“Had Brother Malcolm lived, we would be much further ahead as a people,” says journalist and author A. Peter Bailey, a former member of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) that was founded in 1964 by Muslim minister and human rights leader, Malcolm X. Bailey, who was born in Columbus, Georgia and raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, served as the editor of Blacklash, the organization’s newsletter.
Bailey’s career has spanned some fifty years as a writer, editor, and journalist. As a matter of fact, Bailey credits Malcolm with planting the seed that made him realize, he could become a journalist. In addition to being a former associate editor of Ebony Magazine, Bailey also served as an associate director for the Black Theater Alliance (BTA), a not-for-profit entity founded to honor African Americans who achieve excellence in theater, dance and in all areas of the performing and technical arts. Bailey’s writings have also appeared in such publications as Essence, Jet, Black Enterprise, The Black Collegian, The Negro Digest, the New York Daily News and The New York Times. He was also the editor of Vital Issues: The Journal of African American Speeches founded by Dr. C. DeLores Tucker. He has authored several books including the Seventh Child, A Family Memoir of Malcolm X, which was a co-authorship with Malcolm X’s nephew, Rodnell P. Collins.
Over the years, Bailey has lectured at prestigious educational institutions throughout the country imparting knowledge about his mentor-in-struggle who maintained fidelity to his principles. When Malcolm X spoke, the timid grew brave, and the cunning trembled because the power of his voice was extensive, his presence, commanding. Malcolm X was a brother whose admirers never lost one particle of their appreciation for the genius of the man. He was someone who possessed sterling integrity, honesty and spirituality. Malcolm X was a force to be reckoned with, and because of this, he was also feared and considered a serious threat by opponents of equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity.
In our previous issue, we excerpted a chapter from Bailey’s book, Witnessing Brother Malcolm X: The Master Teacher, A Memoir, where he discussed how he met Malcolm. Now, Bailey chats with 50BOLD about the real Malcolm X and of his relationship with him, the man whom he referred to as “friend.”
50BOLD: Can you please tell us how you first met Malcolm X? Why did you join the OAAU and how did its name originate?
Bailey: The OAAU was inspired by OAU, the Organization of African Unity that was founded in 1963. We called ourselves the OAAU, the Organization of Afro American Unity and it was formed in January 1964. At the time, I had been working as an editorial reference clerk at Time Inc. in New York City. There was a friend of mine, a young lady who worked as a producer intern at NBC. We would lunch regularly in Rockefeller Center and discuss politics and Civil Rights issues.
One day, the young woman asked if I would like to join a new Black Nationalist organization. The question startled me because she didn’t look like a Black Nationalist type. After I agreed to join the organization, the young lady said she would call me over the weekend to discuss a meeting time and place. She advised me not to ask any questions and I agreed.
The following Saturday morning, the young lady called and told me to go to a specific hotel in Harlem. The hotel didn’t have one of the best reputations and I was kind of surprised that the meeting would be held there. But when I arrived, I found that the meeting was being held in the ground floor conference room. When I went inside the room and looked around, right away I spotted the historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke whom I didn’t know but recognized. The author John Oliver Killens was also there. Also, in attendance were some people I knew and several others I didn’t recognize. We all just sat around talking to one another.
About twenty minutes later Brother Malcolm entered the room. I was surprised to see him because my friend never mentioned he would be attending the meeting. He walked over to the table and introduced himself. Of course, we all knew who he was. Brother Malcolm sat down and began to speak. He told us that he wanted to form this new organization, and this led to the formation of the Organization of Afro American Unity.
50BOLD: Were you always a fan of Brother Malcolm? What were your impressions the first time you heard him speak?
Bailey: I had become a Malcolm X fan in 1962 when I heard him speak for the first time. I had moved to Harlem on a Friday night in June and that Saturday morning instead of unpacking, I decided to walk down Lenox Avenue (now named Malcolm X Blvd.) When I reached 116th St., I saw a crowd gathering and asked what’s happening? I was told that Brother Malcolm was going to speak. I had vaguely heard of him, mostly the negative type stuff. So, I decided to listen to what he had to say.
Brother Malcolm spoke for about three hours and by the time he finished, I was a Malcolmite and remain so to this very day! I had never heard the racial situation in this country discussed with such clarity, accuracy and so passionately. I had heard people speak passionately in the past, but they didn’t have the right facts or information; Brother Malcolm had it all together. He spoke passionately, but he was accurate and really, really clear. The one thing he stated that day that I had never heard discussed before from anyone in a leadership position was a discussion about the attacks on the mind, as well as the physical attacks. I had never heard that analysis before and I was intrigued.
50BOLD: Are there things you can tell us about Brother Malcolm that we might not know?
Bailey: There was this restaurant on 135th Street called 22 West and sometimes he would go there to eat dinner with some of his top aides. Since I lived three blocks away, occasionally I was invited to have dinner with them. We would discuss different things. He’d be much more relaxed and would even crack jokes. One thing about Brother Malcolm was that you felt literally compelled to listen to him speak. Once you heard Brother Malcolm speak, even though you may disagree with every word, you felt as though you had to listen to what he was saying; you really did. If you disagreed with Brother Malcolm, he’d make you go do some research on your own to back up your position. Brother Malcolm knew what he was talking about and he backed it up. BACKED IT UP, MAN! He never just threw things out, just to hear himself speak. He backed up his every word with facts. Brother Malcolm was also a very courteous person.
