ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)


The death of Malcolm X left Elijah Muhammad in temporarily

unchallenged control of the largest black nationalist organization in the country



Books by C. Eric Lincoln


The Black Experience in Religion   /  The Black Muslims in America / The Avenue, Clayton City  / My Face Is Black 


The Black Church in the African-American Experience Coming Through Fire  /   Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Profile


The Negro Pilgrimage in America  /  Race, Religion and the Continuing American Dilemma 


Reclamation of Black Prisoners  /  A Pictorial History of the Negro in America


*   *   *   *   *

Books by & About Malcolm X

Malcolm X: The Man and His Times  /  Seventh Child: A Family Memoir of Malcolm X  / Martin and Malcolm and America 

Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean

 The Black Muslims in America The Autobiography of Malcolm X  / Malcolm X Speaks / By Any Means Necessary

February 1965: The Final Speeches

*   *   *   *   *

The Meaning Of Malcolm X


 By C. Eric Lincoln


The assassination of Malcolm X upset a good part of the American public. We were upset, and we tend to remain a bit on edge, not because Malcolm was a martyr to the cause of civil rights or because of any inherent contributions he may have made to the solution of our race problems, but because he was the symbol of violence and the spokesman for the violent “Black Man” in America. We remain uneasy because the murder of Malcolm X may well set off a Chinese-type “tong war” within the black nationalist factions striving for leadership of the masses in the Harlems of America.

We were aghast and dismayed by last summer’s riots, by the looting and the wanton destruction of property, but at that time we were fortunate in at least two respects: the riots were not organized and led by any recognized leader, and they were riots against property rather than against people. True they expressed the resentment and the hatred of the frustrated, penned-up Harlem lower class; but there were few instances of attacks against the human objects of this fury, which included the disinterested Negro middle class no less than the hated Jew and the “blue-eyed devils” whose commercial presence in Harlem is exasperatingly ubiquitous and universally resented.

Return to Wary Expectancy

For several months there had been an uneasy calm hanging over the dirty tenements and gaudy storefronts of Harlem. The return of Malcolm X from his Afro-Asian junket was eyed with genuine apprehension by popular Negro leadership and with jubilant expectation by the black nationalist fringe. Malcolm was as cagey as always. Some Negro leaders thought they saw signs of a “constructive change” in his attitude toward racial goals and the proper techniques for attaining them. The more impatient activists were equally certain that Malcolm had brought them a kind of black-lettered message from Garcia, and they were waiting for the word to be given.

Malcolm X himself was having other problems. He had left the country in disgrace and disharmony with the one black nationalist organization with a significant following, and on returning to Harlem he found himself in direct competition with the Black Muslims for leadership of the black dissidents for whom integration and assimilation are not viable solutions. His first order of interest was to stay alive, an interest neither he nor his followers nor the New York police proved adequate to protect.

The leadership of the Harlem masses is, at least in potential, an office of extraordinary power. It is also a hazardous undertaking. Thus far, with the possible exception of Marcus Garvey, no one has successfully mobilized the masses of America’s most populous (and most shameful) black ghetto. Various self-styled leaders, usually oriented toward black nationalism or some other chauvinistic negritude, have had varying degrees of success in isolating a following, invariably small when measured against the numbers of potential converts who live in that steaming ghetto.

For the past decade or so the Black Muslims have had the largest and by far the best organized following among the black nationalist groups in Harlem. For most of that period Malcolm himself had been their de facto leader, although policy was set by Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. So it was that Malcolm’s defection from the Muslims and his subsequent return to Harlem as head of his Organization for Afro-American Unity brought him into direct conflict with the Black Muslim organization.

Negro leaders kept a wary eye on Malcolm precisely because they anticipated what did in fact occur, a black nationalist “tong war” which threatened the peace of the  whole Harlem community and, indirectly, the leadership control responsible Negro leadership claimed to have. The exposure of the pro-Sino-Cuban revolutionary Action movement caught most Americans of both races oft guard because we are not accustomed to thinking in terms of Negro subversion. The myth of the satisfied Negro has spawned the myth of absolute loyalty. Both are fictions. While the overwhelming majority of the Negro population are loyal to the American flag and the American way of life, so is the overwhelming white majority. There are exceptions in both cases; the number of exceptions is related to the population ratio, the frequency of opportunity and the quality of incentive, not to race.

Until just yesterday, there were no nonwhite world powers of significance. And, more important, Negroes and their cause stood to gain nothing whatever by playing footsie with another white power. Times have changed; while we are shedding our negative stereotypes about the Negro we may as well be disabused of some other stereotypes as well.

The death of Malcolm X left Elijah Muhammad in temporarily unchallenged control of the largest black nationalist organization in the country. Nobody knows how many Black Muslims there are. Some defected to Malcolm X when he left the movement more than a year ago; others simply defected because Malcolm’s ouster seemed to provide a good opportunity to get out and return to what ex-Muslim Aubrey Barnette calls “the outside world of reality.”

Integration or Revolution?

