Malcolm X: The Farce on Washington
By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to The Michigan Citizen
In the midst of the media frenzy around the 1963 March on Washington, history will not absolve us if we ignore Malcolm’s description of the March as “the farce on Washington.”
This is because the radical rejection of integration into a society that has reduced human beings to commodities is as much a part of black American history as the liberal struggle to be accepted into it.
I have been very conscious of the profound difference between the two approaches because soon after I became a movement activist many years ago, I learned that in the decade following World War I, Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement won almost two million supporters in the United States by calling on blacks to abandon Western society and take back Africa, since the war and the revolution had revealed the bankruptcy of Western society.
Then, in the early 1960s, I heard Malcolm speak against integration at a Nation of Islam (NOI) meeting and was so impressed that I invited him to lead discussions at our house. Malcolm sent Wilfred, his oldest brother, to lead the discussions for him.
Around this time, I was invited to speak about the black movement to a group of liberal intellectuals at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) in Santa Barbara, California. They could hardly believe their ears when I told them there was a growing movement in the black community against integration and toward the Nation of Islam because the Nation encouraged blacks to think and act for themselves independent of Western society. The meeting was chaired by Robert Hutchins, CSDI president. My speech, “Who will blow the trumpet?” can be found on the web.
It was not until 1967 and the Vietnam War that MLK pointed out in his “Time to Break the Silence” speech that the United States needed a total, or radical, revolution of values not only against racism but against materialism and militarism.
Today, in the spaces left vacant by the devastation of deindustrialization in cities like Detroit, ordinary citizens are creating a new post-industrial society and a new concept of themselves.
It is not the independence advocated by Malcolm. But it is also not the jobs and freedom of MLK’s dream of integration at the 1963 March.
It is a 21st century revolution, as historically significant as the 1917 Russian Revolution was after the WWI, and the Third World Revolutions were after WWII.