Quit Playin’: Smile…Word is Bond!

By Vincent L. Hall

Malcolm X delivered his last public speech in New York on the night that his home was bombed; Valentine’s Day, 1965. He realized he had been marked, but ventured 990 kilometers southwest to Detroit. Despite the angst, anxiety and unfathomable abandonment he must have felt, he understood his mission. For the length of his life…As Malcolm Little, Malik Shabazz or Malcolm X; he always kept his word. As a sinner, a member of the Nation of Islam or as he embraced the religion of the Sunni Muslims, our “Black shining prince” understood that word was bond.

His opening remarks in this speech conveyed as much. “Distinguished guests, brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, friends and enemies: I want to point out first that I am very happy to be here this evening and I’m thankful [to the Afro-American Broadcasting Company] for the invitation to come here to Detroit this evening. It didn’t destroy all my clothes, not all, but you know what happens when fire dashes through—they get smoky. The only thing I could get my hands on before leaving was what I have on now.”

Because he kept his word, we cling to his every word. He was the stark counterculture to King’s passive resistance in thought and in his language. It was the tale of the lettered poet, contrasted with the street rapper whose reasoning was within all human reach. King spoke in diplomatic terms, but Brother Malcolm didn’t leave no alternatives. King was “Where do we go from here? Community or Chaos.”

Malcolm was much less conciliatory and much more hyperbolic; “It’s the Ballot or the Bullet”…MoFo!

“When I came here today I was a bit–last night, the temperature was about twenty above and when this explosion took place, I was caught in what I had on, some pajamas. And in trying to get my family out of the house, none of us stopped for any clothes at that point–twenty-degree cold. I myself was–I had gotten them into the house of the neighbor next door. So I thought perhaps being in that condition for so long I would get pneumonia or a cold or something like that, so a doctor came today–a nice doctor too– and he shot something in my arm that naturally put me to sleep. I’ve been back there asleep ever since the program started in order to get back in shape. So if I have a tendency to stutter or slow down, it’s still the effects of that drug. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was good; it makes you sleep, and there’s nothing like sleeping through a whole lot of excitement.”

Any of his contemporaries, with the possible exception of King, would have forfeited the invitation. This was before Twitter and Facebook, so protocol would have allowed Malcolm to post a poised and polished statement by way of telegram. Malcolm delivered regrets, not for himself but for the plight of his people. Malcolm’s practice of keeping his word made Ossie Davis’s eulogistic adulation plausible. “There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man; for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile.”

They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle!” To this day, there are men and women; academics and amateurs who would rather we forgot who Malcolm was and who he was to our struggle. But upon what would have been his 94th birthday, let’s recall a Malcolm X who kept his word by any means necessary…and let us smile! #wordisbond!