Egalitarian martyrs’ work still undone

Visions 2042 — By Guest Author on May 25, 2010 at 07:04

By John Telford

The fiercely egalitarian legacy of Malcolm X is celebrated today by sincere egalitarians, both black and white.   However, let me hasten to point out that the magnificently in-your-face egalitarianism of that fearless man once known as “Detroit Red” is also safely “celebrated” by many far less-than-sincere, covertly racist whites and some classist, bourgeois blacks.  Such self-serving hypocrites would be rightfully fearful of Malcolm X were he alive today, instead of safely dead.

A man named Thomas Hagan (aka Talmadge X Hayer) who was convicted of killing the mighty Malcolm 45 years ago was just released from prison.  No way would he ever have got out had his victim been white.  (Note that Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of the 1968 murder of the social revolutionist Robert F. Kennedy—continues to languish in prison with no hope of parole.)

Personally, I would have preferred that the powers-that-be show Hagan the same lack of lenience that Sirhan Sirhan is appropriately being shown.  Although my professed sentiment in that regard is unforgivingly non-Christian (and I profess to be a forgiving Christian), I can’t help feeling this way.  Malcolm took most of black America and some of white America to a higher level in the last years of his too-short but legendary life.

Still, with young Malcolm’s early death, much of his egalitarian labor remains uncompleted, and much of young King’s and Kennedy’s similarly egalitarian dream remains unfulfilled.  In 2008, more than half a century after the 1954 Supreme Court school-desegregation decision declaring “separate but equal” to be inherently unequal, I was still administrating in a huge, all-black public school and teaching in an all-black classroom at the dilapidated Detroit Finney High, in the most segregated metropolitan center in America. This segregation is the direct result of more than a half-century of accelerating white flight and resultant corporate flight.

Native Detroiter john powell, my student and runner at Southeastern High in 1960, now directs the OSU-based Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.  In January, he and his staff put together a report that includes these words: “The U.S. has not lived up to its obligation to review and correct policies that perpetuate disparities manifested along racial lines, and it rationalizes these harms as a product of conditions beyond its control.”  Until America’s (and Michigan’s) leaders recognize that these disparities are far from beyond their control and set about obliterating them, our country’s four great egalitarian martyrs won’t rest easily in their graves.


Artist: Joseph Rosnato

Retired Detroit educator and former world-ranked sprinter John Telford’s memoir on Detroit and suburban schools—A Life on the RUN – Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice —   is available at and at Barnes & Noble stores.

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