The Assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

                                                                                      Martin Luther King Jr. 

Over thirty years ago, Malcolm X (1965) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) were assassinated. In the case of Malcolm X, several members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) were convicted of the assassination.  In the case of Martin Luther King, one assassin, James Earl Ray, was convicted of the assassination and sentenced to life in prison. However, there have always been many unanswered questions about both of these murders. Despite the convictions, and the ongoing campaign by the government, police agencies, and various authors and pundits to put the assassinations to rest, there have always been many unanswered questions about these murders. 

According to a Memphis jury’s verdict on December 8,1999, in the wrongful death lawsuit of the King family versus Loyd Jowers and other unknown co -conspirators, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of the United States government. Almost 32 years after King’s murder at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, l968, a court extended the circle of responsibility for the assassination beyond the late scapegoat James Earl Ray to the United States government.  

In the 1970’s, the public became aware of the COINTELPRO disruption operations of the government against the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, radicals and socialists. Under COINTELPRO the different United States spy agencies used informers, agents, and agentsprovocateurs to disrupt these organizations. One of the stated purposes of this program was to neutralize Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Elijah Muhammad in order to prevent the emergence – to use the government’s term – of a “Black Messiah” who would have the potential of uniting and leading a mass organization of Black Americans in their struggle for freedom and economic equality.

A second assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. has been the attempt to distort what they really stood for in their last years of life. This is a process that Lenin described in the opening to his book The State and Revolution:  

“…what in the course of history, has happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes fighting for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the consolation of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”   

As one who was politically active at that time, I believe that it is important to tell the truth about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X  in order to help keep their ideas alive and prevent them from being reduced to harmless icons.

The Assassination of Malcolm X 

I witnessed Malcolm X’s assassination at the Audubon Ballroom, on February 21, 1965. I am writing with the benefit of first hand knowledge of what took place that day, what Malcolm X stood for at the time of his death, and the hope for the future that inspired all who heard or knew the man.  

I remember the mass media, reflecting their class hatred of Malcolm X, gloating and cheering his assassination. I remember the response to his death by the tens of thousands in Harlem, who for several days went to view his casket. I remember the eulogy by Ossie Davis that silenced the hyenas of the press when he said “He [Malcolm X] was our prince, our Black shining prince.” In spite of all of the attacks by the mass media, Malcolm X has grown more and more popular as a martyred leader of his people and an uncompromising advocate of human rights and freedom.

In 1991, at the time Spike Lee’s documentary movie on Malcolm X was due to be released, several books were written that attempted to camouflage Malcolm’s political evolution during his last year. Two such books were Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, by Bruce Perry and Malcolm X: The Assassination, by Michael Friedly. In my opinion, these books are a second assassination of Malcolm X.

Both books were written in order to reaffirm the government’s position to put sole blame on the Nation of Islam (NOI) for the assassination. Both deny the evolution of his thinking, reflecting his revolutionary development in the last year of his life, and discounted any possibility of government complicity or motive in the assassination. Both were also polemics against two excellent books written by George Breitman: The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary and The Assassination of Malcolm X.

Breitman wrote The Last Year of Malcolm X to cover the period of Malcolm’s life that is absent from the autobiography co-authored with Alex Haley. He also hoped to clear up any misconceptions that Haley, who disagreed with Malcolm’s ideas as they were developing, had put into the epilogue of the autobiography. Breitman’s book was based on Malcolm’s speeches and statements during his last year and his collaboration with the Socialist Workers Party. If one reads Malcolm X’s speeches, one will clearly understand that Breitman’s book is a very accurate statement of Malcolm X’s political development and evolution.  

Unfortunately, Spike Lee’s documentary movie Malcolm X also downplayed Malcolm’s thinking and accomplishments during his last year. This allows those who oppose what Malcolm had become in his last year to maintain that he had not become a threat to the capitalist establishment. This has been consciously done to make it appear that the NOI alone had a motive to kill Malcolm X and to exonerate the role of the government in the assassination.

