The Real Malcolm X Was No Fit Hero to Offer Today's Young


Washington. -- I can't free my mind of Spike Lee's pitch to the National Association of Black Journalists about his upcoming movie, "Malcolm X," so I might as well deal with it.

Let me first dismiss as an outrageous hustle Mr. Lee's admonition to my black colleagues: "Don't go to work that day (November 20)! Don't let the children go to school! Go to this movie! We have to support this film."

It is obvious to all but idiots that, despite Mr. Lee's desire to recoup the millions of dollars that his studio and his rich black friends have plowed into this movie, he is irresponsible in asking kids to stay out of school and black people to risk precious jobs to go see it.

I haven't seen the film, but I pray fervently that it makes the life of Malcolm X a more responsible message than the one Spike Lee offered to black journalists.

The whole Malcolm X phenomenon is a glaring, sometimes dismaying, case of revising history and making a man who had dubious impact in life appear to be a towering social and political figure long after his death.

I remember Justice Thurgood Marshall responding to a question about Malcolm X with this challenge: "Tell me one thing he did to free black people, or lift the level of their lives."

The facts are clear that Malcolm X never worked to get blacks into a single desegregated public school, or into an all-white law or medical school. He never went to jail for trying to win blacks the right to vote.

Imbued with legitimate anger and bitterness over what slavery had done, and entrenched white bigotry was doing, to black people, Malcolm X preached his brand of racism and segregation. Whites were "blue-eyed devils."

He saw the salvation of blacks in "separatism," and godfathered a feeble "revolution" run by the likes of Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael.

Malcolm X didn't go to prison for civil-rights activities. He went for burglary. His record regarding illicit drugs and pimping is not one any movie should glorify.

How much revisionism can we expect? Well, the distortions of the truth began on Feb. 21, 1965, when Malcolm X died from a bullet by an assassin from the Black Muslim movement with which he had fallen out of favor. I, then the director of the U.S. Information Agency, was appalled to see the New China News Agency report that "white racists" had murdered Malcolm X, "the foremost integrationist in the United States."

The what? I stated the facts about who killed Malcolm X, and why, and set forth the facts about a black separatist with a record of unlawful activities that no black man should rush to emulate.

Now I am appalled when someone asks, in ignorance, "How could you have criticized Malcolm X?"

Malcolm, in the 27 years since his assassination, has become a symbol of the diffuse rage that permeates black America. He has been made the symbol, however inaccurate and beautified, of black outrage against the racial policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Malcolm X, former prisoner, has been made the symbol of black fury over a criminal justice system that puts in bondage half the young black males in America.

But Mr. Lee's movie will become a disaster if it magnifies only the often-unfocused angers and hatreds of Malcolm X, if it serves to intensify the racial polarization of Los Angeles and New York and other urban powder-kegs.

In real life, Malcolm X generated a feeble social hurricane of "black power" where the winds cried, "Burn, Baby, Burn!" This was self-defeating madness for black America.

You have discerned by now that Malcolm X was no great hero of mine -- no historic warrior for meaningful gains of black people. But I'm going to look at Spike Lee's movie with an open mind that asks, "What has he discovered about Malcolm X that I did not know in 1965?"

8, Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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