El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) took his last breath as a mere man on Feb 21, 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom in New York. His assassination not only sparked outrage but also provided us with a forever martyred Pan-Africanist!! His untimely death came at a critical time in his ideological development as he embraced Pan-Africanism (The total liberation and unification of Africa) as the only solution for African descendants in America to obtain freedom and/or human rights. It is no accident that both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated as they began to develop a consciousness that critically challenged the capitalist system and western Imperialists. However, even if El Hajj Malik El Shabazz was murdered at the height of his ideological journey his impact forever changed the trajectory of the movement.
Malcolm X was clear that the key to our survival as African people was for us to unify and to recognize the power of Africa. In the clip below he points out that the only way that we as African people will be free of exploitation and oppression is through the Unification of Africa. This is a familiar call as all Pan-Africanists today are calling on the Unification and Liberation of Africa.
Malcolm X reminded us that Africa’s image and resources have been controlled by foreign forces and should be liberated. Who is controlling Africa’s resources and images today? How much has changed since 1965 when our dear brother was assassinated? What can we learn from the leadership of this great man and his work that lives on today?
Luckily, for us Malcolm X decided to create an institution that was modelled after the Organization of African Unity upon his return from Mecca and his tour of North and West Africa. While, his hajj was extremely important for his development as a practitioner of Islam, I would suggest that his travels throughout West Africa specifically in Ghana shaped his Pan-African thought. His time in Ghana, greatly shaped his need to embrace Pan-Africanism and to form the Organization of Afro American Unity (OAAU).
Today everyone is celebrating Malcolm X and his contributions to the African struggle, but few truly understand his transformation later in life. Few recognize that after his interactions with Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of independent Ghana and Sekou Toure, the first president of independent Guinea his ideological perspectives became African centered and blossomed. Not only did Malcolm X discuss the need for Africa to unite but he connected the oppression of Africans everywhere to one enemy in his speech on February 14, 1965 in Detroit titled, “After the Bombing” he said this of the imperialists, “I might point out here that colonialism or imperialism, as the slave system of the West is called, is not something that is just confined to England or France or the United States. The interests in this country are in cahoots with the interests in France and the interests in Britain. It’s one huge complex or combine, and it creates what’s known not as the American power structure or the French power structure, but an international power structure. This international power structure is used to suppress the masses of dark-skinned people all over the world and exploit them of their natural resources, so that the era in which you and I have been living during the past ten years most specifically has witnessed the upsurge on the part of the black man in Africa against the power structure.”
According to Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, W.E.B. Dubois, Shirley Graham Dudois and many more Pan-African Leaders the primary culprit oppressing and exploiting Africa and African people was world-wide imperialism an extension of capitalism. As Malcolm X travelled throughout West Africa he met with many people including African’s born in the United States who had repatriated back home. What he realized was that just because they were at home that did not mean that they were part and parcel of the development process or the fight to achieve Pan-Africanism so he took matters into his own hands. In order to ensure that all Africans were involved in the struggle he formed chapters of the OAAU in the West African countries that he visited.
The organization of Afro American Unity was promoting a concrete plan to achieve Pan-Africanism and perhaps today is the day when we need to revisit the Basic Aims and Objectives of the OAAU they are:
- Self Determination: We assert that we Afro-Americans have the right to direct and control our lives, our history and our future rather than to have our decisions determined by American racists…
- National Unity: We, the Organization of Afro-American Unity pledge to join hands and hearts with all people of African origin in a grand alliance by forgetting all the differences that the power structure has created to keep us divided and enslaved.
- Restoration: In order to enslave the African it was necessary for our enslavers to completely sever our communications with the African continent and the Africans that remained there. In order to free ourselves from the oppression of our enslavers then, it is absolutely necessary for the Afro-American to restore communications with Africa.
- Reorientation: In order to keep the Afro-American enslaved, it was necessary to limit our thinking to the shores of America-to prevent us from identifying our problems with the problems of other peoples of African origin. This made us consider ourselves as isolated minority without allies anywhere.
- Education: After enslaving us, the slavemasters developed a racist educational system which justified to its posterity the evil deeds that had been committed against the African people and their descendants.
- Economic Security: After the Emancipation Proclamation, when the system of slavery changed from chattel slavery to wage slavery, it was realized that the Afro-American constituted the largest homogeneous ethnic group with a common origin and common group experience in the United States and, if allowed to exercise economic or political freedom, would in a short period of time own this country. (With this last point I disagree this is indigenous people land and we must seek to liberate Africa)
- Self-Defense: In areas where the United States government has shown itself unable and/or unwilling to bring to justice the racist oppressors, murders, who kill innocent children and adults, the Organization of Afro-American Unity advocates that the Afro-American people insure ourselves that justice is done-whatever the price andby any means necessary.
I would contend that the aims and objectives need to be updated to reflect the world-wide African community, however, if we simply exchange the word “Afro-American” with African or African descendants, they become relevant for the challenges we face today. Finally, as mentioned the land that we must be liberating from foreign occupation is the African continent which will ultimately positively benefit all people of African descent!!
Perhaps today is the day that we begin to the look back at the examples of our ancestors to strengthen the Pan-African movement and Africa. El Hajj Malik El Shabazz gave his life for our liberation and it is only right for us to take his lead and continue the work of this great ancestor. When I think of Malcolm X I think of another dear ancestor who in his song “Zimbabwe” says, “Every man got the right to decide his own destiny”!!! Who is defining Africa and African people’s destiny? Check out the video below:
Resources and Links:
Breitman, George (1965) Malcolm X Speaks, Grove Press, New York, New York