The Government’s Motive To Neutralize Malcolm X 

In his last year, Malcolm X came to the conclusion that it was impossible for African Americans to be integrated into this system because racism was profitable and an integral part of capitalism. His words on the world-wide oppression of non-whites by white Europeans were very similar to what Karl Marx wrote about how the original capitalist fortunes were obtained. In Capital, Volume One, Part VIII, Chapter 31, [the] Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist Marx wrote:  

“…The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production… If money… comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek, capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

Malcolm X was the first mass leader in the United States to oppose the war in Vietnam and to identify the oppression of African Americans in this country with the struggles of the oppressed throughout the world. In all probability, Malcolm X would have spoken at the first mass demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1965. His powerful oratory alone, as well as his standing among inner-city Blacks, would have given the Vietnam Antiwar Movement a far different character and the history of that period in the United States and the world would have been greatly changed.  

I had the opportunity to hear Malcolm X speak at meetings in Harlem at the Audubon Ballroom and elsewhere. His power as an orator was his ability to make complex ideas simple and clear. He was not a demagogue. His speeches were always an appeal to reason.  

One example of the power of his oratory was when he spoke at an organizing rally for Hospital Workers Local 1199 in New York City 1962. The following is a famous quote from that speech: “The hospital strikers have demonstrated that you don’t get a job done unless you show the Man you’re not afraid… If you’re not willing to pay that price, then you don’t deserve the rewards or benefits that go along with it.”  

He gave the best speech at the rally, and when he finished speaking, all of the workers – Black, white, and Puerto Rican – cheered wildly. The response was the same whether he spoke in Harlem or at Oxford University in England.  

Malcolm X viewed the struggle of African Americans as an economic and social struggle for human rights and not limited to just a struggle for civil fights. He identified with the Colonial Revolution at that time in Africa and throughout the world, including the struggle of the Vietnamese people and the Cuban revolution; in direct opposition to the policies of the United States government both then and now. He had met with Che Guevara and the Cuban delegation to the United Nations in December 1964 and a firm bond was established between them. Contrary to Friedly and Perry’s assertions, Malcolm had become a very real threat to the very foundations of capitalism in the United States. The truth is that the United States government had a very good motive for the assassination.  

Prior to his assassination Malcolm X told Clifton DeBerry, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party in 1964, and myself that he hoped to live long enough to build a viable organization based on his current ideas – so that he would be more dangerous to the system dead than alive. Unfortunately, he did not have time to build the new organization that he had envisioned.

In his book, The Assassination of Malcolm X, George Breitman points out that the first accounts of the assassination, in the New York City newspapers, reported that two people were caught by the crowd and saved by the police. But later, the press and the police reported that only one person, Talmadge Hayer, had been caught by the crowd. No explanation has ever been given for the change in the story.

The question remains to this day: What happened to the second man? Why wasn’t he brought to trial? The first police report stated that five men were involved in the assassination; yet only three were accused and convicted at the trial. Both Perry and Friedly allege that the newspapers made a normal journalistic mistake. However, Breitman puts forward the probability that the second man was an undercover agent who was quietly released.  

There is no doubt that the police had plainclothes officials in the audience. As a witness to the assassination, I was questioned at the Harlem police headquarters. I recognized a man there – obviously a cop, with free run of the office – whom I had seen sitting in the first row at the Audubon Ballroom where Hayer said his accomplices were sitting. Perry’s book basically supports the official police version of the assassination. It ignores strong evidence that it would have been virtually impossible for only three people to have carried out the assassination.  

Perry also ignores Hayer’s affidavit that the two other people convicted with him, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson—who were both members of the NOI— were not even present at the meeting when Malcolm was killed. (When I was called before the Grand Jury on the assassination of Malcolm X, James Shabazz, Malcolm’s primary assistant, also told me that that Butler and Johnson were well known and confirmed that they were not at the meeting nor would they have been allowed to enter the meeting.)  

Friedly’s book is a more sophisticated cover up. The book puts the blame solely on the NOI while, at the same time, criticizing the police investigation. It is based on Hayer’s confessions at the trial and at a later parole hearing. Friedly’s and Hayer’s version is that five members of the NOI carried out the assassination—three people doing the shooting up front and two people creating a diversion prior to the shooting, setting off a smoke bomb in the back of the room.  

