Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 8, 2011

Malcolm X and chickens coming home to roost

Filed under: african-american — louisproyect @ 6:46 pm

In a predictably lukewarm review of Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm X in the N.Y. Times, Michiko Kakutani cannot help but repeat an ancient canard:

There is one ill-considered effort in these pages to rationalize Malcolm X’s violent rhetoric in his Nation of Islam days. “In retrospect,” Mr. Marable writes, “many of Malcolm’s most outrageous statements about the necessity of extremism in the achievement of political freedom and liberty were not unlike the views expressed by the 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who declared that ‘extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.’ ”

This hardly seems an apt comparison given Malcolm X’s description of a 1962 airplane crash, killing more than a hundred well-to-do white residents of Atlanta, as “a very beautiful thing,” proof that God answers prayers. Or his description of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as an instance of “the chickens coming home to roost” — to which he added that “being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.”

While the JFK quote is far better known, the “very beautiful thing” business needs some context that you of course will never find in the N.Y. Times. In 1962 the Los Angeles police department raided a NOI mosque and shot unarmed men in the aftermath of a typical “racial profiling” incident on the street that victimized a couple of Black Muslims. Frederick Knight wrote about the incident in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 79, 1994:

On the night of April 27, 1962, scores of policemen ransacked the Nation of Islam Mosque in Los Angeles and wounded seven unarmed Muslims, leaving William Rogers paralyzed and Ronald Stokes dead. Newspapers from New York to Los Angeles printed the story in their headlines, presenting the gruesome image of the slain Muslim, suited, face-down, handcuffed, swimming in a pool of his own blood. The political struggles which erupted after the shooting soon overshadowed this story of human pain and suffering. And the headlines of local and national newspapers quickly recognized that the siege was certainly not the normal police brutality case.

To many white political leaders, the conflict substantiated their worst fears about the violent nature of the Nation of Islam. On the other hand, many black leaders condemned the police for what they considered to be a racially motivated assault. Though contemporaries viewed the shooting from different perspectives, they agreed on the importance of the attack and its aftermath. Several recent scholars have marked the event as a watershed event in the ideological development of Malcolm X and in Los Angeles racial politics preceding the Watts Rebellion of August 1965.

It was exactly such incidents that had a history going back to the 1870s that made Malcolm X speak with some bitter satisfaction about the plane crash. Of course, this is the big difference between those who have power and those who do not. Those with power do not utter inappropriate statements, but on the other hand do send their police into places of worship to shoot and kill unarmed men.

With respect to the chickens coming home to roost, Malcolm X’s full statement on this has never appeared in print. He was responding on December 1, 1963 to an audience member who had attended a talk titled God’s Judgment of White America.

The next day the N.Y. Times reported on the exchange in an article titled “Malcolm X Scores U.S. and Kennedy”. Malcolm is quoted as saying that Kennedy twiddled his thumbs at the killing of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, adding that JFK “never foresaw that the chickens would come to roost so soon.” Certainly JFK’s CIA did more than just twiddle its thumbs when it came to foreign leaders it found inconvenient. The White House had lined up mafia hit men to kill Fidel Castro, as well as taken part in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. Malcolm´s rather uncontroversial statement simply pointed out that if you were going to kill people overseas in such a fashion you invited being killed in the same way.

The Times says that in further criticism of the late president, Malcolm referred to the young Black girls who died in the bombing of a Birmingham church. A week before the bombing Governor George Wallace told the Times that Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.” Wikipedia states:

A witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On October 8, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.

Meanwhile, the FBI stopped pursuing the case because of a “lack of evidence”.

Malcolm X explained what he was trying to say later on. Fortunately you can see the great Black Nationalist leader make his own case on Youtube:

Like Ward Churchill nearly 40 years later, Malcolm was crucified for telling the truth. When you break the law overseas and allow killers to go free in your own country, you create an atmosphere where men decide to take the law in their own hands.


  1. Hi Louis,

    Hope you are well. In context things make sense. But no matter how you look at the context statements such as “Bombing them back to the Stone Age” in reference to Vietnam or the more recent “Make the Middle East a parking lot” which refers to using nuclear weapons on that area are nothing but brutal and savage.

