No doubt In response to all the rising black consciousness in the United States in 1966, Dartmouth College admitted a larger amount of black students than usual in its “Class of 1970.” I believe that class included Wallace L. Ford III, who helped our UBAD organization establish the Amandala newspaper in August of 1969. Wallace Ford solicited a donation from a Dartmouth professor named Mirsky, whose check completed our fund-raising, which we had begun in May of that year. We purchased a Gestetner stenciling machine from British Honduras Distributors (remember them at the foot of the Swing Bridge on North Front Street?) for $534.00.
Today, Wallace Ford is a very wealthy attorney in the United States. He writes an online column called “Point of View.” A couple years ago I made contact with Wally, Bob Bennett, and Dennis Young through the e-mail technology. This was after more than forty years. Wally started sending me his column, and the latest one featured Malcolm X. February 21 is the fiftieth anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan.
Before I proceed, a couple points. From reading Wally’s column, I suspect he must be a big man in the Democratic Party. Secondly, the Dennis Young to whom I referred is not Belize’s Harvard Ph. D., Dr. Dennis Young. This Afro-American, who attended Dartmouth while I was there, as did Bob Bennett, has the same name.
Apologists for the white supremacist power structure in Belize said in 1969, and some of them still do, that UBAD brought something from the States which did not exist in Belize. But Garveyism was very big in British Honduras in the early 1920s. Did Marcus Mossiah, a Jamaican, import something from the United States which did not exist in Belize? The majority black population of British Honduras did not think so in the 1920s, and black Belizean youth did not think that UBAD was an irrelevant import in 1969.
For sure the racism in the British Caribbean and that in the United States was different. The British allowed for the emergence of a brown buffer class in their Caribbean possessions, as did the French in theirs. This brown buffer class began when the dominant white men fathered children with black women from the slave class. In British possessions, such brown children became a class elevated over the children of black men with black women. But in the United States, that was not the case. Brown children, the children of white men with black women, became slaves just like their black brethren. There was no brown buffer class in America. If you were not white, then you were black. One drop of black blood made you black. Yes sir, the racism in British Honduras and in the United States was different. But, there was no real difference if you were black on both parents’ sides: you generally got a raw deal.
I entered the United States in late August of 1965 during a time of racial and social ferment in America. That ferment involved the black civil rights struggle and it involved the alienation of white youth caused by the escalating war the United States government was waging in Vietnam. In 1965, the vast majority of American male citizens were drafted into the United States military once they reached the age of 18, and white American youth knew that the casualty rate in Vietnam was very high. (The military draft was abolished in the United States in the latter part of the 1970s.)
In September of 1965, just a couple weeks after arriving in New York City, I accompanied my grandaunt, Gladys Lindo Ysaguirre, to a meeting held by Philip Goldson in the same Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X had been gunned down seven months before. I knew absolutely nothing about Malcolm X at the time. Malcolm X’s story, told in his autobiography written with the assistance of Alex Haley, was to change my life, I would say, when I read it in the winter of 1967.
Malcolm was a black American youth who had drifted into crime and drugs in Boston and New York City in the 1940s. While he was in an American penitentiary, he was introduced to the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. After his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm began working for the Nation of Islam full time, and by the latter part of the 1950s he had become Hon. Elijah’s most spectacularly successful Minister. Malcolm was in charge of Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, the cultural and political capital of black America at the time.
The brilliant, self-educated Malcolm became so famous he was invited to lecture and debate at world renowned universities like Harvard, Oxford, and the London School of Economics. In fact, he was most responsible for the conversion to the NOI of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), who announced that he was a follower of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad shortly after he won the world heavyweight title in early 1964. But, by this time Malcolm X had been suspended from his Nation of Islam ministry because of comments he made following the November 22, 1963 assassination of United States president, John F. Kennedy. Muhammad Ali began to distance himself from the man who had converted him.
After that suspension, a rift developed between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam. Remember now, there were high-ranking Ministers in the Nation of Islam who had been working for the Messenger before Malcolm arrived and rose over them in fame and popularity. Malcolm traveled to Africa and the Middle East, made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and became an orthodox Muslim. The body of beliefs of the Nation of Islam was based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, but there were NOI teachings which were not Koranic. Still, Hon. Elijah’s Nation of Islam was an authentic, independent religious organization which was responsible for saving more black men and women from crime, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and poverty than any organization in America. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad had, indeed, saved the great Malcolm himself.
The disagreement between Malcolm and the Hon. Elijah became bitter and personal. This is a sad story. I believe Malcolm’s autobiography was published shortly after his death. He said something near the end of the autobiography, which would have been near the end of his life, to the effect that whereas he had thought it was the NOI which was solely responsible for certain things, he had begun to think that there had to be bigger people involved. The white supremacist power structure greeted the quarrel between Malcolm and the Messenger with glee, of course, just as there were powerful people in Belize who greeted the 1973 split in UBAD with glee, and powerful Belizeans today who laugh at the ever increasing casualties in the Southside’s gang wars.
Myself, I have said that Malcolm changed my life. Perhaps the most important thing he taught me was to recognize all the talent in the black community which is crushed by racism and discrimination. For a long, long time I was 100 percent Malcolm, but as the years went by I began to see mistakes that he had made, and I began to understand the position of those who had remained loyal to Hon. Elijah. These included two of Malcolm’s own brothers.
The Hon. Elijah Muhammad, on his passing in 1975, left control of the Nation of Islam to one of his sons, Wallace Deen Muhammad, who had actually been good friends with Malcolm. Wallace Deen Muhammad changed the NOI to orthodox Islam, thus taking the organization on the Koranic road Malcolm had travelled in 1964.
For whatever the reason(s), the new road appeared to weaken the Nation, and in 1977 Minister Louis Farrakhan moved away from Wallace Deen Muhammad and returned to the core teachings of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. Since that time, Minister Farrakhan has visited Belize twice, in 1986 and in 2013. (He had previously visited in 1975.) I believe Minister Farrakhan’s 1986 visit was sponsored by the SPEAR (Society for the Promotion of Education and Research) group, led at the time by Assad Shoman. I did not meet Minister Farrakhan on that occasion, but on the occasion of his visit in 2013, we spent hours in conversation at his hotel room.
It seems to me that there are now four different groups of Muslims in Belize. Since 1969, I have considered myself a Muslim sympathizer, so to speak. As some of you may know, two of the founding officers of UBAD were Nation of Islam members. These were Charles X “Justice” Eagan (later Ibrahim Abdullah) and Ismail Omar Shabazz. Another UBAD founding officer, Galento X Neal, became a member of the NOI after he travelled to the United States in 1972.
On the anniversary of his assassination, I remember Malcolm, and I give him the greatest of respect. This was a brother who so loved his people that he gave his life for them. Greater love than this, no man can possess.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.