A-Z of Black Radicalism History

X is for Malcolm

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Malcolm X is one of the most misrepresented figures of the twentieth century. He is often remembered as a fiery speaker, who hated White people, preached violence, and had no political program. In fact, Malcolm was one of the most important intellectuals of the century, who offered a clear blueprint for Black radical politics. He is the only person with a letter in the A-Z because it is Malcolm who most fully articulates the need for, the basis of, and strategies for building the Black revolution. 

Malcolm has remained popular because he spoke the truth, was never afraid to make it plain, and took an uncompromising stance on politics. Whether it was calling out White racists, both liberal and conservative, or condemning the integrationist agenda of the civil rights movement. There has been an attempt to water down Malcolm, to convert him into a civil rights leader, but the truth is there was no bigger critic of the attempts to reform the US. He called the March on Washington a “farce,” a “circus with clowns and all,” and repeatedly called out Martin Luther King and the other “Uncle Tom” leaders of the movement up until his death.

For Malcolm, the system was the problem and therefore attempts to integrate it were only going to cause more suffering. He foresaw that the best we can hope for is to reform the system enough so that a few of us can “make it.” But Malcolm represented the masses, the grassroots, the field negro who he told us would never be accepted into society. Revolution was the only solution and he understood that any attempt to compromise with the power structure would destroy the radical vision. He was against integrating the movement because to do so watered it down, just like putting milk into coffee. 

“Malcolm represented the masses, the grassroots, the field negro who he told us would never be accepted into society”

For those who want to pick up his work, he also left a very clear blueprint. It is not cultural nationalism, certainly not the Nation of Islam, and definitely not in trying to reform the system. In 1964 he founded the Organisation of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), whose first chair was Lynne Shifflet and also included people like John Henrik Clarke. The OAAU was modeled on the UNIA, meant to be a mass membership organization that had departments that would organize around issues such as education, housing, and defense. As with the UNIA, the aim was to have local chapters connected across the globe. Malcolm’s definition of “American” was so broad that it included all Black people “in the Western hemisphere.” His aim was to link up with the Organisation of African Unity to establish a global representative for the Black world. Basically, Malcolm took the UNIA and radicalized it.

Malcolm died before the OAAU could be established, but it left behind a constitution, aims, and a philosophy. A lot of groups have claimed to be the “children of Malcolm” but ignored the OAAU. In fact, there has been an effort to erase it from Malcolm’s legacy. In the famed Autobiography written up by Alex Haley the OAAU is barely mentioned even though Malcolm was working on it at the time, and it was later discovered that Haley had taken pages of notes on it. It is not a coincidence that Malcolm was killed after he left the NOI and started the OAAU, or that they want you to forget about it. The OAAU is the vehicle for Black radicalism. We have started the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity on the same principles and invite anyone interested in freedom to get involved. Revolution is possible.


Malcolm X Ballot or the Bullet

Malcolm X  2nd Founding Rally of the OAAU

Malcolm X Message to the Grassroots

Malcolm X Not Just American Problem, but a World Problem

William Sales From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organisation of African-American Unity


  1. The Revolutionary spirit of Malcolm X stirs in the bellies of the current generation, it will not be silenced. Great read, I’m going to follow your work.

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