Happy 87th Birthday, Malcolm X

05.19.12 6 years ago 5 Comments

Photo: Eve Arnold, LIFE

Long before Christopher Wallace, a man by the name of Malcolm Little – known in the hood as Detroit Red – immortalized the phrase “from ashy to classy.” Red was in the streets. He pushed drugs. He clashed with the law. He got it poppin’ with the loose women folk of his day. It took prison and a conversion to Islam which would reveal the man we now know as Malcolm X. From there, he would blossom into the yin to Martin Luther King’s yang as the two fought for equality in America during arguably the most tumultuous time in the country’s existence.

Like most people who change the world, however, Malcolm died young and died violently at the hands of those who feared his power and influence. Had X lived today, he would have been 87 years young. Celebrate the man, his legacy, his life and his words. And please, refrain from turning this into a “I like X better than King because…” argument. We’re talking about civil rights, not sports. With that, I leave with my favorite quote from Malcolm because it proves he was not this “beat up all white folks,” loose cannon revisionist history has characterized him as the decades following his death.

“I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I’m also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people.”

Bonus: How Denzel never won an Oscar for this will be one of the great travesties in American cinema for the rest of eternity. One of the most powerful scenes ever shot on film.

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