A Brown University student has come across a 50-year-old recording of a speech civil rights leader Malcolm X delivered at the Rhode Island school.
Senior Malcolm Burnley first learned of the May 11, 1961, speech while doing research for a fictional writing course, according to a report by NPR.org.
“So I went to the archives and started flipping through dusty compilations of student newspapers, and there was this old black-and-white photo of when Malcolm X came to speak,” Burnley says. “There was one short article wri that corresponded to it, and very little else.”
The article, written 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, who later would become a leading American diplomat and President Barack Obama’s special adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan before his death in 2010 at age 69, ran the article in the school’s newspaper.
Somehow, the article made its way to Malcolm X, who setup a speech in order to defend his views at Brown University.
Burnley tracked down Pierce, who now lives in New York state, and it turned out she had saved a recording of the speech.
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.”
Malcolm X explained the Nation of Islam rejected the notion of integration in the United States because by “forcing white people to pretend they are accepting black people, you are making white people act in a hypocritical way.”
“However, we feel that when you can change both of them and they come together voluntarily, without force or without pressure, then automatically you are furthering brotherhood and bringing about better relationships between the two races,” he said.
The entire speech lasted just under an hour. Afterward, Burnley says, Malcolm X invited students to come talk to him in the student lounge.
“At that point, he conducted an interview with these young white students,” Burnley continues. “He was willing to greet them more intimately and in private, and obviously he was seeking publicity.
Malcolm X was assassinated in February 1965, a year after leaving the Nation of Islam.
Since finding the lost Malcom X speech, Burnley has had the tape digitized and plans to air excerpts next week at an event hosted by the Rhode Island Black Heritage Association.