In 1976, the U.S. government, after 50 years, finally expanded its national acknowledgement of African American accomplishments by increasing it from one week a year with Negro History Week to four weeks with Black History Month. A big improvement, even if it is February, the shortest month on the calendar.
It took until 2000, from the time Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983, before all 50 states recognized his birthday and set every third Monday in January as a day of recognition. So, it is completely in keeping with this country’s character — rather its lack thereof — that we have yet to see a Malcolm X Day and quite probably never will.
Beyond a community celebration here and there of his birthday on May 19, on a national scale you would never know the man even existed. It’s a tragic irony that when Dr. King was gunned down on that hotel balcony, it was not the principles of his lifelong devotion to nonviolence that turned a tide for Black Americans, but Malcolm X’s creed “by any means necessary.” This certainly included the ensuing coast-to-coast conflagration that had corporations and colleges throwing their doors open to let in scores of us whom they previously would only let hold open limousine doors, shine shoes, wash clothes and dirty diapers. Tragic, but hardly surprising.
And it wasn’t that Brother Malcolm was simply a violent man. In his profoundly articulate address, “Message to the Grassroots,” he stated the premise that one should “be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”
He was in the spirit of not taking one minute more of America’s mess. That shoved this nation’s back up against a wall and made it stop turning a blind eye and deaf ear to resolutely entrenched, stubbornly institutionalized racism — nothing better than later-day Nazism.
White people don’t honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a heroic force for civil rights. They simply are of the sentiment that as long they have to nationally recognize a Black man, let it be a non-threatening figure, one of the good ones.
They still see Malcolm as being uppity, someone who scared this damned government and its soulless White establishment half to death — which was exactly what it needed. And, frankly, still does.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.