Interview with Bernice Bass
Malcolm X, Bernice Bass (from the
Malcolm X Museum)
Transcript of Community
Corner (radio show), December 27, 1964
BERNICE BASS: And now
dear hearts, I think it important that we turn to our guest of honor
at this time, Minister Malcolm X, the son of a Baptist minister. Good
MALCOLM X: How are
you, Miss Bass?
BASS: Just fine, thank
you. I suppose that's the question New York could ask you after your
travels all over the African continent, Europe. We'd love to know exactly
what you discovered and what you observed. Whether or not your viewpoints
have changed any on the Afro-American questions.
MALCOLM X: Well, I've
done a lot of traveling and, I think over all, travel does broaden one's
soul. If anything at all, that's probably the most important of what's
happened to me during I the past five or six months.
I was fortunate to be able to spend,
I think it was, two months in the Middle East and another two months
in the African countries. And I think I visited Egypt, Arabia, Kuwait,
Lebanon, and then Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, what was then Zanzibar and
Tanganyika and is now Tanzania, also Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea,
and Algiers, or rather Algeria. Then in Europe: Geneva, Paris, and London.
BASS: We who have not
traveled have to rely solely on our communications media for the news
that we get. What is disturbing and confusing, really, coming out of
the African continent, is there unity among the African leaders there?
Is there a cohesive effort or is it a divisive thing that has been reported
so faithfully in the press, the American press.
MALCOLM X: The Western
press tries to make it appear that there is a division among Africans.
In any bloc or group that has a common objective, you will find disagreements.
But overall there's unity. I think -- during World War II, America had
her allies, and their common objective was to gain victory over a common
enemy, but even within that body of allies, there were differences.
BASS: Just as there
are today in NATO.
MALCOLM X: Certainly,
today. But usually Western powers think that they have a priority on
the right to differ among themselves. Because when blocs that are other
than Western show signs of being able to differ -- or differences pop
up, the Western press uses this to try and make it appear that they
are savage, backward, not able to govern -- things of that sort.
BASS: That's something
I wanted to ask you about. I've noticed in the last couple of weeks
all of the references to the Congo crisis, when they talked about the
debate in the United Nations they have talked about going back to savagery,
tribal practices, this kind of thing. And yet they have in Italy the
fact that they have eighteen ballots cast just this week alone trying
to elect a premier. They have also -- before de Gaulle rose to power,
they had a new premier of France every month. And no one considered
that backward, and yet these were examples of civilization, culture,
and so forth. How do the African delegates in this country and the African
leaders in their own countries feel about this kind of characterization?
MALCOLM X: Well the
-- I think this is one of the mistakes the West is making in its efforts
to try and win the Africans on their side. The Africans, probably more
so than ever before, are beginning to see the deceit and the double
standard of measurement that's used when their own case is involved.
And how it differs from that when the African case is involved. And
this has gone a long ways toward making Africans question the motive
of Western powers, including the United States.
It's not an accident that in the United
Nations during this present session, for the first time during the nineteen
or twenty years that the UN has been in existence, we find African foreign
ministers who are openly accusing the United States of being an imperialist
power and of practicing racism. In the past, these labels were always
confined to the European colonial powers. But never was the United States
itself singled out and labeled, identified as an imperialist power.
Neither was the case of Black people
in this country ever linked with what was happening to people on the
African continent. And if there's any drastic departure from past procedures
that have been reflected already in the present UN session, it's the
tendency on the part of African representatives one after another all
to link what's happening in the Congo with what's happening in Mississippi.
And for the first time, too, since the
UN has been in existence, we have representatives of foreign governments
referring to the releasing of the twenty-one assassins of the civil
rights workers. This was mentioned in the United Nations Security Council
debate this week.
And so all of this is a sign, or reflects
the tendency on the part of Africans to identify completely with what
is happening to the Black man in this country. And they also realize
that there's an increasing tendency on the part of our people in this
country to identify with what's going on or happening to our people
on the African continent.
