Malcolm and the Cross

Malcolm and the Cross: The Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, and Christianity

Louis A. DeCaro
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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    Malcolm and the Cross
    Book Description:

    Despite his association with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X had an intimate relation with Christianity and Christians, which influenced his personal life and spirituality as well as his career. Lou Decaro's Malcolm and the Cross thoroughly explores the relation between Malcolm, the Nation of Islam, and Christianity. After revealing the religious roots of the Nation of Islam in relation to Christianity, DeCaro examines Malcolm's development and contributions as an activist, journalist, orator, and revolutionist against the backdrop of his familial religious heritage. In the process, DeCaro achieves nothing less than a radical rethinking of the way we understand Malcolm X, depicting him as a religious revolutionist whose analysis of Christianity is indispensable--particularly in an era when cultic Islam, Christianity, and traditional Islam continue to represent key factors in any discussion about racism in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3830-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Marana Tha
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: The Nation of Islam and Christianity
    (pp. 1-8)

    One of the least noticed aspects of the legacy of the Nation of Islam is that in calling white people “the devil,” belief in the metaphysical Satan is nullified. Of course, in a society where this and other doctrines so essential to traditional forms of Abramic religion (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have been discarded, perhaps the loss of the “personal devil” of the Bible seems irrelevant. However, given the fundamental religiosity of African American culture—so distinct from the prevalent “post-Christian” orientation among many European Americans—the denial of the biblical devil was quite a coup for the Black Muslims....

  6. I Fires Which Burnt Brightly:: The Nation of Islam in a Christian World
    • 1 A Rumor from the East: The Fard Muhammad Movement and the Problem of the Bible
      (pp. 11-21)

      Within a few years of his appearance in Detroit, Michigan, in 1930, the founder of the original Nation of Islam had become a divine icon.¹ Having first appeared in the urban black community in the guise of a peddler, he quickly implemented an agenda of proselytization and organization that likely reflected previous involvement in other movements.² Obviously a man with strong racial convictions, W. D. Fard, also known as Fard Muhammad, quickly sought to exert his influence among his customers. Guiding them from informal conversation to house groups, and finally to rented facilities, Fard molded his trusting followers into an...

    • 2 Reincarnating the Savior: Elijah Muhammad and the Deification of W. D. Fard
      (pp. 22-31)

      Even a harsh critic ought to judge Elijah Muhammad as a man of importance and, in a very real sense, greatness. His religious apostasy notwithstanding, the quintessential Black Muslim proclaimed a message that the United States deserved, and he built a kingdom that could only have found credence in a society where religion and religious leadership had failed—and failed miserably—to address the immoral and unjust treatment of African Americans. Indeed, some heresies are born simply because of a disingenuous determination to advance untruth at the expense of others. But other heresies, like that which was introduced by Elijah...

    • 3 The Advent of Elijah: The Birth of the Temple People Movement
      (pp. 32-42)

      With the confirmation of his master, Elijah recalled, he felt satisfied that he now had a message to spread among his people in Detroit. He immediately began to advance the word about Fard, evidencing the same kind of independent enthusiasm that Malcolm X would later assume on his behalf in the same city. Not surprisingly, Elijah’s zeal got Fard’s attention. One evening, when only Elijah’s wife, Clara, was present at the meeting, Fard openly asked for him. When Clara approached Fard, he told her he would authorize her husband as a preacher of “Islam.” Elijah received the news with joy:...

    • 4 Among the Living and the Dead: The Gospel According to Elijah Muhammad
      (pp. 43-58)

      Elijah Muhammad went far beyond previous offensives against white Christianity, attacking also “integrationist Negro Christianity.” Yet Muhammad’s cut went still deeper. It “was based on more than the ethical failure of white and Negro Christians; it was also based on a theological critique of orthodox Christianity”¹ intended to appeal to blacks who were responsive (or perhaps vulnerable) to questions about the integrity of biblical doctrine.

      With few exceptions, most discussions about Elijah Muhammad’s attacks on Christianity have been centered on the race mythology of the Nation of Islam, just as today’s coverage of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam prompts heated...

  7. II X and the Cross:: Malcolm, the Nation of Islam, and Christianity
    • 5 Faith of Our Fathers—and Our Mothers: The Little Family, Marcus Garvey, and Christianity
      (pp. 61-81)

      “My father, the Reverend Earl Little,” Malcolm X would write through the pen of his amanuensis, “was a Baptist minister.” Malcolm’s characterization of his clergyman father as a “dedicated organizer” for the Marcus Garvey movement, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA),¹ has been popularized in countless reiterations ofThe Autobiography of Malcolm Xand, more recently, in Spike Lee’s film adaptation of a screenplay largely premised on theAutobiography. Malcolm’s early memory of his father “doing free-lance Christian preaching in local Negro Baptist churches” while devoting the rest of the week “to spreading the word of Marcus Garvey” has been...

    • 6 “If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?” Malcolm X as a Fundamentalist Zealot
      (pp. 82-103)

      “Do you believe in God?” the young inmate asked after accidentally-on-purpose bumping into another inmate in the prison courtyard. “God the father,” he continued, “God the son, God the Holy Ghost, and all that crap?” The other inmate, a prisoner-philosopher named Bembry, wasn’t offended by the young man because he recognized the sober intent of his question. In a short time the two prisoners, Malcolm Little and John Bembry, became friends—but it was a mentoring friendship, the kind of camaraderie and exchange that fed the intellect and imagination of young Malcolm, helping him to initiate a process of “mental...