It is a moot  question whether Malcolm made any contributions to the Negro’s struggle for freedom, whether he was a “catalyst to the cause” or just a loud and strident voice crying in some personal wilderness foreign to the real needs and aspirations of the nation’s Negroes. It is even a silly question, for it presupposes a consensus among Negroes as to where they want to go and by what means they want to get there. Such a consensus o course does not exist—any more than does an American consensus on our role in (or out of) Vietnam.

Consensus obtains on the proper goals (but not on the proper methodology) among America’s responsible” middle class leaders, and collectively they represent the organized thrust of the American Negro’s determination to be free. But we may not safely ignore the dissident masses merely because they are less articulate or more violent in their articulation, or because they are fragmented into many small groups of undetermined membership. There is a consensus among these groups, too, and it is not the consensus of the responsible middle class. To the various black nationalist fronts in Harlem and elsewhere Malcolm X was a potential “liberator,” a man on a black horse who would someday lead them in a revolutionary struggle against the hated blue-eyed devils.

It does not promote the cause of responsible leadership to deny the importance of Malcolm X to the particular segment of people whose political and or ideological leader he was, or sought to be; to do so is to deny by implication the threat he represented to the tranquility and effectiveness of the more sophisticated procedures advanced by more acceptable leaders. Milton Galamison, for example, exists and has a following, however annoying that fact may be to more orthodox leadership; the Revolutionary Action Movement is a fact, despite its embarrassing and treasonable implications. Similarly, Malcolm X made an impact on the minds of the black masses irrespective of his criminal past or his chauvinistic ideology. Had his turbulent life not been cut short the chances are that his impact would have widened.

There are many Negroes who are not impressed by Christian philosophies of nonviolence because Christianity itself has so frequently been violent, and because the yoke of oppression was for so long sanctioned by the church. Tens of thousands of others simply have not reached the level of sophistication which would enable them to understand the value and the dignity of nonviolent resistance. 

Indeed, relatively few Americans whatever their race are ideologically or psychologically prepared to suffer with the James Farmers and the Martin Luther Kings of today’s’ black revolution. Certainly the men with the crash helmets and the cattle prods do not know or do not care what nonviolence is all about. So long as men like these are the accepted guardians of the status quo, Malcolm X and the Malcolm Xs waiting to be discovered will have meaning for the black masses who live in the black ghettos of America.

Demagogue or Martyr?

As soon as Malcolm was dead his critics turned on him with the fervor of self-righteousness and his defenders sought to elevate him to sainthood and martyrdom. On the one hand it was pointedly suggested that as a demagogue and a spokesman for violence Malcolm somehow deserved what he got at the Audubon ballroom that Sunday, the day before Washington’s Birthday. He had been a thug, an addict and a thief, it was argued; he had made no contributions whatever to society.

There is a non sequitur here which honesty compels us to examine. It is contrary to the “American ideal” and Christian morality to hold a man’s past against him if it can be shown that he has overcome that past. Man is redeemable; if he is not, surely preaching is in vain. Malcolm X rose above the errors of his youth. Whether or not one agrees with his solution to the race problem, it must be admitted that during the years he presumed himself a race leader he was, under the constant scrutiny of a hostile public, far more circumspect than many of our more “respectable” leaders and politicians. If anything, his past seemed to give him a unique insight into the nature of the problems with which he sought to deal. We owe it to him and to ourselves to acknowledge the facts.

On the other hand, those who saw in the returned pilgrim to Mecca a “new” Malcolm X were at best probably premature in their judgments. The underlying cause of the breach between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad was not so much a contest of power within the movement as a conflict of ideology. Malcolm X was a true revolutionary. It is not inconceivable that, given the time, the means and the opportunity, Malcolm X would have committed an act of violence.

He was indoctrinated to believe that racial strife is the inevitable means of bringing about a reversal in the black man’s status, and he passionately believed in ad longed for that reversal. True, his conversion to Islam and his desire to be acceptable to orthodoxy may have ameliorated his aggressive tendencies; but the evidence that at the time of his death he was prepared to join the nonviolent crusade is scanty, if indeed it exists at all.

Malcolm X must be taken for what he was. He was a remarkably gifted and charismatic leader whose hatreds and resentments symbolized the dreadful stamp of the black ghetto, but a man whose philosophies of racial determination and whose commitments to violence made him unacceptable as a serious participant in peaceful social change. He had ideological followers – far more than the handful of men and women who belonged to the Organization of Afro-American Unity. His spirit will rise again, phoenix-like – not so much because he is worthy to be remembered as because the perpetuation of the ghetto which spawned him will not let us forget. 

Source:  The Christian Century (April 7, 1965)

*   *   *   *   *

C. Eric Lincoln—born 23 June 1924 and died 14 May 2000— wrote The Black Muslims in America, the first scholarly examination of the movement, and was a co-author of The Black Church in the African-American Experience, a landmark study of the political and social influence of religious institutions in black America. Dr. Lincoln, professor emeritus of religion and culture at Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he taught from 1976 to 1993, wrote or edited more than 20 other books, including The Avenue, Clayton City, a novel published in 1988, for which he won the Lillian Smith Book Award for Best Southern Fiction, and a series of books in the 1970's called the C. Eric Lincoln Series in Black Religion.