And never are our people given the real
picture. One thing I will say for James Farmer, with whom I was in a
discussion earlier this week. He is going to Africa. One radio report
-- I was riding home in my car one night, and I heard a radio newscaster
say that James Farmer was going to Africa to counteract the false conceptions
that I had given during my trip.
Well, I called Farmer the next day.
First I was in -- I was irked, I was irritated, I was very angry. But
then I began to remember what the press had done to me and done to others
in trying to divide and conquer, and I called Mr. Farmer. And he said
he knew absolutely nothing about what this particular newscaster had
And then I had a personal conversation
with him a little later on, which I found to be very intelligent and
very objective on his part. And he explained then that he was going
to take a fact-finding trip to Africa, and visit many of these places.
And he done so under the auspices of the Big Six to find out -- they
want to know for themselves the African story. And whether or not the
news of Africa is being properly reported in this country. Which I think
is a very progressive move on the part of those people who have been
set up to lead Black people in this country.
BASS: Was this an outgrowth
of -- I think they've had two meetings -- all of the Big Six in Washington
(editor's note: The "Big Six" were the "chief leaders"
of the civil rights movement), members of the State Department,
and so forth, and African representatives -- in the attempt to bridge
MALCOLM X: Because
those who are invited are able to see that the problem of the Black
people in this country is not an isolated problem. It's not a Negro
problem or an American problem. It's part of the world problem. It's
a human problem.
BASS: May I ask you
this -- can I interrupt you a moment to ask you this: I'm concerned
over the habit that the communications media has picked up of identifying
Black people in Africa as Negroes and then Black people here as Negroes....
MALCOLM X: Well, that's
because at one time Africa, the word African, was used in this country
in a derogatory way. But now, since Africa has gotten -- it's getting
its independence and there are so many independent African states. The
image of the African has changed from negative to positive. And the
white man in this country does not like to give us anything positive
that we can identify with. And since he can't stop the independence
movement of the people on that continent, he's trying to change the
label. Trying to change that which they call themselves to put them
in the same category with us. But I don't think they'll be very successful
BASS: Well, how do
the African delegates in this country and the people, the leaders, how
do they feel about it?
MALCOLM X: They don't
accept the word Negro at all. No one accepts the word Negro but our
people in this country, and it's only because we've been mistaught,
misguided, misled, and misinformed.
BASS: We've reached
a very good point at which to pause in order to identify both the program
and the station. By this time you know this is "Community Corner"
here in New York City and your hostess for this period as she has been
for the last three-and-a-half years is Bernice Bass and our guest here
is the son of a Baptist minister, the Honorable Minister Malcolm X....
MALCOLM X: I never
accept the term "honorable."
BASS: That's a beautiful
MALCOLM X: Well, I'll
tell you. Most people I've seen really end up misusing it, and I'd rather
just be your Brother Malcolm.
BASS: I've got a big
family, but I can always use additional. I hope my mother will not be
disturbed about it -- but I find most people are honorable, whether
they wear the title or not. We have a few brothers who aren't. Getting
back to what you saw when you were in Africa, how are the countries
developing and how -- when you hear all this business about the tremendous
amount of aid that the United States is giving all of these countries.
Are they developing? What plans do they have?
MALCOLM X: Yes, one
of the countries developing the most swiftly is Egypt. Egypt's development
is tremendous and also Ghana. Ghana, probably, and Egypt are the forefront.
Ghana is a remarkable country, a remarkably progressive country.
And I think that it might even interest
you, and by the way, it might interest you to know that one of the most
progressive moves Ghana has made is to start establishing, installing,
a television network. And I was taken through this television studio
and plant by Mrs. Du Bois, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois's wife, who is the director
of television in Ghana. She -- to my knowledge, she's the only Black
director of television in Africa. I may be wrong, but the only one I
know of is she. And she's a woman, and she's an Afro-American, and I
think that should make Afro-American women mighty proud.
She's one of the most intelligent women
I've ever met, and not only is she the director of television, but she
took me on a tour of Tema, which is a new industrial city. It's a new
city that has been set up by President [Kwame] Nkrumah which has the
most advanced type of machinery and everything else in it. And one of
the things that exists in this city is the publishing plant -- the most
modern publishing plant on the African continent. The machines are tremendous,
and it can reproduce any type of magazine, book, or newspaper in the
best form and of the best quality. And there are many other aspects
of the Ghanaian life that I found to be quite progressive.
