May 19, 2015
They killed Martin Luther King as he was getting more radical, mounting a class-struggle campaign, and they killed MALCOLM X (formerly Little, finally Shabazz, 1925–65) as he was getting more mainstream, abandoning separatist philosophies. It’s a way of saying they were moving out from and in toward the center, including the dispossessed and the unrewarded majority in an army the system could not overpower. They were also eliminating the peaceful/militant division with which the white mind could oversimplify and dismiss them; the axes were intersecting, and that convergence was what the X was all about. The survivor he always had been, crossed with the immortal model he would become; the pillar of self-containment — personal discipline, racial solidarity — crossed with the message for all to fulfill who they are. An X-ample, a factor of possibility, a vote cast for a self that no one else was going to champion before he did. King carried the cross and the X stood on two feet, and held two ideas, like power and restraint (he and his followers frightened but never attacked), like self-assurance and openness to others’ thoughts (no public figure of the 20th century transformed himself more profoundly). Transformation, like revolution, is indefinite or it doesn’t exist; Malcolm could not be pinned down so ultimately they pinned him. They’ve tried to freeze Martin in place too, and in that way his fight goes on as the definition is contested; both these men — unfairly linked in the official discourse as they are here, when in fact their movements were composed of many leaders and masses who all mattered to them — offered their lives, though King gets remembered as a martyr and X as a soldier. The latter speaks more to our era; in taming Martin’s memory time has also made him unreachably perfect while Malcolm was a man who died on his feet and whose memory can pull us up. “No one man should have that much power,” an enemy infamously said, and forever, he agrees.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).