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Wednesday, January 11,2012

Honoring X

The late activist's life is remembered in a series of events at Capital Area District Library

by Bill Castanier

When Lansing resident Doug Warren was making the case in front of Lansing City Council last year for renaming Main Street in honor of Malcolm X, he said that if there was a Mount Rushmore for African-Americans, Malcolm X would be on it, along with Martin Luther King.

“You can argue about the other two (figures), but there is no question Malcolm X would be up there,” he said.

Warren, along with several other Lansing activists, had been trying for some time to find a way to honor Lansing as the childhood home of Malcolm X. Street signs designating Malcolm X Street went up last year without any fanfare. 

A native of Omaha, Malcolm Little (later Malcolm X) moved to the Lansing area with his family in the late 1920s, and moved around Lansing and Mason throughout the 1930s.

Malcolm’s father, Fred Little, was a follower of Marcus Garvey, the Black Nationalist, and when Little died in 1931 under the wheels of a street car there were claims his death was not accidental; fingers were pointed in the direction of the Black Legion, a white supremacist group. Before that, the Little’s home (on what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard) had been burned down in what was believed to be a fire set by the same group. The location is identified by a State of Michigan Historical Marker.

Warren, Dennis Burnside, Ammahad Shekarakki and Apaxumaiz have created the Malcolm X Lansing Foundation (www.malcolmxlansing.org) to promote the ideals of Malcolm X. 

The group hosts a monthly book club. David J. Garrow´s “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Leadership Conference” will be discussed at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the downtown Capital Area District Library.

Burnside said one of the primary goals of the foundation is to increase literacy and respect for the value of self-education. He said it is important to recognize Malcolm X since he manifested the constitutional ideals this country was founded on.

“He advocated for those ideals for all people, especially freedom,” Burnside said. He believes the resistance in recognizing and honoring Malcolm X can be attributed to one thing: racism.

Prior to the street renaming, the only other physical recognition of Malcolm X’s time in Lansing was the El-Hajj Malik-Shabazz Academy, a private charter school academy that had been named in his honor.

Eugene Cain, principal of the academy, said that each year the school (which enrolls 375 students, pre-school through sixth grade) holds a special week to honor Malcolm X around the time of his birthday (May 19). However, that had been about the extent of any recognition for the international civil rights leader. 

That changes this coming weekend when the Capital Area District Library downtown branch hosts an exhibit and several events honoring Malcolm X.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the Black History 101 Mobile Museum brings to the downtown library an exhibit called “Necessary!” that includes more than 150 historical artifacts from the life and work of Malcolm X.

Khalid el-Hakim, the museum’s founder and curator, said the exhibit traces the life of Malcolm X through original flyers, photos, magazine covers and memorabilia. The exhibit also features some items from the Jim Crow era, as well as some of the more disturbing manifestations of racism, such as the Marion, Ind., lynching of three black men in 1930.

“I have put together a timeline exhibit that shows what created the Nation of Islam and what inspired Malcolm X,” El-Hakim said.

Originally from Detroit, El-Hakim said at one time he considered opening a traditional museum, but opted for a traveling show instead: “Museums are closing and attendance is down, so I decided to take my museum to the people.”

The curator said that his introduction to black consciousness came through hip- hop music and sampling, which used the actual speeches of individuals like Malcolm X. He said “The Autobiography of Malcom X” was the first book he read cover to cover by choice and not as a requirement for a class.

After leaving the Lansing area for Boston in 1941, Malcolm X would be caught up in a life of crime: drug dealing, gambling, pimping, robbery, etc. In prison, he converted to the Nation of Islam, a religious movement founded in Detroit.

“He is the ultimate story of American redemption, and despite all obstacles he overcame them,” Warren said.

“As a young man he finds something about himself that changes his relationship with the rest of his life. He was regarded throughout the world as a man of substance, and Malcolm X tried to unshackle the minds and spirits of African-Americans.”

Malcolm X returned to East Lansing in 1963 for a speech at Michigan State University. 

Several years ago Cain said he made a presentation to a “city monument committee” about erecting a statue in honor of Malcolm X, but it never got off the ground.

He believes that this year, around Malcolm X’s birthday, the city should have a formal ceremony to recognize the street renaming.

In addition to the traveling museum, at 11 a.m. Saturday, a program called “Malcolm X and Hip Hop” will be presented by Professor Griff of Public Enemy. Other Saturday events include a performance by Shabazz Academy African Dancers at 1 p.m. and a Black History Storytime for children at 2 p.m.

The downtown library is at 401 S. Capitol Ave. For more information, visit www.cadl.org, or call (517) 367-6300.

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