I was saying -- if I may continue --
I was in a hotel in Cairo, the Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo, and there
was a group of students that had traveled the African continent from
a certain college here in this country. And Africa was their last stop
before embarking for the States. I was in conversation with some of
them in the lobby of the Shepheard's and they were conveying some of
their impressions. And they were greatly enthused over [President Leopold]
Senghor in Senegal, collectively. And they were, at the same time, disillusioned
with Nkrumah in Ghana, collectively. They had a tendency to criticize
and condemn Nkrumah, but at the same time pat Senghor of Senegal on
the back. Later on in the conversation, while they were pointing out
the negative conditions that existed in Senegal -- how Dakar had poverty,
beggars, and things of that sort -- and at the same time they were speaking
of the actions of beggars and the progressiveness of the Ghanaian people
and how they all looked industrious and seemed to be making a contribution
to the whole overall forward movement -- progressive movement forward.
So I answered that. These were students.
How could they say that Senghor was such a great president and at the
same time speak of the negative conditions that his people were in and
also turn around and say that they have criticisms for Nkrumah? They
have to admit that the negative conditions didn't exist in Nkrumah's
country. So, what I gather from this, that their yardstick of measurement
for leadership was not what the leader was doing for his people and
his country, but the attitude that that particular leader had toward
this country and the attitude that this country had toward that leader.
They weren't using a real yardstick
to measure that person's abilities. So I thought I would throw this
in because to me it was quite indicative of the entire attitude of the
power structure here toward the African countries and African leaders.
If African leaders are manipulated -- if they can be manipulated by
the power structure here, no matter how negative the conditions remain
in that particular leader's country, this power structure turns its
propaganda machine for the benefit, for the benefit of that African
leader. But by the same token, if it's an African leader that they can't
manipulate and use as a puppet, then they turn their propaganda machine
upon that particular leader and make him appear as a dictator or some
type of monstrosity and misinform and mislead the American public this
BASS: May I ask you
-- one of the points that you have not yet made in regard to that problem
is the fact that the Ghanaian women there seem to be emerging on the
scene at all levels.
MALCOLM X: One thing
I noticed in both the Middle East and Africa, in every country that
was progressive, the women were progressive. In every country that was
underdeveloped and backward, it was to the same degree that the women
were undeveloped, or underdeveloped, and backward.
BASS: What you're saying
is the women are actually playing a part there, in Africa ?
MALCOLM X: Well, no,
I'm saying this: That it's noticeable that in these type of societies
where they put the woman in a closet and discourage her from getting
a sufficient education and don't give her the incentive by allowing
her maximum participation in whatever area of the society where she's
qualified, they kill her incentive. And killing her incentive, she kills
the incentive in her children. And the man himself has no competition
so he doesn't develop to his fullest potential. So in the African countries
where they opt for mass education, whether it be female or male, you
find that they have a more valid society, a more progressive society.
And Ghana is one of the best examples of this. Egypt was also another
example of this.
BASS: Well, certainly.
I remember when the White Paper came out issued by Kwame Nkrumah on
this business of polygamy. There was a great deal of talk, discussion
back and forth, and I remember I interviewed a young lady from the Ghanaian
embassy here and -- is polygamy -- was it there or did you get a chance
to notice it?
Well, how would you know? I didn't have any yardstick that I could use
BASS: I thought in
conversation, not actual--
MALCOLM X: Well, their
conversation differs from the conversation over here. They aren't so
inclined to talk about their--
BASS: Personal lives--
MALCOLM X: --as is
the case in this society.
BASS: Well, isn't that
funny. Now, I'm thinking of [name unintelligible], I think, from here
at the United Nations from Nigeria. He stirred a great deal of controversy
when he came out in favor of polygamy when he was speaking before a
women's group pressing for women's rights at the United Nations.
