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Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. The fact that only some of his story is mentioned here certainly does not mean that the rest is not most interesting. According to his own account, he led the life of a drug dealing, pimping burglar beginning sometime in his teens and ultimately was charged, convicted and sentenced to 10 years for 14 burglaries. While in prison, he converted to Islam Elijah Muhammad style. He assumed the name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. He rose within the ranks of the Nation of Islam (NOI), and became minister of the temple in New York City. He subsequently split from the NOI, and was in the process of building his own following when he was assassinated in New York on February 21, 1965. The three assassins were apprehended and convicted for murder. Two of those convicted - Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson (names subsequently changed to Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, respectively) - have always maintained their innocence. (The latter is dead.) The third - Talmadge Hayer (subsequently Mujahid Halim) admitted guilt after he was convicted at trial, but said that Butler and Johnson were not involved. He claimed that his motive was Malcolm X's defamation of Elijah Muhammad with regard to Muhammad's sexual liaisons. Prior to his assassination, Malcolm X collaborated with Alex Haley on his autobiography, which although copyrighted in 1964 was not published until after his death. The book contains a section entitled "Epilogue," the entirety of which was apparently written after Malcolm X's death.

A word about Malcolm X's role in the Civil Rights Movement is appropriate here. One strategy of the Civil Rights Movement was to portray the "Black Muslims" as tantamount to the boogeyman so as to make the mainstream seem more palatable to those whites who otherwise would have opposed the mainstream. This tactic appears clearly in Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail. The pertinent part follows:

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

Malcolm X easily qualified for the role with his criminal background, including the moniker "Satan" that he had while incarcerated. Moreover, his association with Castro when the latter came to New York for an appearance before the United Nations in 1960 furthered an overall negative image. There can be little question that Elijah Muhammad sought also to foster this negative image. The scandal created by his affairs with some of his secretaries was bad enough, even standing alone. He exacerbated the situation when he tried to justify his behavior by citing the antics of David, Noah, and Lot of the Old Testament. It says here that the exacerbation was intentional.

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Quotes from Malcom X demonstrate that he was well aware of his role. Examples include:

"I want Dr. King to know that I didn't come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King."
"I'll say nothing against him. At one time the whites in the United States called him a racialist, and extremist, and a Communist. Then the Black Muslims came along and the whites thanked the Lord for Martin Luther King."
Dr. King on Malcolm X:
"You know, right before he was killed he came down to Selma and said some pretty passionate things against me, and that surprised me because after all it was my territory there. But afterwards he took my wife aside, and said he thought he could help me more by attacking me than praising me. He thought it would make it easier for me in the long run."

Here is the sequence of events upon which the writer's conclusion is based. All but the last occurred in the interim between Malcolm X's rise through the ranks of the NOI and his subsequent split from it.

1. On 11/22/63, Elijah Muhammed issued directives to all Muslim ministers to make "no remarks at all concerning the assassination [of JFK]." 1
2. On 12/1/63: Malcolm X, said "[President Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon" in response to a question about President John F. Kennedy's assassination. He added, "Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad." 2
3. On 12/4/63, he was officially "silenced" by Elijah Muhammed for 90 days. 3
4. Malcolm X submitted to his silencing. 4
5. Shortly thereafter, an immediate assistant of Malcolm X's "was telling certain Mosque Seven brothers: 'If you knew what [Malcolm X] did, you'd go out and kill him yourself.'"5
6. Later in December - interview with Louis Lomax.
7. His autobiography is published after Malcolm X's death. In it, Alex Haley says that Malcolm X said that Elijah Muhammad's reaction was not about JFK. 6 Malcolm X also uses the "chickens come home ot roost" metaphor again. 7

Events numbers two and five are the most telling. The consensus regarding the meaning of the "chickens come home to roost" metaphor is that the consequences of ones prior misdeeds have been visited upon him. This meaning comports fully with the assertions in JFK was already beginning to cost the American bourgeoisie big bucks with his pro-labor stance, and it is doubtful that many of them felt much regret about his death. His "misdeeds" at the point of his assassination were: 1) responsibility for the increase in the minimum wage; and 2) his granting to the federal public employee the right to bargain collectively. The "so soon" part is easily interpreted as referring to the fact that JFK had yet to make his move on 29 U.S.C. 158(b)(4)(ii)(B). However, and for whatever reason, Malcolm X subsequently steered clear of this interpretation. In the interview with Lomax, the following question was given the following answer:

LOMAX: Is that the reasoning behind your remark after the assassination of President Kennedy? You are reported to have said that Kennedy's death was an instance of "chickens coming home to roost."
MALCOLM X: Yes, but let's clear up what I said, I did not say that Kennedy's death was a reason for rejoicing. That is not what I meant at all. Rather I meant that the death of Kennedy was the result of a long line of violent acts, the culmination of hate and suspicion and doubt in this country. You see, Lomax, this country has allowed white people to kill and brutalize those they don't like. The assassination of Kennedy is a result of that way of life and thinking. The chickens came home to roost; that's all there is to it. America-at the death of the President-just reaped what it had been sowing.

It is easily seen that Malcolm X's explanation of his own statement is different than the one given above. His was not that JFK's misdeeds came back to haunt him, but instead that America's misdeeds came back to haunt it. The next three questions and answers permit the inference that Malcolm X broadened the application of the metaphor for a reason:

LOMAX: But you were disciplined for making these remarks; The Honorable Elijah Muhammad has publicly rebuked you and has ordered you not to speak in public until further notice.
MALCOLM X: This is true. I was wrong; the Messenger had warned me not to say anything about the death of the President, and I omitted any reference to that tragedy in my main speech. But during a question-and-answer period someone asked about the meaning of the Kennedy assassination, and I said it was a case of chickens coming home to roost. Now about that suspension-it's just as if you have cut off a radio. The radio is still there, but it makes no sound. You can cut it back on when it pleases you.
LOMAX: How long do you think this suspension will last?
MALCOLM X: Only The Honorable Elijah Muhammad can answer that. I don't think it will be permanent.
LOMAX: Then you do expect to return to your duties?
MALCOLM X: Yes, sir.

