Saturday, February 27, 2016

Malcolm X meeting with the KKK

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Malcolm X remains a controversial figure in the civil rights movement.  Many see him as an early promoter of black pride, as a men who encouraged African-Americans to stand up for their rights and fight the injustices imposed by the white majority.  He is remembered as being more militant in his fight for civil rights, contrasted with the non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  What many forget was that Malcolm and the Nation of Islam were not fighting for integration but for black separatism.  Even more shocking is that Malcolm X once sat down with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan to discuss their common interests.

Malcolm X
Malcolm X had become a leader in the Nation of Islam during the 1950's.  While this group sought to promote the interests of African Americans, it took a very different approach from other civil rights groups.  The difference was not just violence vs. non-violence to achieve one's goals.  The Nation of Islam did not seek better relations with the white population.  It did not want to desegregate the country. Rather, it sought black separatism.  The white and black races, it argued, could never get along.  The best option was for African Americans to separate completely from the white population and to form their own communities.

This was an area of agreement that the Nation of Islam had with the Ku Klux Klan.  Both wanted to see a separation of the races.  It was thought that they might work together toward this goal.  The meeting took place in 1960, but Malcolm did not discuss it publicly until 1965 less than a week before his death:

"In December of 1960, I was in the home of Jeremiah, the minister in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m going to tell you the truth. I sat at the table myself with the heads of the Ku Klux Klan. I sat there myself, with the heads of the Ku Klux Klan, who at that time were trying to negotiate with Elijah Muhammad so that they could make available to him a large area of land in Georgia or I think it was South Carolina. They had some very responsible persons in the government who were involved in it and who were willing to go along with it. They wanted to make this land available to him so that his program of separation would sound more feasible to Negroes and therefore lessen the pressure that the integrationists were putting upon the white man. I sat there. I negotiated it. I listened to their offer. And I was the one who went back to Chicago and told Elijah Muhammad what they had offered."

Beyond Malcolm's comments, relatively little is known about the details of the meeting.  It was a very private meeting with no publicity or pictures.  Neither side had much incentive to publicize it.  In retrospect, it obviously came to nothing.  A few years after this meeting, several landmark civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made any such segregated area a legal impossibility.

American Nazis at Nation of Islam Rally
This was not the only controversial meeting that Malcolm had with hard core racists.  In 1961, several members of the American Nazi Party attended a speech given by Malcolm X.  According to reports, the Nation of Islam seated the Nazi's prominently in the front row and that during a request for contributions, the Nazi's made donations.  Nazi Leader George Lincoln Rockwell commented on the Nation of Islam:  "I am fully in concert with their program, and I have the highest respect for Elijah Muhammad."  The two groups shared a hatred of the Jews, as well as a desire to separate blacks and whites.

Still, the two groups never really found a way to work closely.  In 1962, Rockwell was permitted to speak after Elijah Muhammad at a Nation of Islam rally.  Among his comments, he said: "You know that we call you 'niggers.' But wouldn't you rather be confronted by honest white men who tell you to your face what the others all say behind your back?"   Later in the speech, he continued: "I am not afraid to stand here and tell you I hate race-mixing and will fight it to the death, but at the same time, I will do everything in my power to help the Honorable Elijah Muhammad carry out his inspired plan for land of your own in Africa. Elijah Muhammad is right. Separation or death!" 

It absolutely stuns me that an avowed white racist could stand before 12,000 radical militant blacks at a rally in Chicago, call them "niggers" and walk out of there unharmed.  But in fact, Elijah Muhammad actually criticized the audience in a later article for behaving somewhat coldly to Rockwell's speech and not applauding more.

Malcolm X clearly was uncomfortable with such associations.  His father, a Christian black separatist, had been killed allegedly by white supremacists.  Near the end of his life, he disavowed these associations. After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm sent a telegram to Rockwell and the Nazis:

"This is to warn you that I am no longer held in check from fighting white supremacists by Elijah Muhammad's separatist Black Muslim movement, and that if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm to Reverend King or any other black Americans who are only attempting to enjoy their rights as free human beings, that you and your Ku Klux Klan friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation..."

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

Further Reading

You can view a video of Malcolm X discussing is KKK meeting here:

The text of Malcolm's speech:

An article discussing the Nation of Islam's association with the American Nazi Party:

More on the Nation of Islam and the American Nazis.