MALCOLM X: Well, he
stirred up even more controversy this time by pressing for United States'
right to drop bombs on defenseless African villages.
BASS: Well, I'm telling
you -- you've been talking about Ghana. How does Ghana compare to Nigeria
in terms of development, in terms of their handling of national affairs
and that sort of thing?
MALCOLM X: Well, the
Nigerian people are great. You never can find any people anywhere in
Africa more hospitable and brotherly and who will welcome you more warmly
than the people in Nigeria. But by the same token the United States
influence in Nigeria has turned it almost into a colony. And there are
conditions that exist in Nigeria that are very explosive. They're getting
ready to have elections this week, which could turn Nigeria into another
Nigeria is one of the richest countries
on the African continent -- one of the most beautiful of the African
countries. But by the same token you'll find beggars there, you find
poverty there. You don't find new cities. You find beggars and poverty
in Lagos, which you don't see in Ghana.
I don't in any way condemn or criticize
the Nigerian people. I think Nigeria's problems stem primarily from
the over-exertion on the part of outside interests. The United States
presence in Nigeria is far beyond what it should be, and its influence
is far beyond what it should be.
I might say, Miss Bass, in most of the
African countries that are the most pro-American or the most inseparably
interwoven into the American way of thought, you find that the conditions,
economic conditions, of those countries are usually the worst.
BASS: Like Liberia.
NfALCOLM X: Well name
whichever you like. But you'd be surprised. The countries that are identified
with America the most are the ones that are the most backward and the
ones that have the most problems.
BASS: Now the ones
that are the most progressive, they are most closely identified with
MALCOLM X: Well, they're
more closely identified with themselves. I don't think that one can
-- there's a tendency here in America again, to try and project any
African nation that isn't on America's apron strings as linked with
some other power. But the Africans themselves want to be Africans. They
don't want to be identified with any of the what's known as European
philosophies or Occidental or Western philosophies. They want what's
good for Africa. They want to take out of any other philosophy that
which they can adopt to their own needs and to their own development.
But to be identified with either the Communist bloc or the capitalist
bloc, I don't think you'll find any African country or African leader
who will buy that -- he's for Africa.
And during the five weeks that I was
there, I took some excellent movies, by the way, which I'm going to
show at the Audubon Ballroom this time Friday night. I took movies in
Egypt that were -- I think no one else has them. I'll just say that
they're unique -- exclusives, yes. I was at the 23rd of July independence
celebration in Egypt when Haile Selassie, President Nkrumah, all of
the heads of state were there. And they were watching President Nasser's
display of weaponry that is unequaled on the African continent. You've
got to see these films to see the massive military might that President
Gamal Abdel Nasser has developed there in Egypt. Then you can see why
he's in a position to openly state that he will support the Congo freedom
fighters, and you can also see why it caused so much concern here in
BASS: But now I'd ask
you -- at the same time he announced his intention to do that, he's
also stepping up his request for aid from the United States to the tune
of 35 to 40 billion dollars in surplus food.
MALCOLM X: President
Nasser took all of the aid that was forthcoming from Russia to build
the Aswan Dam and turned around and put the Communists in jail in his
country. Which shows he doesn't take aid for those countries to tell
him what he can do. If they're interested in objectively contributing
to the development of his country and his people, then he takes the
aid. He'll take American aid with no strings attached. But if there
are strings attached, he does exactly what he says in the paper, he
tells them to go jump in the lake.
BASS: Well, that's
interesting. Except that -- you begin to wonder when it's done on an
international level, not just with Nasser but all the others, too. Practical
reality tells you, you can't get something for nothing. And when they
come after you for money or aid or what have you, what are they giving
in return? I can't understand--
MALCOLM X: You've got
to consider that these Western powers are in the economic position of
strength that exists in their countries today only because of their
past exploitation of these same areas. They're not giving aid, they're
only returning some of what was taken.
BASS: But in business,
you don't do this. You know what I mean. What you're saying anyhow talking
about a moral right and I agree--
MALCOLM X: I don't
BASS: But I'm talking
about a practical business standpoint. I have amassed so many billions
of dollars. You are now struggling. You are asking for a loan. I can
or cannot give--
MALCOLM X: One of the
reasons I'm struggling is because you took from me the--
BASS: Ah ha.