    Malcolm we must understand was an individual striving to liberate an oppressed people. Richard Nixon or whoever was an individual seeking to oppress people. While as a Christian I categorically reject violence of any kind, trusting in God for any retriubtion, I find it more easy to live with when the oppressed come out on top in such engagements.


    John Kaniecki


    John Kaniecki

    Comment by john kaniecki — April 8, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

  2. I think this is one of your best pieces, Louis. With a few choice facts and contextualizations, you show exactly what is wrong with establishment liberalism. The juxtaposition between the inappropriate statements of the oppressed and the well-mannered brutality of the rulers was particularly nice.

    Comment by VMS — April 8, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

  3. Hard to believe coming from a hardened stalwart of the choir but this was indeed an exceptionally prescient post. As a grizzled old student of Malcom’s impeccable historically significant credentials I’m well aware that criticims against him have never withstood scrutiny. So hat tips to all who remember his contributions in their historical context.

    When Crackers on their bully pulpits evoke “American Exceptionalism” I immediately think of Malcolm X, Eugene V. Debs, Joe Hill, & the like.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 9, 2011 @ 2:09 am

  4. Who you callin’ “cracker,” hoss? “The like” includes Albert Parsons, former Confederate trooper, husband to Lucy Parsons, and Haymarket Martyr.

    It’s a great posting, yessiree.

    Comment by Jim Holstun, half-Cracker — April 9, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  5. i’m SO tired of (racist) people using soundbites in order to continue the desecration of Malcolm X’s legacy to this day. He was a part of a minority group that had been greatly oppressed, humiliated, enslaved and dehumanized for many centuries. He had every right to be angry; he was a reflection of his time in an era when black people were becoming courageous and began to stand up for their rights. The only diference is that he had the COURAGE to speak out and say something that many other black folks were thinking at the time but too afraid to say out loud.

    Secondly, Malcolm X is a very interesting person because history witnessed the transformation of Malcolm X from a petty hustler into a NOI spokesman, eventually turning into a peaceful Muslim that denounced NOI and embraced white people as part of the struggle for civil rights.

    Rest in Peace, Malcolm X.

    Comment by Jihad-Punk — April 9, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  6. The text of Malcolm X’s speech GOD’S JUDGEMENT ON WHITE AMERICA can be found online:

    It isn’t complete, and the link it provides doesn’t seem to work, but at least it’s something.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — April 9, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

  7. Another focus on the cultural as opposed to the historical: Malcolm X was apparently some dude who said something back in the ’60s, do you agree with his mutilated statements [Y/N]. Never mind any historical context, it’s all about statements that hold true no matter the context throughout the ages, like JFK’s “Do not ask what your country can do for you etc.” never mind it was a call for Americans to join up to slaughter the Vietnamese, or Voltaire’s “I disagree with what you say but…” which has now become the rallying cry of every right-wing shitbag arguing against banning/convicting/slapping every single racist, misogynist or homophobic scumbag across the globe. Marx’s mutilated “I’m not a Marxist” is now an indication that he knew he was full of shit, his equally mutilated “Religion is the opium of the people” is now the spit landing daily on muslim women who cover their faces in the west. Isn’t post-modernism great.

    Comment by Antonis — April 10, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

  8. Well stated!

    Comment by Tom Cod — April 11, 2011 @ 5:27 am

  9. In a similar context, Kakutani wrote a review trashing Le Carre’s novel “Absolute Friends” several years ago, obviously discomforted by his critique of US power post-9/11, his willingness to consider the 1960s radicalism of the protagonists as sincere and his acceptance of the notion that the US would stage a faux terrorist incident to justify further suppression. Why one takes the cultural criticism of the people who write for the NY Times seriously is beyond me. Stephen Erlanger, if I remember correctly, maligned the resistance in Algeria during the 1940s and 1950s, implying that the French colonial regime was more benign, in a review of a French film last year. Neocolonial revisionism, even in the arts, has been legitimized since 9/11, it seems.

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 11, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

  10. I love Malcolm X!

    Comment by Sherif — April 13, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  11. Excellent piece.

    Comment by antihostile — April 14, 2011 @ 12:03 am

  12. That YouTube link no longer works. Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD6aX3dHR2k

    Comment by manfromatlan — October 2, 2017 @ 11:35 pm

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