Image: Malcolm X at a rally in Washington, DC, in 1963
Hulton Archive via Getty Images,
Malcolm X speaks at a rally in Washington, DC, in 1963. Excerpts of a little-remembered speech he gave in 1961 is set to be aired an event hosted by the Rhode Island Black Heritage Association as part of Black History Month.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/6/2012 4:31:45 AM ET 2012-02-06T09:31:45

The recording was forgotten, and so, too, was the odd twist of history that brought together Malcolm X and a bespectacled Brown University Ivy Leaguer fated to become one of America's top diplomats.

The audiotape of Malcolm X's 1961 address in Providence might never have surfaced at all if 22-year-old Brown University student Malcolm Burnley hadn't stumbled across a reference to it in an old student newspaper. He found the recording of the little-remembered visit gathering dust in the university archives.

"No one had listened to this in 50 years," Burnley told The Associated Press. "There aren't many recordings of him before 1962. And this is a unique speech — it's not like others he had given before."

Some blacks insist: 'I'm not African-American'

In the May 11, 1961 speech delivered to a mostly white audience of students and some residents, Malcolm X combines blistering humor and reason to argue that blacks should not look to integrate into white society but instead must forge their own identities and culture.

'A dead people'
At the time, Malcolm X, 35, was a loyal supporter of the Nation of Islam, a black separatist movement. He would be assassinated four years later after leaving the group and crafting his own more global, spiritual ideology.

The legacy of slavery and racism, he told the crowd of 800, "has made the 20 million black people in this country a dead people. Dead economically, dead mentally, dead spiritually. Dead morally and otherwise. Integration will not bring a man back from the grave."

The rediscovery of the speech could be the whole story. But Burnley found the young students in the crowd that night proved to be just as fascinating.

Malcolm X was prompted to come to Brown by an article about the growing Black Muslim movement published in the Brown Daily Herald and shown in an image on the NPR website. The article by Katharine Pierce, a young student at Pembroke College, then the women's college at Brown, was first written for a religious studies class. It caught the eye of the student paper's editor, Richard Holbrooke.

Holbrooke would become a leading American diplomat, serving as U.S. Ambassador to Germany soon after that nation's reunification, ambassador to the United Nations and President Obama's special adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan before his death in 2010 at age 69.

Video: Shattering the myths on Malcolm X (on this page)

But in 1961 Holbrooke was 20, and eager to use the student newspaper to examine race relations — an unusual interest on an elite Ivy League campus with only a handful of black students.

Sell-out crowd
Pierce's article ran in the newspaper's magazine and made her the first woman whose name was featured on the newspaper's masthead.

Somehow, the article made its way to Malcolm X. His staff and Holbrooke worked out details of the visit weeks in advance. Campus officials were wary: Malcolm X had been banned from the University of California-Berkeley and Queens College in New York City.

Image: Malcolm Burnley
Stephan Savoia  /  AP
Brown University senior Malcolm Burnley, 22, stands with a copy of the 1961 edition of the Brown University Herald in the John Hay Library on campus in Providence, R.I.

Tickets — 50 cents — for the Brown speech sold quickly. About 800 people filled the venue, the 19th-century, Romanesque Sayles Hall, meant to hold about 500.

Pierce introduced Malcolm X and recalls him vividly.

"He came surrounded by a security detail," she recalls. "You got the sense — this is an important person. He was handsome, absolutely charismatic. I was just bewildered that my class paper could have led to something like this."

'Not anti-white'
In his speech, Malcolm X outlined Black Muslims' beliefs and argued that black Americans cannot wait for white Americans to offer them equality.

"No, we are not anti-white," he said. "But we don't have time for the white man. The white man is on top already, the white man is the boss already... He has first-class citizenship already. So you are wasting your time talking to the white man. We are working on our own people."

Pierce said the speech exposed her and other students in the audience to a different side of America. She gives Holbrooke credit for bringing Malcolm X to campus.

Video: New book on Malcolm X looks beyond legend (on this page)

The recording of the address is in pristine condition. Pierce obtained the tape after the event — she isn't sure who made the recording — and it sat in a box of mementos for years before she mailed it to the university archives.

Burnley has had the tape digitized and plans to air excerpts next week at an event hosted by the Rhode Island Black Heritage Association as part of Black History Month.