MALCOLM X: --the billions
of dollars that you have.
BASS: You know, somebody
once said -- not talking about the international scene -- but they once
said that if all the wealth in the world were divided equally, in a
matter of years or in a specified amount of time, most of the people
who had the wealth previously would have it again.
MALCOLM X: That's because
most of them who have it are more shrewd at thievery and those other
things that bring it about.
BASS: Now, when all
these other countries begin to get as prosperous as the Western powers,
will they then be accused of having gotten that way through thievery
or will theirs be shrewdness and cunning?
MALCOLM X: Well, you
see these people -- look at in terms of business. In business it's called
profit sharing. And--
BASS: I wonder--
MALCOLM X: If you check
today's New York Times, they're saying the Egyptian situation with Gamal
AbJel Nasser -- in the Sunday Times it was -- Arnold Toynbee, he is
supposed to be one of the brains in this era, he says, and I quote:
"Dr. Toynbee regards the Middle East as an area of growing importance.
'Nasser has been tactless in his dealings
with other Arab leaders, but he is the first ruler to do anything for
the Egyptian peasants. The pyramids were built for the rulers of Egypt,
but the Aswan High Dam for the good of the people. Nasser will continue
to be a big force in the Arab world; I myself rather like and admire
him. I've noticed quite a prejudice against Nasser in this country,
Americans seem to assume that he is a dictator, a bad man. I don't agree
with that."' This is Toynbee.
BASS: Yes, I know.
He used to say about two or three years ago, in talking about Martin
Luther King -- said that in his opinion, his espousal of nonviolence
was perhaps one of the savings of Christianity in the Western world.
MALCOLM X: It probably
would be the savings of Christianity in the Western world, even if it
wasn't the savings of the Negroes--
BASS: No, he didn't
say Negroes. He said Christianity.... I'd like to know about the impact
of the various American missionaries, all the religious feeling, on
the African continent. I find that in other reports that have come in,
that Islam, the religion of Islam, seems to be making great strides
and Christianity is not doing very well there, and I wonder, why?
MALCOLM X: This is
true. The religion of Islam has spread rapidly in Africa and is still
spreading quite rapidly in Africa. It's a very powerful force. And the
religion of Christianity has run into what you might call a stone wall.
There's a tendency on the part of our people in that area to link Christianity
with the European colonial powers that have dominated and exploited
these past years. And Islam is a religion that's won more acceptance.
It s easier to fit, it fits right in to the nature of one's everyday
life. In fact it's a natural religion. It's a religion that's easier
BASS: Well! let me
see -- and I'm trying to remember now -- who was it who said one of
the missionaries was talking about his impressions of Africa -- I've
forgotten what country it was involved at the time -- that when he got
there he was surprised to find other missionaries who were teaching
the natives Christianity, insisting on the natives coming through the
back door while their white compatriots came through the front door.
And this new white missionary to Africa found this a bit strange, since
they were all reading the same Bible.
MALCOLM X: Well, this
is why Islam is spreading. Islam has no color bar in it at all. Islam
has no -- there's nothing in Islam that teaches one to judge a man by
the color of his skin. No matter what color you are in Islam -- you're
a Muslim, you're a brother
BASS: That's interesting,
hearing you say that, in view of some of your former statements--
MALCOLM X: Well, notice
all of my former statements were prefaced by "the Honorable Elijah
Muhammad teaches thus and so." They weren't my statements, they
were his statements, and I was repeating them.
BASS: Parroting them.
The same thing you accuse Judge Thurgood Marshall of doing once upon
MALCOLM X: And now
the parrot has jumped out of the cage.
BASS: Well, that's
interesting, we're going to see what else he does. [Laughter] Good morning....
CALLER: I'm calling
from Manhattan. I would like to ask: Why do the Arabs discriminate against
the Black man? And especially I read about the Sudan where they attacked
and killed Negroes just because they were black.
BASS: Perhaps Minister
Malcolm X can answer that.
