“Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world,” Malcolm X once said.
Tuesday, grassroots activists from throughout the tristate area will commemorate the remarkable legacy of one of Harlem’s greatest advocates for Black people to be a self-determining community. A number of local events have been scheduled for May 19 to acknowledge the 90th anniversary of Malcolm X’s physical birth and 50th annual cycle of an exclusive cultural ceremony commemorating his legacy.
Beginning Tuesday morning, Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro American Unity will sponsor the annual pilgrimage to where his and his wife Betty’s bodies are interred, Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y.
“The program has been going on every year since 1965 to the present,” explained professor James Small, OAAU president and the event’s moderator. “Every May 19, lining up at 9 in the morning, we go to the gravesite at 10, where we perform a ritual which symbolizes Malcolm’s relationship to us, and our relationship to him.”
Established by his older sister, Ella Collins, 50 years ago just three months after his Feb. 21, 1965, murder at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, the annual custom has become one of the oldest traditions in the Western Hemisphere honoring an African ancestor.
“The pilgrimage was to create a declaration of a holiday on the part of Black people,” said Small. “When it began in 1965 the OAAU issued a declaration under our seal and stamp that was sent to all African nations, Black organizations and the U.N. declaring May 19 ‘Malcolm X Day,’ our national holiday. We didn’t want the government to declare it, we declared it!’
He also mentioned how the OAAU presented a declaration to the U.N. about their red, black and green flag being the flag representing the African-American nation and how they notified various African countries and the U.N. about their self-determining feats in 1967.
“It is the African-American and African world holiday, May 19,” says Small. “We made that declaration on the behalf of our people, and we hope they have the courage to celebrate a holiday without waiting for the enemy to validate them having the right to do so.”
Additionally, Small spoke about carrying on Malcolm X’s efforts throughout the five decades since his murder and how they have had an alliance with other progressive organizations that were working in the interest off Black people and towards advancing the Black liberation struggle culturally, economically and politically, as well as for independence, land and reparations.
“Malcolm was speaking to young people, causing them to question the institutions they were living under,” he said. “He was fighting a war. He wanted to bring down colonialism and white supremacy and raise Black people to control the billions of dollars that white folks were taking from them.”
Although he only spent about a decade in Harlem as an awakened African, his impact is still alive today. Each year, more than 1,000 people attend this event, including several hundred children of various ages who are chaperoned by surrounding schools.
“Malcolm’s life is an example of how you go from having no consciousness to having extraordinary consciousness and how you act on it to help other people grow,” said Small. “He was the best example of the kind of courage Black people need to develop if they are to change the world for their children, grand children and great-grandchildren.”
Supporters are to gather at the Harlem State Office Building, 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, Tuesday at 9 a.m. Upon the caravan’s return to Harlem, the December 12th Movement will conduct their annual “Shut ’Em Down” economic boycott of businesses along 125th Street in honor of Malcolm X from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit brothermalcolm.net.