Les Crane Interviews Malcolm X (December 2, 1964)

Les Crane: My next guest is Mr. Malcolm X, ladies and gentleman. This interview is going to be a little difficult for me to do, because I know Malcolm. We've done shows together before. He's been a guest of mine on a couple of different occasions. We've had telephone conversations of length and interest. And—so to get the story, I'm going to make believe that we've never met, okay?

Malcolm X: That's fine. That's the best way.

Crane: All right. Let's start from the beginning. First of all, what is the Black Muslim movement?

Malcolm X: Well, as you know, I'm not in the Black Muslim movement. But the Black Muslim movement is an organization in this country that's headed by Elijah Muhammad.

Crane: That's all?

Malcolm X: It's an organization that's headed by Elijah Muhammad. It says it's a religious organization and that its religion is Islam. But the people in the world of Islam don't accept it as an orthodox Islamic religious organization.

Crane: In other words, they claim to be a branch, an American branch, of the Muhammadan religion.

Malcolm X: No, not the Muhammadan. The real Muslim never refers to his religion as the Muhammadan religion. His religion is Islam.

Crane: Muhammad being the prophet of that...

Malcolm X: Muhammad is one of the prophets of that religion. The people who believe in that religion believe in all of the prophets—Moses, Abraham, Jesus, all of them. But they believe in Muhammad ibn Abd Allah as the last of the prophets. And Elijah Muhammad in this country says that he is also teaching that religion. But that religion is a religion of brotherhood. It advocates the brotherhood of man, all men.

Crane: That's the Muslim religion?

Malcolm X: Yes. This is the...well, those who practice the religion of Islam call themselves Muslims. In this country they're referred to as Moslems.

Crane: Now, you consider yourself to be a Moslem in this country?

Malcolm X: I'm a Muslim. I believe in the religion of Islam.

Crane: And you are no longer a member of the Black Muslims?

Malcolm X: No, no.

Crane: Now what caused that split?

Malcolm X: Well actually, I don't think that it's any...that it contributes anything constructive to go into what caused the split. I'm not in it. I was inseparable from it while I was in it. But now I'm not. I leave it in the past.

Crane: Well, I don't know how valuable it would be...you know, it was inconceivable to think of the Black Muslim movement in this country without thinking of Malcolm X. You were Elijah Muhammad's right-hand man and his leading spokesman, as well as the head of the mosque in New York, which is the largest Black Muslim mosque in the country, as I understood it. And there were certain things that the Black Muslims represented, at least in my mind through your speeches, that I think are worthy of discussion.

Malcolm X: Well, yes. I represented him probably more diligently than all of the rest of his representatives combined. And this somewhat led to the eventual split. Human nature being what it is.

Crane: Sort of like a power play almost?

Malcolm X: Human nature being what it is.

Crane: Call it politics. We'll call it that.

Malcolm X: Yes.

Crane: But also you said that your trip to Africa has changed your thinking and your position to a great extent.

Malcolm X: Yes. One thing...travel always broadens one's scope. Travel does. Twice this year I visited both Africa and the Middle East. The first time I went was in April and May. I went to Mecca. I went primarily to get a better understanding of Islam. There were things that happened between me and Elijah Muhammad that caused me to greatly question his ability as a man, much less as a religious leader. And, based upon that doubt, I went in search of an understanding of the religion of Islam. I made the Hajj or the pilgrimage to Mecca. While I was...one of the things that Elijah Muhammad always taught us was that Islam is a religion of God. It was a religion in which no whites could participate. And he used...to prove his point, he told us that Mecca was a forbidden city. A city that was forbidden to non-Muslims. And since a white person couldn't be a Muslim in his teaching, he said that no white could enter Mecca. Well, I went to Mecca in May...rather, in April...and everyone was there. In fact one member of the Turkish parliament, who had brought busloads, several hundred busloads, from Turkey to make the pilgrimage, was standing with me on the steps of the hotel in Mina, which is a short distance from Mecca. And he pointed out at that time that Mecca, during the Hajj season, or the pilgrimage season, would be an anthropologist's paradise, because every specimen of humanity is represented there. It's an absolute brotherhood. So that when I saw this with my own eyes, and saw that people of all colors could practice brotherhood, it was at that point that I wrote back and pointed out that I believed in Islam as a religion of brotherhood. But this belief in brotherhood doesn't alter the fact that I'm also an Afro-American, or American Negro as you wish, in a society which has very serious and severe race problems which no religion can blind me to.

Crane: Well, what's interesting to me, there are words that you never used to use in the past in our discussions. You never used to use the word Negro. That word offended you. You used to say "the so-called Negro."

Malcolm X: Well, I said Afro-American or American Negro, as you will.

Crane: And you believed also that brotherhood was impossible at one point.

