The day Robert Penn Warren interviewed Malcolm X
In this Black History Month edition of WUKY's award winning history series Saving Stories, Doug Boyd, director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History in the UK Libraries highlights an extraordinary interview with Malcolm X from June of 1964. The conversation with Robert Penn Warren was part of a series of interviews the Kentucky author and poet conducted as part of his book “Who Speaks for the Negro.” The Muslim minister provides his opinions of the white race and the lasting effects of slavery and oppression on both the white race and African Americans. Malcolm X also questions the effectiveness of integration as well as non-violent tactics, like those advocated by Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement. Less than a year after this interview was conducted Malcolm X would be assassinated on February 21, 1965.
Who Speaks For The Negro? The Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project is a collection of interviews concerning the Civil Rights movement and the socioeconomic, cultural, and political struggles of African Americans. Conducted in 1964 by Robert Penn Warren, a Kentucky native and the first poet laureate of the United States, these interviews constituted part of Warren's research for his book "Who Speaks for the Negro?" Warren interviewed important civil rights leaders and activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Milton Galamison, Adam Clayton Powell, Kenneth Bancroft Clark, Vernon Jordan, Malcolm X, Carroll Baker, Stokley Carmichael, William Hastie, Bayard Rustin, Ruth Turner, Claire Collins Harvey, Aaron Henry, Andrew Young, Gilbert Moses, and Ralph Ellison. Topics include racism throughout the United States, school integration, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), education, employment, nonviolent protest, peace activism, black nationalism and pride, civil rights legislation, religion and spirituality, the role of whites in the civil rights movement, Abraham Lincoln, African culture, the Free Southern Theatre, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Access the collection below:
Malcolm X (1925-1965) was born Malcolm Little in Omaha Nebraska. After being found "mentally unfit" to fulfill his draft notice in 1943, Malcolm X was arrested in 1944 for larceny and served four months in prison. In 1945 he was convicted of grand larceny, breaking and entering, and firearms possession and was incarcerated in 1946 until 1952. While in prison Malcolm X converted to Islam and upon his release in 1952 joined the Nation of Islam in Detroit. He soon rejected the surname "Little" and became known as Malcolm X. An exceptional orator and recruiter who promoted black supremacy and was critical of nonviolence tactics in the civil rights movement, Malcolm X's popularity was second only to Elijah Muhammad's. Escalating tension with Elijah Muhammad in 1964 resulted in Malcolm X's departure from the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X then began his own organization called the Muslim Mosque Incorporated. After an international tour that included a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm X became a Sunni Muslim and received a new Islamic name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabaz. Upon his return to the United States, although faced with significant opposition, Malcolm X continued his orating and began the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). While speaking at an OAAU rally in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. Three Nation of Islam members were convicted for his murder. In this interview Malcolm X discusses the connection between Islam and African American identity and describes his own conversion to Islam. He provides his opinions of the white race and the lasting effects of slavery and oppression on both the white race and African Americans. Malcolm X also questions the effectiveness of integration. He explains his belief in violent tactics in the civil rights movement against segregation and racism and criticizes nonviolent tactics. Malcolm X discusses civil rights leadership and provides his opinion of African American politicians and leaders including Adam Clayton Powell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Milton Galamison, Whitney Young, Wyatt Walker, and James Baldwin. He also provides his opinion of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt as well.
Hear the entire interview below: