Here's a good piece of lost history from All Things Considered. In 1961 Malcolm X came to Brown University at the invitation of the student newspaper, edited by a then 19-year old Richard Holbrooke, and spoke to the campus audience. Ostensibly, Malcolm was supposed to debate a representative of the NAACP, which had spent the previous year pressuring other schools into not allowing Malcolm a platform. At the last minute, the NAACP rep declined to show.
That was probably smart. By then, Malcolm had established a reputation as fierce debater. But just to be sure The Nation had stacked the deck by purchasing 250 tickets for members of the Nation of Islam. And so Malcolm held forth alone, and then afterward retired to the student lounge to field questions. Brown student Malcolm Burnley recently found a copy of the speech, which had been lost to time. while researching a project.
I think it's easy to forget how much Malcolm X actually enjoyed these campus visits, not simply as someone spreading Nation dogma, but as a person who had never enjoyed the constant mental stimulation of a college campus. There are many rewards along the autodidact's road -- but those who hail from a certain socio-economic background often find themselves without fellow travelers and respected interlocutors. My Pops often says that one of the best things about the Black Panthers was that it was the first time in his life he'd been surrounded by thinking, literate, politically-minded young people.
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power