The Night Malcom X Spoke at the Oxford Union: A Transatlantic Story of Antiracist Protest
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Less than two months before he was assassinated, Malcolm X spoke at the Oxford Union—the most prestigious student debating organization in the United Kingdom. The Oxford Union regularly welcomed heads of state and stars of screen and served as the training ground for the politically ambitious offspring of Britain's better classes. Malcolm X, by contrast, was the global icon of race militancy. For many, he personified revolution and danger. Marking the fiftieth anniversary of the debate, this book brings to life the dramatic events surrounding the visit, showing why Oxford invited Malcolm X, why he accepted, and the effect of the visit on Malcolm X and British students.
Stephen Tuck tells the human story behind the debate and also uses it as a starting point to discuss larger issues of Black Power, the end of empire, British race relations, immigration, and student rights. Coinciding with a student-led campaign against segregated housing, the visit enabled Malcolm X to make connections with radical students from the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia, giving him a new perspective on the global struggle for racial equality, and in turn, radicalizing a new generation of British activists. Masterfully tracing the reverberations on both sides of the Atlantic, Tuck chronicles how the personal transformation of the dynamic American leader played out on the international stage.
Malcolm Little understood it, Allah had created the first human beings, who were black. But an evil scientist, Yacub, had bred white people on the Island of Patmos. This devil race had then lived as savages in European caves for two thousand years, before Moses civilized them. Allah then sanctioned white domination for six thousand years, as punishment and to cleanse the black race through suffering, until a mighty representative should lead black people to restored spiritual purity, and then to
Undergraduates observer-delegate.5 In other words, the freshman student who arrived at Oxford in October 1962 was a young man with international and leadership experience, from a country that had gained independence only a month before. Unlike many Jamaican immigrants and visitors, he was also under no illusion about finding a racial utopia in Britain. Quite the opposite. A couple of years before he came to Oxford, his beloved younger sister, Hope, had started boarding school on the Isle of
proctors ignored the warning about formal action, her prediction of trouble also turned out to be spot on. When de Wet, with a police escort, came to Oxford, a crowd of up to three hundred students gathered outside the Union in the pouring rain, shouting “Go home de Wet” and “Free Mandela” and singing protest songs to the accompaniment of a guitar.89 There was no little excitement: three fire engines were called out when students set fire to Conservative pamphlets. There were some attempted high
the American civil rights movement, and particularly the massive resistance to it, marked an about-turn in reportage. “Race relations in England, in the past, have been on a higher plane of conviviality,” reported the influential Chicago Defender after the anti-immigrant riots of 1958—thereby ignoring virtually all of its own reports from the previous decade. “Nevertheless, America’s brazen, vulgar display of racial hatred has assumed the virulence of a communicative disease which is infecting
“foreigners levy,” 84 France, 177–78; Malcolm X in, 47–48, 169–70; Malcolm X on, 171–73; Malcolm X’s expulsion from, 171, 173, 177 Freedom Summer, 118 Garvey, Marcus, 13–15 gender equality and women’s liberation, 113–14, 188 Ghana, 41–42 Goldwater, Barry, xii, 3 “Goldwater standard,” 3 grassroots, reaching out to, 45 Griffiths, Peter, 129, 168 Gupta, Hans Raj, 193 Hajj, 35–40 Hall, Stuart, 78–79 Hamlet (Shakespeare), xv, 4, 26, 163–64 Har Dayal, Lala, 62–64 Harlem, Malcolm X in,