An ordained United Methodist minister, his friendships and expertise were truly ecumenical. He was a friend of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Alex Haley, and in 1990 was cited by Pope John Paul II for ''scholarly service to the church.''

Charles Eric Lincoln was born in Athens, Ala., on June 23, 1924. He was abandoned first by his father, then by his mother, and was brought up by his maternal grandmother, Mattie Sowell Lincoln. . . . Dr. Lincoln's last book, Coming Through the Fire: Surviving Race and place in America, published in 1996, was a distillation of his thoughts on race. In the book, he calls for ''no-fault reconciliation—the recognition that we are all of a kind, with the same vulnerabilities, the same possibilities and the same needs for God and each other.''—NYTimes

*   *   *   *   *

Malcolm X artifacts unearthed—Police docs and more found among belongs of 'Shorty' Jarvis—1 February 2012—Documents outlining the crime that landed Malcolm X in prison in the 1940s are among some 1,000 recently unearthed items purchased jointly by the civil rights leader's foundation and an independent collector of African-American artifacts. The documents and other artifacts belonged to late musician Malcolm "Shorty" Jarvis, who served in prison with Malcolm X and was one of his closest friends. Jarvis' 1976 pardon paper also is part of the collection, which was recently discovered by accident. The items had been in a Connecticut storage unit that had gone into default, and were initially auctioned off to a buyer who had no idea what he was bidding on. The Omaha, Nebraska-based Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, which oversees the Malcolm X Center located at his birthplace, will house and display the just-arrived archives. It split the cost with Black History 101 Mobile Museum, based in Detroit—the birthplace of the Nation of Islam.—Mobile Museum founder and curator Khalid el-Hakim declined to identify the original buyer or the price the two organizations paid for the trove. Still, even after splitting the cost, he said it's the largest acquisition to date for his mobile museum, which includes Jim Crow-era artifacts, a Ku Klux Klan hood and signed documents by Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. . . . The collection also reveals an enduring connection between the two Malcolms after their incarceration, Malcolm X's conversion to Islam and his rise to prominence. There's a 72-page scrapbook of Malcolm X's life that was maintained by Jarvis until after his friend's 1965 assassination. One of the civil rights era's most controversial and compelling figures, Malcolm X rose to fame as the chief spokesman of the Nation of Islam, a movement started in Detroit more than 80 years ago. He proclaimed the black Muslim organization's message at the time: racial separatism as a road to self-actualization and urged blacks to claim civil rights "by any means necessary" and referred to whites as "devils."—TheGrio

*   *   *   *   *

The Avenue, Clayton City

By C.Eric Lincoln

The Avenue in C. Eric Lincoln’s fictional town is the principal residential street of the black community in Clayton City, a prototypical southern town languishing between the two world wars. Unpaved and marked by ditches full of frogs, snakes, and empty whiskey bottles on one side of town, it is the same street, though with a different name, that originates downtown. Only when it reaches the black section of Clayton City do the paving stop and the trash-filled ditches begin. On one side, it provides a significant address for the white people who live there. On the other, despite its rundown air, it is still the best address available to the town’s black population. Some of them, in fact, are willing to go to any extreme, including murder, to get there.

In this novel, originally published in 1988, Lincoln creates with deft skill the drama that rises from the lives of the people of Clayton City. In turn amusing, disgusting, enraging, wistful, and, as one hears the secrets hidden deep in their hearts, shocking, they exist in a place whose vibrant personality is itself a unique configuration of geography, relationships, patterns of behavior, and events. It is also a place whose unspoken and hidden power lies in its crushing compulsion to maintain itself as it already is—a power that forces everyone to succumb to an inflexible social order.—Duke University Press

*   *   *   *   *

John Coltrane, "Alabama"  /  Kalamu ya Salaam, "Alabama"  / A Love Supreme

A Blues for the Birmingham Four  /  Eulogy for the Young Victims   / Six Dead After Church Bombing 

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. Jamie Byng, Guardian

Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

*   *   *   *   *

The Great Divergence

America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It

By Timothy Noah

For the past three decades, America has steadily become a nation of haves and have-nots. Our incomes are increasingly drastically unequal: the top 1% of Americans collect almost 20% of the nation’s income—more than double their share in 1973. We have less equality of income than Venezuela, Kenya, or Yemen. What economics Nobelist Paul Krugman terms "the Great Divergence" has until now been treated as little more than a talking point, a club to be wielded in ideological battles. But it may be the most important change in this country during our lifetimes—a sharp, fundamental shift in the character of American society, and not at all for the better. The income gap has been blamed on everything from computers to immigration, but its causes and consequences call for a patient, non-partisan exploration.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)



update 12 May 2012




Home  The Du Bois-Malcolm-King  

Related files:   My Face Is Black   The Meaning Of Malcolm X