In recognition of Black History Month, the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center presented a screening and discussion of a never-before-seen documentary, “The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X”.
“Malcolm is a very serious, kind and witty man. He loved his community and he loved his people,” said Larry Williamson, director of the Hale Center. “He said, ‘Be kind. Be nice. Be considerate to everyone. But if someone puts their hands on you, send them to the cemetery.’ He meant that. He loved his community. Tonight, you will witness his words.”
University leaders, members of Ohio State’s Black Student Association and the NAACP were in attendance. The screening focused on the life of Malcolm X, as well as the controversy surrounding him.
Fred Strahorn, the Ohio House of Representatives Democratic Leader, talked about his first impressions of Malcolm X and how his perceptions have since evolved.
“When I was a kid, a lot of people told me that Malcolm X was a radical person. They painted him as a bad man. And as a kid, I didn’t know any better,” Strahorn said. “But when I became an adult, and got to see what Malcolm said for myself, I went, ‘That makes perfect sense to me.’
“I don’t want you to treat me any different than you would want to be treated. If you put your hands on me, if you violate me, I will respond to that.’”
Strahorn’s experience as a child echoed those of other speakers and audience members throughout the night. A common theme, the film and discussion sought to understand Malcolm X as well as the public perception of him.
Dariah Williams, a first-year in business, offered her own explanation for those negative first impressions.
“I enjoyed the film overall and I felt like it somewhat shows how our education is divided and specifically chosen as to what we learn,” Williams said. “Growing up we learned a lot about Martin Luther King and the only things that we learned about Malcolm X were negative.
The film focused on Malcolm X’s ties to the Nation of Islam to serve as a medium to discuss those early misconceptions.
“Malcolm is hard to understand because he’s outside the south, because he’s a sort of northern person. He’s not out of that Christian religious Baptist tradition,” said Hasan Jeffries, professor in the department of history. “He deviates from what we have understood today as being the normative narrative of the civil rights movement which is this integration first, non-violent activism as the way forward.”
In a speech featured in the film, Malcolm X addresses a crowd, asking who taught them to hate the texture of their hair, the color of their skin. He goes on to question why many perceive the Nation of Islam to be hateful when they should be questioning who taught black people to hate themselves.
Jeffries touched on this idea, making a distinction between how Malcolm X is talked about and what he believed.
“When folks talk about Malcolm, they often talk about what Malcolm had to say about white people – that Malcolm hated white people – but that’s not what Malcolm was about. Malcolm hated the way white people behaved towards black people,” Jeffries said. “You have to understand that there’s a real difference between the two and if you can wrap your mind around that, you can begin to understand Malcolm X.”
Jeffries went on to praise the emphasis the film placed on portraying Malcolm X through his own words. He cautioned however, taking individual speeches or interviews to be representative of Malcolm X’s beliefs as a whole, claiming like any great political thinker, he evolved over time.
Haven Noble, a member of the Black Student Association, seemed to agree, highlighting what she believed to be the film’s acute portrayal of Malcolm X.
“I thought it was just really enlightening and interesting to have a documentary where it wasn’t narrated,” Noble said. “It wasn’t a story told by somebody else. It was really just him talking.”