A. Peter Bailey was a member of Malcolm X’s Organization of African Unity and editor of Blacklash, the organization’s newspaper. He has lectured on Malcolm X at multiple universities and written extensively about Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz). His forthcoming book is, “Brother Malcolm X’s Visionary Strategic Pan-Africanism, Why It Enraged the FBI and the CIA.”
Our Time Press: What does Black power mean today?
A. Peter Bailey: Many people think Black power means the election of Barrack Obama as president. They think it is Black power now that a woman of color is the vice president. Well, I don’t consider that Black power. Black power to me is when we are organized economically and using our collective economic resources for our own interest.
In this country, you will never have power of any kind if you don’t have economic power. You may have some degree of political influence, but you will never, never, never, never have political power without economic power.
OTP:How can we achieve economic power?
APB: What I think we should develop a national organization that would have ten divisions. You would have an economic division, a cultural division, a political division, an education division, a health division, a legal division, a technology division and a self-defense division. And in each one of those areas, we would analyze, identify and document our strengths in each one of these areas.
OTP:Give me those strengths.
APB: For instance, I understand we spend $1.3 trillion, right? Do you know what we could do with that money if we would utilize that money within our community? We’re giving probably 80% of that money to other ethnic and religious groups. Other folks have made millionaires off of our culture, our music, our plays, our theater. That’s what I’m talking about.
OTP: Coming back to Malcolm, he must have had thoughts on these strengths.
APB: He felt we just were not doing what we could to build upon our situation because we always have been taught to see ourselves as the problem. I will not go to a conference about the problems of the Black family. I will go to learn how to build the Black families.. I will go to the one that addresses how we can build stronger Blackness. We’ve allowed these people to define us. Nobody can do anything if you see yourself constantly as a problem.
OTP: How do we support each other in the correction of these, if you will, “problems”?
APB: I was talking to a young brother today, he’s about 31 or 32 years old. I told him, “Don’t make the mistake we made in the ‘70s and ‘80s.” We always talked about, “Oh, you got to get to the grassroots, you got to get everybody” No. When you’re trying to organize something, you organize the true believers first. If you have 20 people and five are serious, and the other 20, they’re hemming and hawing, and you’ve got to explain this and that, you’ve got to let them go.
I tell young people nowadays, when you try to organize Black people to do anything, find the true believers, people who are serious Black folks who believe that Black people are a serious group of people, who believe that Black people have strengths we are not utilizing, who have a strong concept of Blackness. This is a long process; you must see this as a long chain. And every generation must weaken the links and the chain is going to break.
OTP: It’s the chains of oppression that have to be broken. Is that what you’re saying?
APB: Yes. I was fortunate enough in the late ’60 to meet a brother, an African brother. He said, “Listen. You got to get over this idea that you’re going to do something today and see the results next week or next year or even in the next ten years.”
OTP:You’re saying that we have to think intergenerationally, seven generations ahead in effect.
APB: We have to organize, and we have to be sure that it maintains to the next generation and then the next generation. Our responsibility is to do whatever we can on any level to weaken the links in that chain of oppression.
OTP: You were talking about weakening those links, but you also want to strengthen other links?
APB: You want to strengthen the links in the Black community. We must do whatever we can, but you must first get to people who truly believe. If you have to explain to somebody what is meant by Blackness, don’t waste your time.
Movements have never in the history of man been organized by the masses. Movements have always been organized by dedicated, committed, talented small groups, and they grow larger as they go along. That’s what every successful movement in the history of man, that’s the way it’s happened.
OTP:What else in your book would you like to bring out now about Malcolm’s thinking?
APB: I want to show that this brother understood very clearly that one of the things that we didn’t take advantage of in the fight against White Supremacy, is that this country was involved in a major propaganda war with the Soviet Union. I always call it Russia.
The United States maintained they were the leaders of the free world and what Brother Malcolm was doing in the last 15 months of his life, he was trying to get African countries to take the United States government before the UN Commission on Human Rights.
