protected each other from predators and criminals?
Those are the fundamental tenets of Black Nationalism and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how it would alter the status quo.
And if we included cultural pride, Africentricism to that equation, where would we be today?
While King saw integration as a key, Malcolm believed it was more important to stand as equals from a position of strength. He sought respect, not acceptance.
Believe it or not, both Martin and Malcolm had enemies in the Black community. There were those who thought Martin was rocking the boat, and feared Malcolm’s militancy and call for Black pride could bring questions upon their status and lifestyles.
I have little doubt that both Martin and Malcolm were destined for greatness, and that the paths they navigated would have eventually taken them to the same place.
I also assume the civil rights movement would not have been hijacked had either of them lived. Nor would we today be looking at so many dysfunctional families, missed educational opportunities and the permanence of a culture of poverty.
Of course I could be wrong. But it’s appropriate to discuss those possibilities in these final days of Black History Month.
In a nutshell, I think it would benefit our community to fantasize, to look at where we are and where we could have been if two of the most important figures in Black History had not been assassinated.
It would also benefit us to explore why they were assassinated and how their footprints in the sand changed the course of the mighty ocean.