That reason would, of course, be that Malcolm X wanted to return to his duties, and thought that broadening the application of the metaphor might accomplish that. That's not how it played out. Indeed, one of the reasons for the widening of the rift between Malcom X and the NOI may have been that his interview with Lomax was in contradiction of his "silencing."

The publication of his book did two things with regard to his "chickens come home to roost" statement. First, it removed the desire to be reinstated as minister for the NOI as a reason behind his altering of the meaning of the metaphor. He refers to chickens coming home to roost twice in his book. Here is the context of one:

Some observers inside Red China have reported that the world never has known such a hate- white campaign as is going on in this non-white country where, present birthrates continuing, in fifty more years Chinese will be half the earth's population. And it seems that some Chinese chickens will soon come home to roost, with China's recent successful nuclear tests. 8

As was the case with Lomax, here Malcolm X is basically equating the metaphor with "America reaping what it sows." Here is the context of the other:

... I said what I honestly felt - that it was, as I saw it, a case of "the chickens coming home to roost." I said that the hate in white men had not stopped with the killing of defenseless black people, but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked, finally had struck down this country's Chief of State. 9

The second thing that Malcolm X's autobiography did was seemingly remove the chickens come home to roost statement as the motive for his assassination. In his chapter entitled "Epilogue," Alex Haley wrote:

[Malcolm X] stated that his statement about President Kennedy's assassination was not why he had been ousted from the Muslims. "It wasn't the reason at all. Nobody said anything when I made stronger statements before." The real reason, he said, was "jealously in Chicago, and I objected to the immorality of a man who professed to be more moral than anybody." 10

There remains to clean up what seems to be a timing problem. For the motive assigned here to be the correct one, the assassin would be required to have known that Malcolm X's biography would have a tendency to remove the statement regarding JFK as the motive before the book was even published. The chapter entitled "Epilogue" which contains the material that seemingly tends to remove Malcolm X's "chicken come home to roost" statement as the motive arose from Alex Haley's insistence that he be permitted to include some of his own observations. In the words of Haley, "I asked for - and he gave - his permission that at the end of the book I could write comments of my own about him which would not be subject to his review." 11 These comments became the epilogue to the Autobiography, which Haley obviously wrote after Malcolm X's death 12 The parts of the book containing Malcolm X's references to "chickens come home to roost" were already copyrighted when Malcolm X was assassinated. Somehow, word got out that Malcolm X made the statement with regard to Elijah Muhammad's motives. This could have happened any number of ways. One way is that Malcolm X told other people the same thing. Two is that Haley told other people that Malcolm X had told him that. Three is that a person involved in the publishing process "leaked" it. Four is that Malcolm X or Haley or both were being surveilled. 13 For Malcolm X to have said it to Haley and Haley not to have printed it is unlikely. Furthermore, in that unlikely event, the statement could have been made public quite easily - any interview with Haley would have done the trick.

The fact of the matter is, Malcolm X's knowledge of the motive for the JFK assassination is the only thing that merited enough concern to assassinate him. The reason proffered by Hayer is easily seen as hooey - the secret was out, Malcolm X was not the one who let it out, and the women that did let it out were not also killed. Moreover, as has been mentioned, it is a virtual certainty that Elijah Muhammad wanted to be defrocked - it was all part of the plan to make MLK seem the preferable alternative. Malcolm X certainly did not present a threat to MLK's popularity. In a poll taken by the New York Times among the black population of New York City, 75% cited King as doing the best work for Black America, and 20% cited Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. Malcolm X was able to garner only 6%. 14 His statements with regard to JFK present by far the strongest motive to assassinate him, especially when it is remembered that Black America has historically been anti-labor. Elijah Muhammad was initially concerned enough about JFK's assassination to order his ministers not to comment on it. What was the source of the concern? His reaction was swift when Malcolm X violated his order. Obviously there was some concern about what Malcolm X had said. The seriousness of the concern is perhaps best demonstrated by Malcolm X's assistant that "was telling certain Mosque Seven brothers: 'If you knew what [Malcolm X] did, you'd go out and kill him yourself.'" Here is seen the attempted manufacture of an alternate (and unknown) motive for killing Malcolm X in the event that he did not submit. Obviously, if Malcolm X had been killed immediately after his chickens come home to roost statement, it would look very much like the statement was the motive for his killing. Just as obviously, those who would kill Malcolm X for having made the statement would wish to avoid the inference of motive. Malcolm X's statement in his autobiography that Elijah Muhammad was more concerned about Malcolm X's popularity that he was about Malcolm X's chickens come home to roost statement was thus his death warrant.



1. Malcom X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ballentine Books, 1999. p. 329.
2. Id.
3. Memo from FBI to SS dated 12/6/63
4. Malcolm X and Alex Haley, p. 330.
5. Id. at 331.
6. Id. at 447-448.
7. Id. at 194.
8. Id. at 194.
9. Id. at 329.
10. Id. at 447-48.
11. Id. at 423.
12. Wood, Joe (editor) (1992). Malcolm X: In Our Own Image (1st ed.). New York: St Martins Press, p. 104.
13. Malcolm X's telephone was being tapped. See
14. Malcolm X and Alex Haley, p. 455.

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