Malcolm X: Let me explain. The reason I say...Afro-American is a term that our people in this country increasingly are beginning to use to identify themselves. But in using it, I take into consideration that many people don't know what is meant by Afro-American, so I use the word Negro to let you know I was still talking about us.

Crane: Integration offends you. You don't believe in the use of that word. You prefer to think of it as brotherhood which is, for the purposes of our discussion, going to be the same thing. But in the old days you didn't believe in brotherhood, you believed in pure strict separation, didn't you?

Malcolm X: Whenever I opened my mouth, I always said that Elijah Muha...the Honorable Elijah Muhammad...teaches us thus and so. And I spoke for him. I represented him. I represented an organization and organizational thinking. Many of my own views that I had from personal experience I kept to myself. I was faithful to that organization and to that man. Since things came about that made me doubt his integrity, I thought...I think for myself, I listen as much as I can to everyone and try and come up with a capsule opinion, capsulized opinion. I believe that it is possible for brotherhood to be brought about among all people, but I don't delude myself into dreaming or falling for a dream that this exists before it exists. Some of the American...some of the leaders of our people in this country always say that they, you know, they believe in this dream. But while they're dreaming, our people are having a nightmare, and I don't think that you can make a dream come true by pretending that that dream exists when it doesn't.

Crane: You've been a critic of some of the Negro leadership in this country—Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins, Abernathy, and others—have you changed in your feelings toward them of late?

Malcolm X: I think all of us should be critics of each other. Whenever you can't stand criticism you can never grow. I don't think that it serves any purpose for the leaders of our people to waste their time fighting each other needlessly. I think that we accomplish more when we sit down in private and iron out whatever differences that may exist and try and then do something constructive for the benefit of our people. But on the other hand, I don't think that we should be above criticism. I don't think that anyone should be above criticism.

Crane: Violence or the threat of violence has always surrounded you. Speeches that you've made have been interpreted as being threats. You have made statements reported in the press about how the Negroes should go out and arm themselves, form militias of their own. I read a thing once, a statement I believe you made that every Negro should belong to the National Rifle Association.

Malcolm X: No, I said this: That in areas of this country where the government has proven its...either its inability or its unwillingness to protect the lives and property of our people, then it's only fair to expect us to do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves. And in situations like Mississippi, places like Mississippi where the government actually has proven its inability to protect us...and it has been proven that ofttimes the police officers and sheriffs themselves are involved in the murder that takes place against our people...then I feel, and I say that anywhere, that our people should start doing what is necessary to protect ourselves. This doesn't mean that we should buy rifles and go out and initiate attacks indiscriminately against whites. But it does mean that we should get whatever is necessary to protect ourselves in a country or in an area where the governmental ability to protect us has broken down.

Crane: Therefore you do not agree with Dr. King's Gandhian philosophy.

Malcolm X: My belief in brotherhood would never restrain me in any way from protecting myself in a society from a people whose disrespect for brotherhood makes them feel inclined to put my neck on a tree at the end of a rope.

Crane: Well, it sounds as though you could be preaching a sort of an anarchy.

Malcolm X: No, no. I respect government and respect law. But does the government and the law respect us? If the FBI, which is what people depend upon on a national scale to protect the morale and the property and the lives of the people, can't do so when the property and lives of Negroes and whites who try and help Negroes are concerned, then I think that it's only fair to expect elements to do whatever is necessary to protect themselves. And this is no departure from normal procedure, because right here in New York City you have vigilante committees that have been set up by groups who see where their neighborhood community is endangered and the law can't do anything about it. So—and even their lives aren't at stake. So—but the fear, Les, seems to come into existence only when someone says Negroes should form vigilante committees to protect their lives and their property. I'm not advocating the breaking of any laws. But I say that our people will never be respected as human beings until we react as other normal, intelligent human beings do. And this country came into existence by people who were tired of tyranny and oppression and exploitation and the brutality that was being inflicted upon them by powers higher than they, and I think that it is only fair to expect us, sooner or later, to do likewise.

Crane: One last question. You don't preach separatism anymore and I assume you don't want to set up a Black African state in this country anymore. What is your main effort toward now?

Malcolm X: Well, the...one of the organizations which we've now formed, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, has reached the conclusion, after a careful analysis of the problem, that approaching our problem just on the level of civil rights and keeping it within the jurisdiction of the United States will not bring a solution. It's not a Negro problem or an American problem any longer. It's a world problem, it's a human problem. And so we're striving to lift it from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights. And at that level it's international. We can bring it into the United Nations and discuss it in the same tone and in the same language as the problems of people in other parts of the world also is discussed.

Crane: I'm afraid the clock has caught us. It has been interesting. Thank you so much for coming up.

Malcolm X: You're welcome.