Brother Malcolm X’s influence on the voting rights movement

00-apeterbaileyTo do research for a documentary on Brother Malcolm X’s influence on the Black Power Movement, I joined with the conceiver of the project, Thomas Muhammad, interviewer Dr. Tara White, executive producer Lori Malihoit, videographers Evans Mitchell and William Hicks on an over 1,500-mile journey to Lowndes County, Ala., Selma, Ala., and Dallas, Texas.

The adventure actually began with Dr. White interviewing Brother Malcolm’s nephew, Rodnell Collins, author of the book “Seventh Child: A Family Memoir of Malcolm X.” He provided information on his uncle’s family history.

A great trip
Highlights of the adventure in which we travelled in a rented recreational vehicle are as follows:
•A visit with Dr. Calvin Sinnette, who was a pediatrician for Brother Malcolm’s daughters and Mrs. Elinor Des Verney Sinnette, author of “Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector.”

They were close enough to Brother Malcolm that he called them on Saturday evening, Feb. 20, 1965 to thank them for their contribution to the campaign to secure clothing for his children. Their clothing had been burned up in the firebombing of his home the previous weekend.

Mrs. Sinnette also remembers his telling them that there would be an attempt to kill him the next day, Sunday, Feb. 21, 1965, but for them not to worry because he was on top of things. That was painful to hear.

•A visit with John Jackson in Lowndes County, Ala. Mr. Jackson is the son of Matthew Jackson. His father owned a large farm in the county. Mr. Jackson, who was 16 years old in 1965, said his father heard Brother Malcolm speak at Brown’s Chapel in Selma on Feb. 4, 1965 “and came home a changed man.”

He immediately offered the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) a house on his farm that became the headquarters for their voting rights campaign in Lowndes County. That house, in which Kwame Ture and other SNCC warriors strategized and slept, is still there as Freedom House, and is open to the public.

•A visit in Selma with Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese, Joanne Bland, Averette Woodson and Charles Mauldin, all of whom were frontline warriors in the battle against White supremacists/racists. Dr. Reese, whose home was firebombed, is the only surviving member of a group known as The Courageous Eight. They began the battle for voting rights in Selma.

Mrs. Bland, Mr. Woodson and Mr. Mauldin, all of whom marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, were 11, 13 and 16 respectively, at the time. All were in Brown’s Chapel to hear Brother Malcolm speak. He had always been presented to them as a person who advocated violence.

Mrs. Bland smiled and said, “At age 11, all I knew was that he advocated killing White folks who suppressed us. I was disappointed when he didn’t do that in his speech.”

•A visit with Pastor Emeritus Zan Holmes whose church, St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, includes a stained-glass mural of Brother Malcolm in a series of murals depicting the history of Black folks in this country.

•A panel discussion in Dallas, Texas with Dr. Bernard LaFayette, a member of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inner circle who provided a first-hand account of the debate among the Southern Christian Leadership Council officers about the possibility of Brother Malcolm speaking at Brown’s Chapel which was the headquarters for their voting rights campaign. After much discussion it was decided that the cost of not allowing him to speak would be greater than allowing him to do so.

Both LaFayette, in his book, “In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma” and the National Voting Rights Museum in its 50th Anniversary program, state that Brother Malcolm’s coming to Selma and speaking in Brown’s Chapel to clearly demonstrate his support for their campaign, had an influential impact on the later passage of a voting rights bill.

‘Talented theorist’
Why Brother Malcolm was able to influence the voting rights movement can best be ascertained by reading an observation by brilliant, perceptive journalist and historian Lerone Bennett Jr., who wrote, “Although Malcolm X was assassinated before he could organize his ideas into a movement, he was an enormously talented theorist who influenced millions with his articulate expositions on television programs and his lectures on public platforms.”

Peter Bailey’s latest book is “Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, the Master Teacher.” Contact him at apeterb@verizon.net.

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