Lehigh University professor Saladin Ambar, who is working on a book about Malcolm X's 1964 visit to Oxford University, said any new recording of him is reason to celebrate.

"Malcolm's best speeches, they're just gone," he said. "He's not nearly as well-documented as he should be, when you consider his power as an orator."

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Video: Shattering the myths on Malcolm X

  1. Closed captioning of: Shattering the myths on Malcolm X

    >>> and it has been 46 years since malcolm x was assassinated while giving a speech in new york . much has been written about the leader, including the autobiography written in 1965 with alex haley . a new book claims to uncover incorrect information about malcolm x 's life. manning marabel, the author of

    "malcolm x: a life of rye in reinvention" died on friday, two days before his life's work was to be published. so joining us now instead of sadly -- instead of mr. marable but kindly is the book's editor, wendy wolf and the project's lead researcher from new york . thank you for joining us from viking, which published this book. i know that this has to be a personal moment of grief for you, working so long with professor marable. tell us why this book is so important as a new history of this important leader.

    >> thank you, andrea. and, yes, i only wish that manning were sitting here in this chair instead of me. it was his life's work. and we worked closely for the last six years, many people worked with him for over 20 years. what this book does is rescues the man from behind the myth. the minute malcolm x died, people began grabbing at the myth, trying to use him for their own purposes. what manning has done in his dogged research and he had the patience and the courage and the tenacity to find out who malcolm x actually was, he was an important man, he was a staggering figure in american history , he had so much to offer at the moment he died, but we have so much more to learn about his life than just what is shown in the autobiography.

    >> and, in fact, when you look at this, the information he uncovered, 6,000 pages of previously unknown fbi and nypd information what do we know about the actual killers that he has uncovered?

    >> well, as you pointed out, he exhaustively searched for archive sources in every nook and cranny, including seeking to declassify as much as he could of the documents. the fbi files and the new york police department , the bureau of special services, they all maintained surveillance. they had informants in his organization and the nation of islam that he left. even though we retrieved them through the freedom of information act , we did find so many questions we should raise and ask about exactly who is responsible for malcolm 's assassination, who were the co-conspirators and what exactly -- what role and what knowledge and information and advance did these law enforcement agencies have? for example, usually when malcolm would speak at rallies like the auto bon ballroom, there would be over two dozen police officers assigned to secure the event. on february 21st , the day he was assassina assassinated, there were two police officers inside the ballroom. there were none at entrance. there would usually be a police officer and commander stationed on the second floor within full view of the entrance so they could see who was coming and going into the ballroom, that wasn't there on the 21st. we need to ask these questions, was there a decision to pull back the security detail on malcolm , especially after one week before his home had been firebombed it was dleer thclear that this man's life was in danger, but there seemed to have been a decision made by the law enforcement agencies to pull back their security. and moving forward in this research, professor marable found that of the three men who were convicted for the assassination of malcolm x , two were most likely innocent, the evidence suggests and that those who were actually guilty went free. why were they not pursued? even though they were named in a sworn affidavit -- a sworn affidavit by the known convicted admitted killer. and so these are the important questions this book raises about the assassination. and professor marable, as he was working on this project with us, would tell us repeatedly that it was his desire that this book would help start an important conversation that with lead to the cause to open up -- reopen the case on the assassination.

    >> wendy wolf, do you expect now life of reinvention, malcolm x , this enormous book which reads -- it is a fascinating recounting of a life, do you expect this will now raise those questions and there will be an effort to try to reinvestigate?

    >> i certainly hope so. we have no information about any actions on the part of the institutions involved. but i think it is equally important that this book focus attention on malcolm 's life, not just his death. he has so much to teach us about the relationship between black and white in america and in the world, about the role of global islam, manning was able to write how malcolm died at just that moment that he was moving beyond a black separatist agenda for america and moving towards a kind of pan-africanism and outreach. he spent six of the last nine months of his life in africa, meeting every major african leader and at a moment at which africa was about to rise up and we'll never know what might have happened in the history of islam and the history of africa and the history of america had he not died this book makes very powerful suggestions his was a voice we wish had not been silenced.

    >> and manning marable 's voice lives on in his work and through his friends and the associates. we thank you so much for carrying on this mission with malcolm x , the new book. thank you very much, wendy wolf and zaheer

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments