Malcolm X, as a member of the Nation of Islam, preached anti-Semitism and called the white man “devil.” After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X dismissed the murder as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost.”
In Spike Lee’s biographical drama, “Malcolm X,” a white teenage girl approaches the angry activist and says, “Excuse me, Mr. X. Hi. I’ve read some of your speeches, and I honestly believe that a lot of what you have to say is true. And I’m a good person, in spite of what my ancestors did, and I just — I wanted to ask you, what can a white person like myself who isn’t prejudiced, what can I do to help you … further your cause?” He stares sternly, and replies, “Nothing.” She leaves in tears.
But Malcolm X changed. He visited Mecca, where he saw people of all colors worshipping together. It changed the way he thought. He repudiated his anger toward whites after discovering that people were more similar than they were different. He renounced the racist ideology of the Nation of Islam, and in doing so knowingly signed his own death warrant. He was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam.
Alabama Gov. George Wallace, in 1963, proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” at his inauguration, and later stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to bar blacks from entering. Nine years later, Wallace took a would-be assassin’s bullet, leaving him paralyzed.
Older, wiser and chastened by the attempt on his life, Wallace changed. Wallace, one day and without invitation, went to a black church where 300 black clergymen were holding a conference. He asked to speak. Wallace asked for forgiveness. He said to the church leaders, “I never had hate in my heart for any person. But I regret my support of segregation and the pain it caused the black people of our state and nation. … I’ve learned what pain is, and I’m sorry if I’ve caused anybody else pain. Segregation was wrong — and I am sorry.”
The voters in Alabama returned the former governor to office, but this time, he received black support and made several black appointments. The damage Wallace did through his actions and rhetoric was profound, and despite the assassination attempt, he lived long enough to undo some of it. …
History is complicated. And history requires perspective and understanding, something sadly lacking in those who seek to erase history by imposing today’s standards of right and wrong.
hat-tip Stephen Neil