Hayer’s version of the logistics corresponds with my own impressions at the scene. Contrary to Friedly’s contention, however, the confession by Hayer only reinforces the probable existence of a second man caught by the crowd. Hayer explains that at the time that he was shot and caught by the crowd he could see one of his accomplices running ahead of him. I was told by Malcolm’s guards when I got outside the Audubon Ballroom, that two people were caught by the crowd at the same time and that one was taken to the hospital by the police and the other taken into police custody. Hayer was taken to the hospital and then booked. It is likely that the second man caught was the one running ahead of Hayer and was quite possibly an agent.  

There is one glaring error in Hayer’s statement. He stated that the five assassins cased one of Malcolm’s meetings at the Audubon Ballroom in the winter of 1964-65 and concluded that they would have a good chance to escape. This is far from probable. There were normally 30 to 50 cops, in their blue uniforms, both inside and outside the building stationed at all the exits. Escape would not have been easy.  

However, at the meeting when Malcolm was assassinated, the police were nowhere to be found—even though they knew that an assassination attempt was imminent. In order to plan Malcolm X’s death, the conspirators would have needed to know and be confident that the cops were not going to be there on that day. Perry and Friedly assert that the police agreed to Malcolm’s request not to have police protection. However, when the police first spoke of their agreement, Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, stated that it was a lie that Malcolm had made the request.  

Both Perry and Friedly discount any possible disruption operations by the FBI, the New York City police, or the CIA. But in a documentary aired in 1992 on Malcolm X and narrated by Dan Rather on CBS television, the FBI is shown to have acted as agent provocateurs. For example, the FBI sent provocative letters to the NOI and forged Malcolm’s signature to the letters. Rather revealed that the CBS television crew had not been allowed access to over 45,000 pages of documents on Malcolm X that remain in the files of the CIA and FBI.

“The Judas Factor” 

In dramatic contrast to Perry’s and Friedly’s conclusions about Malcolm X’s assassination, is a book by Washington Post staff writer Karl Evanzz titled, The Judas Factor (Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, 1992. 389 pp., $22.95).

In this book, Evanzz documents how the intelligence community—the CIA, the FBI, and the New York Police Bureau of Special Services (BOSSI) — using agents provocateurs and infiltrators — set the stage for the assassination of Malcolm X. It outlines the motives for their actions. Evanzz spent 15 years researching over 300,000 pages of declassified FBI and CIA documents. From Page 214 of The Judas Factor

A few days after Malcolm X’s press conference announcing his split from the NOI, “William C. Sullivan (FBI) contacted the directors of BOSSI and asked them to recruit several African Americans to infiltrate Malcolm X’s new organization. Among the directors at the time were two men who later would play key roles in the scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation: Anthony Ulasewicz, the infamous bagman of Watergate, and Nixon advisor John J. Caulfield. 

“Ulasewicz was all too happy to comply with Sullivan’s request. Malcolm X had been a thorn in the New York Police Department’s side for more than a decade. He told Sullivan that he would have officers ready to infiltrate Malcolm X’s new organizations within thirty days. 

“While Sullivan was coordinating the domestic counterintelligence program against Malcolm X with BOSSI, the CIA initiated a similar program to determine the extent of Malcolm X’s influence with Third World leaders. ‘What do we have on Malcolm X?’ a CIA official wrote in an inter-office memo dated March 10. The request for information had come from the U.S. State Department. The official ordered a clerk to run a thorough check in the CIA’s database to determine which Third World countries seemed receptive to Malcolm X. . .” 

In the introduction to the book, Evanzz writes: “After analyzing these resources, I am convinced that Louis E. Lomax, an industrious African-American journalist who befriended Malcolm X in the late 1950’s, had practically solved the riddle of his assassination. Lomax, who died in a mysterious automobile accident while shooting a film in Los Angeles about the assassination, believed that Malcolm X was betrayed by a former friend who reportedly had ties to the intelligence community … In 1968, Lomax called the suspect ‘Judas’. This, then, is the story of The Judas Factor.”  