50BOLD: I love that Brother Malcolm was so meticulous about everything he did.
Bailey: Well, when OAAU was first formed, I became the editor of the organization’s newsletter. The year was 1964; I was working on the OAAU’s very first newsletter. News had just broken of a white cop killing a 15-year old black boy. The killing led to a 1964 Harlem uprising. At that time Brother Malcolm was attending an OAU meeting in Cairo. He would call the office to get an update on what was happening with the Harlem uprising. And when it was my turn to speak with him, I read the article that I had written about the Harlem uprising which included the following term “A witness to the murder…” and then Brother Malcolm stopped me. He said, “Brother Peter, you can’t use the word ‘murder’ or ‘murderer’ because they are legal terms that can only be used after the person has been convicted. We know the cop is going to be acquitted. So, if you call him a murderer and then he’s acquitted, he can sue you. Call him a ‘killer’ and refer to it as a ‘killing,’ because he’s a killer and it was a killing no matter what the circumstances.” This was a lesson in accuracy involving reporting that I learned from Brother Malcolm; it has stayed with me to this very day.
50BOLD: What was Brother Malcolm’s international agenda?
Bailey: Brother Malcolm was deeply committed to Pan-Africanism, which is a belief that the people of African descent throughout the world should have strong cultural, economic and political connections with each other. Brother Malcolm’s position is not surprising since his parents were activist supporters of the great Pan-African, Marcus Garvey. Brother Malcolm’s Pan-Africanism was not just emotional. The years 1955-1965, when he was on the scene, was also the time when Africa’s countries were freeing themselves from European colonialism. It was also during the time that was the height of the so-called Cold War between the United States and Russia. Those two elements guided Brother Malcolm to describe his organization, the OAAU, as a human rights entity rather than Civil Rights since the former is the international term.
There is a UN Commission on Human Rights. Brother Malcolm strongly believed that the war against white supremist/racists terrorism going on in the United States at that time was similar to that being raised by African countries against European colonialism. He made several trips to Africa to make that point.
On one of Brother Malcolm’s trips, he had individual audiences ranging from one-and-a-half hours to three hours with African leaders, including President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, President Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, President Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea and Prime Minister Milton Obote of Uganda. As a result of his efforts, the 1963 OAU Conference of African leaders in Cairo issued an unprecedented proclamation condemning racial discrimination in the United States. That was just one of the positive results of his international agenda. As can be expected, the FBI, CIA and State Department were alarmed by Brother Malcolm’s successes in the international arena.
50BOLD: What do you teach your students about Brother Malcolm?
Bailey: I have lectured on Brother Malcolm at nearly 40 colleges and universities throughout the country. I tell the students that the Malcolm X they have heard about, or have been taught about, is not the Malcolm X whom I knew. He was a Black warrior deeply committed to assisting his people in the ongoing war against the proponents and practitioners of white supremacy/racist terrorism that was rampant during the years 1955 to1965. He was not an advocate of violence but of self-defense. Brother Malcolm was a strong believer in the importance of educating Black youngsters so that they could contribute to their communities. He was a strong believer in the concept that economically, Black people should support Black-owned businesses and institutions in their communities, since all other racial and ethnic groups in this country do this routinely.
Brother Malcolm strongly believed that whites who were opposed to white supremacy/racism should work in their own neighborhoods, schools, institutions, etc. instead of approaching Black people like they were modern-day missionaries. He believed in an independent Black-lead political party. He believed that Black people should be taught that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were not just revolutionary war generals and Bill of Rights authors but were also the enslavers of several hundred African people. These are just some of the things I tell students about the greatness and vision of Brother Malcolm.
50BOLD: Who and what was behind the assassination of Brother Malcolm?
Bailey: It resulted from a collaboration between the FBI, CIA, and several members of the Nation of Islam’s leadership. The latter were very fearful that Brother Malcolm would expose what he considered the extensive corruption among those leaders. The government agencies, then involved in a fierce propaganda war with Russia, were extremely fearful of his stated mission of having the United States federal government taken before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and for being either unable or unwilling to protect Black people from white supremacy terrorism, mostly in the former Confederate States of America. So here you have the who and the what behind the assignation of Brother Malcolm.
50BOLD: What do you believe Brother Malcolm would tell Black people today?
Bailey: Basically, the same things he was advocating at the time of his assassination. Brother Malcolm’s position is clearly detailed in the OAAU Goals and Objectives. He would insist on the need for a serious collective economic agenda that would enable us to be more independent financially. He would insist on the need of an education agenda that would enable our young people to contribute to our empowerment as a people. He would insist on unity that would put us in a stronger position to block the agenda of white supremist/racists. He would insist for a focus on self-defense that would make it more costly for enemies to attack us. He would insist that we have a Pan-African ideology that would connect us with people of African descent especially those in the African continent. He would insist on a strong cultural program that would combat the relentless attacks on the mind from proponents of white privilege. Because of his proven abilities as an organizer, I strongly believe that if he were with us today, we would have a strong national independent Black organization.
50BOLD: How can our readers learn more about your friendship with Brother Malcolm X?
Most of what I have said in this interview is expanded upon in my memoir, Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, The Master Teacher. Anyone desiring a copy can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $22 that includes mailing. Please include a name, address and telephone number in the email.