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The Night Malcolm X Spoke at the Oxford Union

The Night Malcolm X Spoke at the Oxford Union: A Transatlantic Story of Antiracist Protest

Stephen Tuck
with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw0hz
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  • Book Info
    The Night Malcolm X Spoke at the Oxford Union
    Book Description:

    Less than two months before he was assassinated, Malcolm X spoke at the Oxford Union—the most prestigious student debating organization in the United Kingdom. The Oxford Union regularly welcomed heads of state and stars of screen and served as the training ground for the politically ambitious offspring of Britain’s better classes. Malcolm X, by contrast, was the global icon of race militancy. For many, he personified revolution and danger. Marking the fiftieth anniversary of the debate, this book brings to life the dramatic events surrounding the visit, showing why Oxford invited Malcolm X, why he accepted, and the effect of the visit on Malcolm X and British students.

    Stephen Tuck tells the human story behind the debate and also uses it as a starting point to discuss larger issues of Black Power, the end of empire, British race relations, immigration, and student rights. Coinciding with a student-led campaign against segregated housing, the visit enabled Malcolm X to make connections with radical students from the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia, giving him a new perspective on the global struggle for racial equality, and in turn, radicalizing a new generation of British activists. Masterfully tracing the reverberations on both sides of the Atlantic, Tuck chronicles how the personal transformation of the dynamic American leader played out on the international stage.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95998-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Henry Louis Gates Jr.

    This year, the American public is commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ “British Invasion,” broadcast on CBS’sEd Sullivan Show, which delightfully electrified the spirit of a heart-heavy nation, still in shock and mourning over the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But 1964 also witnessed the reverse transatlantic journey of a man once known as Malcolm Little—better known as Malcolm X—in a revolutionary and more substantive performance at the legendary Oxford Union, an Oxbridge staple that has been showcasing another form of entertainment since long before Ed Sullivan hit the air. In fact, the Union, now in...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Prologue: A Black Revolutionary Meets Historic Oxford
    (pp. 1-8)

    On the evening of December 3, 1964, a most unlikely figure was invited to speak at the University of Oxford Union’s end-of-term “Queen and Country” debate: Mr. Malcolm X. The Oxford Union was the most prestigious student debating organization in the world, regularly welcoming heads of state and stars of screen.¹ It was also, by tradition, the student arm of the British establishment—the training ground for the politically ambitious offspring of Britain’s “better classes.” Malcolm X, by contrast, had a reputation for revolution and danger. As theSun, a widely read British tabloid, explained to readers in a large-font...

  6. CHAPTER ONE A Life of Travel and Discovery: Malcolm X, 1925-1964
    (pp. 9-49)

    On the evening of Tuesday, April 14, 1964, Malcolm X—going by his new Muslim name, Malik El-Shabazz—flew into Cairo, capital of the United Arabic Republic (present-day Egypt), en route from New York to Mecca. He stayed in Cairo for three days.¹

    Malcolm X thrilled to the experience. Exhausted by a hectic schedule of domestic travel, bruised by a bitter public split with his religious mentor, and reeling from vicious threats by former colleagues in the Nation of Islam, he was in need of a break. Most of all, he was just glad to be away from America. Before...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Oxford, Britain, and Race, 1870-1964
    (pp. 50-92)

    “The duty of the University of Oxford,” declared the prominent Victorian intellectual John Ruskin, was “to educate English gentlemen.”¹ And the duty of “the most energetic and worthiest” of these gentlemen, Ruskin further explained in his inaugural lecture as Oxford’s Professor of Art in 1870, was to be “seizing every piece of fruitful waste ground” that England “can set her foot on” and to make the “sceptered isle for all the world a source of light.”²

    In those bold imperial days when, to quote Ruskin again, Britain was “mistress of half the earth,” the University of Oxford did its duty....

  8. CHAPTER THREE Antiracism Protests in Oxford, 1956-1964
    (pp. 93-141)

    Malcolm X may have been America’s, and perhaps the world’s, best-known black radical in late 1964. But within the University of Oxford there was an equally well known militant black leader, a charismatic Jamaican law student named Eric Anthony (Tony) Abrahams. In September 1964, Abrahams was elected president of the Oxford Union. It was Abrahams who formally invited Malcolm X to come to Oxford.

    A gifted orator and an outspoken critic of racism who had recently returned from a speaking tour of the Middle East, Abrahams seemed to be something of a Malcolm X in the making. He certainly hoped...

  9. Photo section
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Debate, December 3, 1964
    (pp. 142-164)

    Malcolm X had to wait over an hour before he was called to speak. Usually when he gave a speech, he was the featured speaker, and the way the Oxford speech has been remembered in the history books since, it would be easy to assume that that was the case here. But no: at the Union, he had to take his turn in line, the third speaker in support of a motion proposed by Tony Abrahams, and the fifth speaker (of six) overall.

    To be sure, Malcolm X was the main attraction of the evening. But part of the attraction...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE After the Debate, 1964-1968
    (pp. 165-196)

    The rest of Malcolm X’s trip to England that December was organized by the Federation of Islamic Students Societies, an independent group founded in 1961. When he heard that Malcolm X was coming to Oxford, Ebrahimsa Mohamed, the federation’s secretary and a student at Manchester, contacted the head of the Islamic Center in Geneva, who knew Malcolm X from his earlier visit there. Ebrahimsa arranged talks to student Muslim groups in Manchester and Sheffield on Friday, the day after the debate, and to an Islamic society in London on Saturday.¹ On his trip, Malcolm X stayed at the homes of...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 197-204)

    Born in Jamaica in 1952, Linton Kwesi Johnson moved to England in 1963 and studied at Goldsmiths College in London. In 1969, he joined the Black Panther Youth League, which had a thousand or so members, and later the Brixton-based Race Today Collective. A master of words and rhythm, Johnson organized poetry workshops and became known as the father of “dub poetry”—a term he coined to describe the way reggae DJs combined music and verse. His third and most famous book of poetry,Inglan Is a Bitch, was released in 1980, on the eve of a confrontation between some...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 205-242)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 243-250)