Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

December 14, 1963

Guest post by Geoff Schumacher, History MA student at Arizona State University.

The December 14, 1963, issue of the Pittsburgh Courier featured an in-depth article (“Will Censure of Malcolm X Lead to Split in Muslims?”) discussing the fallout from Malcolm X’s provocative comments regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Malcolm X described the assassination as a case of “chickens coming home to roost.” The African-American activist elaborated that “being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.” His comments were printed in the December 2, 1963, issue of the New York Times.

Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Black Muslim (Nation of Islam) movement, suspended Malcolm X, his second in command, for the comments and said Malcolm “was speaking for himself and not Muslims in general.” The article speculates that tensions within the Black Muslim movement could lead to a split into two organizations, one “with headquarters in Chicago and another with headquarters in New York.” The Pittsburgh Courier article also mentions Malcolm X’s description of the black leaders of the March on Washington “as stooges in the employ of a ‘white liberal’ conspiracy that included the late president.”

I sought out an article on this subject because I was curious to see how African-American newspapers addressed Malcolm X’s rising public profile and his frustration with the slow pace of progress achieved by civil rights leaders dedicated to the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. At the time it must have seemed outlandish for a young African-American civil rights advocate to openly criticize the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., yet the writer of this article—there is no byline—maintains a just-the-facts approach, clearly trying hard to remain as neutral as possible. (It should be noted that the Pittsburgh Courier article lifts a few lines verbatim from the New York Times article.)

As it turned out, the Nation of Islam did not split into two organizations. Instead, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam in 1964 and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which advocated for Pan-Africanism. The following year, three Nation of Islam members murdered Malcolm X in Manhattan. His aggressive posture, however, inspired the Black Power movement, the leaders of which saw Malcolm X as an icon.

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