Malcolm X To John Henrik Clarke: “Do Your Best Work”

Malcolm X To John Henrik Clarke: "Do Your Best Work"
The Grand Master Teacher Dr. John Henrik Clarke

AFRICANGLOBE – I think  Dr. Martin Luther King was the spiritual leader of the Black movement; of the Civil Rights Movement and probably one of the finest theologians that we’ve produced in recent years.

He was a dreamer and yet he was a committed man to struggle and he made great sacrifice within that struggle.  I had some strong disagreements with him. I never thought that we should be locked into the concept of non violence as a way of life.

I was perfectly willing to use it as a strategy.

I think we should be slow in criticizing Martin Luther King. He was brave enough to put his life on the line for what he believed in. We are still here talking. That’s proof enough of his bravery over ours.

I think the march on Washington was just that. It wasn’t a march on Washington. It was a march in Washington. I don’t know of any sweeping achievements that came out of it. It was a great ceremony. I would be hard-pressed to identify the substance.

I happen to think we’ve gotten enough mileage out of marching.  It was a great ceremony.  It was a great rehearsal for a show we did not put on the road. For a time we had the attention of the world.

Between the Civil Rights Movement, the Caribbean federation movement,  the African Independence movement, we had the attention of the world and there were people, though they hated our guts, they were willing to make concessions to us, based on the fact that we were ready to handle power.

We made too many speeches and didn’t do the necessary work. The unglamorous  off-camera work that would have made it possible.

That was our great mistake. Ceremony that lacked substance. And there was a voice,  loud and clear; analytical — we were fighting to keep from hearing that voice.

It was the voice of big bad Malcolm X who had both the national and the international message.

I  met him first in 1958. I knew him from that period until his death and sometimes saw him on a daily basis. I would furnish information on history and background information.

I never told Malcolm X what to do and I don’t remember anybody else who told him what to do either.

I first met Malcolm X at the World’s Trade show building. He looked me up and down and said ‘I bet you you are a swine eater.’ I admit that I had  paid some joyful visits to pork chops and other parts of the pig. And  I said that ‘Malcolm you know if it wasn’t for the pig you and I wouldn’t be here arguing about the pig cause some of us would be gone. We would have starved to death.’

Many times when Malcolm X prefaced his speeches with the  words  ‘the honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us.’  Malcolm X was teaching Malcolm X lessons over and beyond anything the Honorable Elijah Muhammad ever thought about.

The Arabs and certain powerful groups within Islam really wanted Malcolm on their side. There was a serious attempts to persuade Malcolm to turn on Elijah Muhammad and establish a second Islamic group based  on what they considered Orthodox Islam.

They offered him $3.5 million. He turned it down. And we were walking down the street towards his car. This man had turned down 3.5 million dollars whacked me on the shoulder and said ‘Swine eater, let me buy you a cup of coffee.’

He was more loyal to Elijah Muhammad eventually was to him. Elijah Muhammad was getting old and feeble and there was  suspicion that Malcolm X would be the logical successor.  There was those within the nation who didn’t want Malcolm X as the logical successor  because Malcolm X would have done some serious house cleaning.  He was an honest man. There were some thieves in the house.

I think his development in Pan-Africanism came a little later in his life. In the final analysis he was as good a Pan-Africanist as any of the rest. Malcolm  X had laid down a threat to the colonial powers of the world.

I do  not think that Malcolm X’s murder was a local American thing. I think it was a larger thing than that.

And I do not think that Farrakhan had anything directly to do with the murder. But I do think that Farrakhan was guilty of  creating the attitude and the atmosphere that led to the murder.

Without  Farrakhan I think Malcolm X still would have been assassinated. We were friends from the day we met until his death. And when I got the word of his death I was in Connecticut. I had gone up to make a speech in Connecticut.

And I was at a Jewish home. And someone announced that he had died and then someone added, dismissing the whole thing that, ‘After all, he was anti-Semitic.’

I know the man well enough to know that he really didn’t hate anybody. He hated certain things  people did.

He wasn’t a hater at all. They spoke as if they had the right to tell us who should and should not be our hero. I went into that bathroom and it was after dinner and just cried like a child for 15 minutes.

I  came out partly composed and made the speech that night I was asked to make and came on home and again tried to deal with the reality of the situation because to me Malcolm X was not gone and  he’s still not gone in my imagination.

The whole year after his death I always got the feeling that we were having out usual conversation and I would always end it ‘What can I do?’

And finally I got the feeling that he had said ‘Do your best work.’ I was a good teacher before that. I was a better teacher and better human being after that.

Because I knew that being a good classroom teacher was my best work.


By; Dr. John Henrik Clarke

From the film “A Great And Mighty Walk” by documentarian St. Claire Bourne.