Black Experience

A. Peter Bailey Reflects on Malcolm X’s Assassination, 55 Years Later

Discussion Focuses on Lingering Controversy Surrounding Activist's Murder

As Pan-Africanists reflected upon the life and contributions of Malcolm X and bemoaned his tragic death on Feb. 21, 1965, one of his closest colleagues says the focus should remain not on the alleged triggerman who evaded prosecution for decades but the top-level intelligence officials who sought to prevent Malcolm X in allegiance with several African leaders from bringing the U.S. government before the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights.

Just one day before the 55th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination, veteran journalist A. Peter Bailey led a conversation at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library in Northwest with an intergenerational audience during which he provided evidence in support of his belief. The three-hour event served as a rare opportunity for anxious listeners to glean from a wealth of Bailey’s experiences that he secured as a result of the years spent with the man whom he describes as his “master teacher.”

During the program, Bailey, a founding member of Malcolm X’s Organization for Afro-American Unity [OAAU], criticized “Who Killed Malcolm X?” — the newly-released Netflix docuseries featuring Bailey and other significant figures of that era — for failing to demand a more thorough examination of the FBI, CIA and other government agencies who he alleges benefited from the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and others who had risen to worldwide prominence.

“I haven’t seen the whole [documentary] but people tell me it was lacking in [that part] when he became a factor in affecting U.S. foreign policy,” Bailey said during the event coordinated by the D.C.-based organization Positive Black Folks in Action.

“Dr. King [also] talked about connecting the Civil Rights Movement to movements in Africa and Asia,” he continued. “Though he and Brother Malcolm had one [confirmed] meeting, people had quiet meetings to bring these two brothers together.”

“No one’s saying they would’ve been homeboys but they could’ve developed something. [Then-CIA Director] J. Edgar Hoover was well aware of that.”

On February 21, 1965, gunmen rushed and fired several shots at Malcolm X shortly after he approached the podium at an OAAU rally at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. Malcolm X, 39, died at the scene in front of his pregnant wife, daughters and comrades — including Bailey with whom he had spoken moments earlier.

During Thursday’s event, Bailey, one of Malcolm X’s pallbearers and author of “Witnessing Brother Malcolm X: The Master Teacher,” revealed plans for a book centering on Malcolm X’s travels throughout Africa after his departure from the Nation of Islam (NOI). The work will include speeches, papers, news releases, media coverage and FBI files on the OAAU that Bailey says highlight the activist’s pivot to human rights — a term of global significance which characterized the apartheid-like conditions afflicting African-Americans domestically.

By 1964, Malcolm X, censured by the NOI, had officially defected from the organization he helped grow in prominence and number for more than a decade. The split from his mentor, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, would allow him to more actively pursue involvement in the Civil Rights Movement including a visit to Selma during which he spoke before young Black activists and met with Coretta Scott King.

Later, during travels abroad, Malcolm X conferred with several African heads of state and appeared before the newly-formed Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Cairo where he tied American racism to the European colonization afflicting Africans on the continent.

The OAAU, which Malcolm X founded in 1964, had been inspired by the OAU — a collective of newly-liberated African countries. At the time of his death, a growing number of African leaders had signed on to the campaign to bring the U.S. government before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

From the OAAU’s founding until Malcolm X’s assassination, Bailey worked closely with him, primarily as editor of the OAAU newsletter “Blacklash.”

Years earlier, Bailey, then a Howard University student, listened to Malcolm X speak on then-Lenox Avenue in Harlem. That moment, he told audiences members Thursday, dispelled his misconceptions about Malcolm X and piqued his interest in Black nationalism.

“I never heard anyone speak about race with the clarity, knowledge, wisdom and commitment he did,” Bailey said.

“[Brother Malcolm] said that white supremacy is dominant with varying degrees of intensity. The most important thing I learned from him was about the attacks on the mind. After that [speech], whenever he spoke in New York City, I was there,” he said.

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