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Washington University Film & Media Archive

Malcolm X: Make It Plain

Told through the memories of people who had close personal and working relationships with him, from prominent figures such as Maya Angelou, Ossie Davis, and Alex Haley; to Nation of Islam associates, including Wallace D. Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad; to family members who have never before talked about Malcolm X on record. Also, included is extensive archival footage of Malcolm X, speaking in his own words, at meetings and rallies, and in media interviews.

This program chronicles Malcolm X's remarkable journey from his birth on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, to his tragic assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965. During his life time, Malcolm X was many men: in Omaha and in Lansing, Michigan, he was a straight A-student Malcolm Little, the son of Reverend Earl Little, an outspoken organizer of the famous Marcus Garvey movement, who preached about the relationship between black pride and salvation, and who was found dead on trolley tracks, nearly cut in two by a streetcar -- the victim, some believe, of white vigilantes. Years later, on the streets of Boston and New York, he became "Detroit Red" and "New York Red" -- a hustler, drug pusher, pimp, con man, and the head of a Boston robbery ring.

He emerges from prison as Minister Malcolm -- Malcolm X, the fiery, eloquent spokesman for Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam. At a time when black civil rights leaders preached harmony and integration, Malcolm preached a militant gospel of self-defense and nationalism that terrified many white people and disturbed, yet also inspired black Americans. Finally, he became El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, the man who traveled to 14 African nations, meeting with heads of state, who became an internationally recognized leader and advocate for oppressed peoples, and who returned from Mecca with a deeper understanding of Islam, and a new willingness to accept white allies. "The white man and the black man have to be able to sit down at the same table," he said in his last year. " The white man has to feel free to speak his mind without hurting the feelings of the Negro. The so-called Negro has to feel free to speak his mind without hurting the feelings of the white man. Then they can bring the issues that are under the rug out on top of the table and take an intelligent approach to getting the problem solved."

In 1965, under attack from the Nation of Islam, and under surveillance by the FBI, Malcolm X was assassinated while delivering a speech. Who killed him and why has never been explained.

Key Interviews:

Premiere: January, 26 1994 PBS
Narrator: Actress Alfre Woodard