    • 7 Jesus ReduX: Malcolm and the Religious Jingoism of the Nation of Islam
      (pp. 104-120)

      In the early 1960s, journalist William Worthy visited some businessmen in Boston who had converted to the Nation of Islam. Worthy had known them before they encountered Malcolm X and heard Muhammad’s gospel of “mental resurrection.” Playfully, Worthy told them he still had the pin-up calendar featuring a nude Marilyn Monroe, which they had given out to customers back in 1955. “Yes,” they responded, “but that was while we thought white, lacked light and were still Christians.”¹ The response to Worthy was only a clever reiteration of the standard teaching of the Nation of Islam, which for all intents and...

    • 8 This Bitter Earth: Black Muslims in a Christian World
      (pp. 121-133)

      By 1957, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X had really begun to rock the boat of black religion in the United States. Though whites tend to act like no social phenomenon is of any significance until they are aware of it (and thus define it), the African American community was well aware of the Nation of Islam about two years before Mike Wallace’s famous exposé, “The Hate That Hate Produced,” brought the movement to nationwide attention. Of course, the black press had already brought the Black Muslims to nationwide attention in the African American community, and the black church in particular...

    • 9 “We’re Living at the End of the World”: The Second Coming of Earl Little
      (pp. 134-157)

      A scholarly observer of the black community wrote an essay in the early 1960s based on his observation of the religious parallels between the Nation of Islam and Christianity. He noted that early Christians appealed to the downtrodden and, just like the Black Muslims, the Jesus movement offered the lowly a sense of dignity and self-respect. Both groups looked to a future of bliss for their followers and for certain judgment to fall upon the wicked. Both worshiped an incarnate deity, and both “appear to be intolerant of other faiths,” he concluded.¹ It was a clever analysis, especially at a...

    • 10 A Double Portion of Fire: Malcolm X in the Wilderness of North America
      (pp. 158-177)

      Malcolm X never aspired to become an orator before a white audience. He wrote in his autobiography that, while still in prison, he used to lie on his cell bunk and picture himself “talking to large crowds,” but he did not say if those imaginary audiences were integrated or even all white. From the time of his earliest work for the Nation of Islam while incarcerated, Malcolm reached exclusively to blacks, and all of his later efforts in building the movement were concentrated on the black community. By virtue of the organization’s philosophy alone it would have mattered little to...

    • 11 Malcolm, Martin, and Billy
      (pp. 178-196)

      In the sxpring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., was quoted in thePittsburgh Courierin speaking about Malcolm X. “I’ve never met him, but I’ve heard him a number of times,” King said. “Some of his critiques are sound. For example, I’m inclined to agree with him when he points out the laxities of Christianity.” King said further that all the civil rights leaders “seem to have a similar diagnosis for the (racial) disease,” but that he could not accept Malcolm X’s cure. “It’s totally unrealistic.”¹ Of course, the Nation of Islam felt the same way toward King and...

    • 12 “Haunted by the Souls of Black Millions”: Christianity, Islam, and Malcolm X
      (pp. 197-212)

      “The Negroes of the United States are creating a new American foreign problem,” wrote Pierre Crabités from Cairo sometime in 1932. Crabités, a white “Christian” from the United States, had been in Egypt since 1912 when President Taft had sent him there to fill a government post. For all of his expertise in the so-called Middle East, however, Crabités was also a racist who seems to have been prompted to write because of what he perceived as a disturbing trend. “Six months ago an American Negro came to Cairo without a saxophone and with no intention of playing in a...

  8. Epilogue: Interview with a Christian Minister
    (pp. 213-214)

    After Malcolm’s assassination in February 1965, theChicago Defender, Elijah Muhammad’s hometown paper, featured a brief interview with the Reverend Richard Gleason, a Baptist minister from the Windy City.¹ Gleason, who was twenty-eight years old the year of Malcolm’s death, had met Malcolm X in Harlem following the latter’s return from the pilgrimage to Mecca and a tour of Africa (May 21, 1964).

    Gleason told the Defender: “Malcolm was completely committed to his people.” The minister revealed that he had talked at length with Malcolm over lunch at Harlem’s Theresa Hotel, where Malcolm had his organizational headquarters. Malcolm discussed the...

  9. Author’s Postscript
    (pp. 215-220)
    Louis A. DeCaro Jr.

    During the Labor Day weekend of 1971 I went with my family to a religious convention in Washington, D.C., and found myself drafted into evangelistic service by one of the attending pastors leading a foray into the city. Barely fourteen years of age, I went along dutifully in the Lord’s service, terrified by the prospect of passing out gospel tracts to strangers and fearful of the urban setting itself. A small-town pastor’s son from western Pennsylvania, I was overwhelmed when I stepped off the bus onto a busy Georgetown street scented by marijuana and charged with revolutionary fervor. Wideeyed, I...

  10. Appendix A: An Open Letter to Elijah Muhammad from Malcolm X, June 23, 1964
    (pp. 221-222)
    X Malcolm
  11. Appendix B: A Partial Transcript of a Sermon by Malcolm X at Elder Solomon Lightfoot Michaux’s New York Church of God, June 16, 1961
    (pp. 223-236)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 237-264)
  13. Index
    (pp. 265-269)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 270-270)