MALCOLM X: My own --
when I was in East Africa, I noticed that there was a strong feeling
among the Africans along the East African coast against the Asians.
When I went to West Africa, I noticed that there was a strong feeling
among the Africans against the Arabs. And in parts of Africa where there
were neither Asians or Arabs, I noticed a strong feeling among Africans
-- if they were Muslim, it was against Africans who were Christian,
or if they were Christian, it was against Africans who were Muslim.
And when you study the divisive forces
at work on the African continent today, you'll find that these divisive
forces are not indigenous to the African or the African continent, but
they are coming from outside. And the powers that have ruled Africa
in the past are aware that the real independence of Africa began to
take its impetus from the Bandung Conference, which was a forging together
of the Asian-Arab-African bloc. And this bloc, with no nuclear weapons
or weapons of modern warfare, were able to gain a great deal toward
independence against the European powers, because of their numerical
strength, their unity.
So these powers realize that they've
been pushed against the wall during recent years and the only weapon
that they have against this force that has been pushing them against
the wall is divide and conquer -- the tactic that they've always used.
So that, if I may finish, so that in every area where you find people
who have been colonized and oppressed today striving toward freedom,
you find that whereas in the past they got along, today they're fighting
each other. Just like in British Guyana -- it's the Asians against the
Black man. And this is not indigenous trouble that stems from the people
themselves. It's instigated by outside forces. And then it's blown up
to give the impression that the fight that's going on among them or
between them is something other than what it actually is.
BASS: May I ask you
this -- now you say this is not indigenous to the African continent
and then of course, you just mentioned British Guyana. But if you look
at history, don't you find that all continents or all groups of people
in a wide geographical area usually come up with differences within
themselves -- Canada for instance, the United States. It's not just
MALCOLM X: Certainly.
But when these differences come up and they are normal, or natural--
BASS: Hold on just
MALCOLM X: -- you'll
find that they usually take a different pattern than that which is developing
on the African continent or in British Guyana. Because if the Asians
and the Blacks in British Guyana could live so much in harmony together
when the British were there, you tell me why now that the British are
being pushed out, or they're being threatened with being pushed out,
that all of a sudden the power that could push them out -- instead of
pushing them out begins to fight among themselves. This is not an accident.
And the same pattern is developing in different parts of the world.
It's divide and conquer.
BASS: Does that answer
your question, sir?
CALLER: Ma'am, for
clearness' sake you should also talk about the Arabs. I think for clearness'
sake you should also mention the Arab role in -- as slave traders and
the hatred that would stem from that.
BASS: Did you hear
that, Minister Malcolm X? Now we're going to hang up, but he's going
to answer that.
MALCOLM X: I don't
condone slavery, no matter who it's carried on by. And I think that
-- I don't condone slavery no matter who carries it on. And I think
that every power that has participated in slavery of any form on this
earth, in history, has paid for it, except the limited States. All of
your European powers that colonized, your -- the part that the Arabs
played in the enslavement of Africans, all of them who played a part
have lost their empire, lost their power, lost their position, except
the United States. The United States was the recipient of the slaves,
and she's the only one up till now who has yet to pay.
BASS: Do you want --
what's your prognosis for the future as regards the United States, as
we get ready to leave our breathless listening audience?
MALCOLM X: The Bible,
in the Book of Revelations, says he that leads into captivity shall
go into captivity. This is in the thirteenth chapter, the one that the
preacher thought didn't exist. It says he who leads into captivity shall
go into captivity. He who kills by the sword shall be killed by the
sword. This is justice. So I don't think that any power can enslave
a people and not look forward to having that justice come back upon
BASS: Well, Minister
Malcolm X, thank you for visiting. We need to have you back time and
time and time again so that we can eventually touch on some of the points
of interest that intrigue our listening audience. Now we don't want
our listeners to forget that you are going to be showing movies taken
on your trip at the Audubon Ballroom at what time?
MALCOLM X: At eight
o'clock Sunday night, the Audubon Ballroom.
BASS: At eight o'clock
Sunday night, here in New York City. Minister
Malcolm X himself.