Today a group of us went to hear Dr. James Cone, systematic theology professor at Union Theological Seminary, preach at Elmwood United Presbyterian Church. Many of us were wondering what Cone was going to preach on, considering that he had just written a book entitled Martin & Malcom & America: A Dream or a Nightmare? But first, the service was absolutely incredible. They had a mass choir of about 4-5 churches who had combined, and it was so powerful. It’s been awhile since I’ve heard good black gospel music, and it was such a great experience to be able to worship with that tradition this morning. It was a welcome, and much-needed change, from my regular Sunday morning experience.
I don’t know if anyone has been able to hear Dr. Cone speak before, but it was also amazing. He spoke for about an hour or so, but it really didn’t feel like it. And he did basically summarize and go through his argument in his book on Martin King and Malcolm X. He began by reading us quotes from both Martin King and Malcolm that sounded very similar and then shared with us all the various ways that Martin King has been honored, commemorated and almost given ‘sainthood’ by Christians and the American government as a whole with the National Holiday to celebrate King’s birth. And yet, what has there been done to do the same for Malcolm X? Other than Spike Lee’s movie which help bring knowledge of Malcolm X to the general public…not a whole lot.
Cone’s thesis is that we need to look to both Martin King and Malcolm X in order to seek a peace that will bring about freedom. He believes that both were working toward the same goal: freedom; it is just that both had different paths which they were following. Holding either one alone is not of a full enough vision of the pursuit of freedom – we need both King & Malcolm X. Both were striving toward freedom, and working for the respect, dignity and humanity of the black person. However, each was sensitive to their geographical area and because of that, had to response differently. Cone believes that while King’s nonviolent approach related well to his Christian faith, it was also one of the only routes possible for King. If blacks had responded with violence in the south, the whites were only too ready for that, and it would have been a bloodbath. However, they were not prepared for, nor did they really understand how to handle King’s nonviolent approach.
What Martin Luther did for the poor black Christians in the south, Malcolm X was doing for the ghetto blacks in the north, by affirming their blackness. Malcolm X arose out of the pits of the violence and drug culture of the black ghettos and was a “Daniel” to them – he spoke with a strong, powerful and courageous rhetoric and inspired the blacks of Harlem to walk with a dignity that they too were created with a humanity and to be willing to fight for that right to humanity. He believed that the worst crime that Americans committed against the blacks in the ghetto was to teach them to hate themselves. So, because of this, Malcolm found his power not in the nonviolent roots of the Christian faith, but rather in Islam and the power of affirming the blackness and African-ness of blacks in the north. King looked to being a good American while Malcolm X attempted to help blacks experience their true blackness and not forgot or try to cut ties to their heritage, history and past with Africa.
What was interesting about Cone’s passionate analysis was that he said for blacks in the ghettos in the north, it may have been even worse than for the blacks in the south. Blacks in the north, instead of having to deal with white bigots, had to deal with white liberals, who although they supported the civil rights movement and hoped for equal rights for blacks, they had essentially created the ghettos which were the problem in the north. So, according to Cone, the hypocritic white liberals in the north were just as bad, if not more so, than the white bigots (especially the white Christians) in the south.
There needs to be, according to Cone, a balance of understanding the issues when it comes to Martin King and Malcolm X. They represent the yin and the yang for the soul of the black person in American today, Cone said. He believes that until whites restore the full dignity of Malcolm X, we will know that we will never have true freedom for all people. Cone wrapped up with a quote from Malcolm X: “While Dr. King was having a dream, the rest of us negroes were having a nightmare.”
There certainly is a huge lack of education about Malcolm X in our public schools – I learned a lot today about Malcolm X. Of course, we all hear about Martin Luther King, Jr from day one.
All in all, it was definitely worth the hour-long trip up to East Orange, NJ. Cone was amazing, the music was off-the-chain, and it was just a really great experience.
Does anyone have any thoughts about Martin Luther and Malcolm X? Why DON’T we honor Malcolm X?