OTP: How did he do that?
APB: The organization of African American Unity was the second organization he formed after leaving the Nation of Islam. We didn’t call ourselves a civil rights organization. Civil rights are national, the international term is human rights. So, we called ourselves a human rights organization. And Brother Malcolm’s goal was to have the United States taken before the UN Commission on Human Rights for being either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and properties of Black people in this country.
And that is what he was doing, and that’s why they considered him so dangerous. Because he had reached the point where in May of 1964 when he was travelling to Africa, he had audiences with African leaders ranging from one and a half to three hours with the following African presidents, President Azikiwe from Nigeria, President Nkrumah of Ghana, President Nyerere of Tanzania, President Nasser of Egypt, President Kenyatta of Kenya, President Toure of Guinea and Prime Minister Obote of Uganda. Can you imagine J. Edgar Hoover’s reaction when he saw that?
OTP: He wouldn’t have liked that at all.
APB: They were treating him like a foreign minister in the African countries. As a result of him meeting with them, he was then invited in July 1964 to attend the Organization of African Unity meeting in Cairo. He was invited as an observer to that meeting. It was at that meeting that he issued an eight-page document to African leaders about what was going on in this country and why they had a vested interest in what was going on and how we could help them, and they could help us.
As a result of what he did, the African leaders issued a resolution, and I have all this in my book, they issued a resolution condemning discrimination in the United States. Unheard of. “Be it Resolved…” the whole thing is in my book.
OTP: So, he was treated almost like the foreign minister of the Black African nation here in the States.
APB: For Black folks to the world, but especially to Africa. It never happened before and has not happened since. In December of 1964, during the UN debates on the Congo, when the United States, Belgium and England had invaded the Congo claiming they had to go in there and save these white nuns. Two African UN diplomats, one from Guinea and one from Ghana, when they made their speeches attacking this, they said, “What would the United States say if we felt that we had the right to come to the aid of Black people in Mississippi who were being killed by White Supremacists in Mississippi?” I’m kind of paraphrasing but that’s what they said. That was unheard of. They had never done that before.
That was directly because of the groundwork that had been made by Brother Malcolm.
In March of 1965, Ahmed Ben Bella who was the President of Algeria and a revolutionary leader that finally helped to drive the French out of Algeria, he called a meeting of revolutionary leaders, I think it was only about 30 to 40 people who were going to be invited. One of those people invited was Brother Malcolm. Now Brother Malcolm tried to keep that quiet but evidently the FBI had an informant in the Muslim Mosque Incorporated, and organization that brother Malcolm had formed, who told them about that. That Brother Malcolm was going to be going to this March 5th, 1965 meeting called by Ahmed Ben Bella and on February 21st he was assassinated or it was ten days, two weeks before that meeting.
We have to me, proven to be unworthy of the sacrifices made by those brothers and other of our ancestors from that period in the war against White Supremacists. We have proven unworthy because we didn’t follow their directives on unity and the absolute necessity of it. So, as far as I’m concerned, we have proven unworthy of sacrifices they made.
OTP:What about Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Some people applauded, others like Professor Brittney Cooper says it is disrespectful. What is your view of Tubman on the $20 bill?
APB: I think it’s another of those feel-good things. I really do. In the last 25 or 30 years, they have developed a very slick way of giving us feel good moments. And if Harriet Tubman is on the $20 bill and we’re going to continue giving all that money to other ethnic and religious groups, what good does it do us?
APB: Martin Luther King had said such powerful things, but he’s been reduced to ‘I have a dream. I personally would not go see any program dealing with Dr. King that has the word “dream” in it.
Dr. King said in the Vietnam war the United States was committing war crimes. In talking about unity for Black people Dr. King said, “We have been oppressed as a group and we must overcome that oppression as a group.” Even in the March on Washington speech, he talked about how our forefathers were given a promissory note. He said, “…we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.” That was in the March on Washington. That should be the focus from that March, but what is it? “I have a dream.”