There are two major themes in the book: One is the “Judas Factor” and the other is the concern of the FBI and the CIA over Malcolm X’s success in linking the struggle of African Americans with the national liberation struggles in Africa and throughout the Third World.  

Evanzz documents that Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the Algerian Revolution, had invited Malcolm X — along with Che Guevara and other leaders of independence movements—to a special conference in Bandung scheduled to begin on March 3, 1965. Malcolm X had also been able to get Ethiopia and Liberia to include human rights violations against African Americans with their petition on South African human rights violations before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The petition was scheduled to be heard on March 12, 1965.

Part of the Judas Factor was the FBI’s attempts to neutralize Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Elijah Muhammad. Evanzz provides concrete evidence that Martin Luther King was going to support Malcolm X in his project to bring the struggle of human rights before the United Nations and had begun to also identify with the struggles for human rights in Africa.  

In light of the CIA’s policies to neutralize opponents of the U.S. government’s political and covert activities in Africa, Evanzz explains that it was necessary to neutralize Malcolm X prior to the Bandung conference. Malcolm X was assassinated on February, 21, 1965, a week and a half before the conference was to take place. Soon after the assassination, several African government officials who had been working with Malcolm X were also assassinated and the Ben Bella government in Algeria was overthrown in June 1965.  

From his research into FBI files, Evanzz was able to prove that the FBI had a high-level informant in the NOI. Thus, the FBI was clearly in a position to carry out a campaign to fan the flames of discontent among rising leaders of the Nation and to disrupt the organization’s activities. FBI memos indicate that they maneuvered within the NOI to keep their informant in the best possible leadership position to carry out their covert activities. From the very day that Malcolm X split from the NOI, the FBI worked on a day-to-day basis with BOSSI and the CIA to infiltrate and disrupt his activities. William Sullivan (subsequently of Watergate fame) was the FBI agent in overall charge of both the infiltration of the NOI and Malcolm’s organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).  

It is clear from the book that a coordinated effort was carried out between all government spy agencies to widen the split between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, to increase tensions between their organizations, and to undermine their support among African Americans. It is also safe to assume that agents, informants, and provocateurs from these different agencies were sent into the NOI and Malcolm X’s organizations and that these agents were also present at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. One of police informants, who later informed on the Black Panthers, told me as I was going to take my normal front row seat that “you are not going to sit there today,” and he had me sit in the front row on the left side of the Ballroom. (The assassins then sat in the area where I normally sat to hear Malcolm X speak.)  

Some of Evanzz’s research was based on books about the NOI by Louis Lomax. Evanzz found in the FBI files a script for a movie on the assassination of Malcolm X, which Lomax was working on at the time of his death. (He died in a car accident caused by brake failure.) Evanzz provides circumstantial evidence that John Ali, a former friend of Malcolm X who became a national secretary of the NOI, was more than likely an FBI agent/informer and hence the Judas Factor. In fact, Evanzz provides quotes from Malcolm X to Lomax indicating that Malcolm X blamed John Ali for his expulsion from the Nation.  

The most important aspect, however, is not whether Ali was the high-level agent, but the fact that the FBI did indeed have a high-level person in the Nation in their employ. Overall, the main value of the book is that all of the spy agencies in the United States were deeply involved as infiltrators and agent provocateurs (Judas Factors) to set the stage for Malcolm X’s assassination.  

The evidence provided by the book is irrefutable proof that the government had the motive to assassinate Malcolm X and the ability, through its COINTELPRO spy operations, to orchestrate his assassination. It is now time to open up all the files of the CIA and the FBI, as well as the thousands of pages of files of the New York City Police Department, so that the truth about the assassination of Malcolm X can be exposed.

The Government’s Motive To Neutralize Martin Luther King 

From the time of the King assassination, the many inconsistencies in the Government’s case that James Earl Ray was the sole assassin were well publicized. When the COINTELPRO disruption operations of the government against the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and radicals and socialists were exposed; The United States House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Assassinations, under pressure from these exposures and the Civil Rights Movement, did an investigation in 1979 with the purpose to reconfirm the Government’s case. Immediately after it released the report—affirming that Ray was the lone assassin—this committee sealed all of the evidence it had in its possession for 50 years (until 2029). Thus, we were left with nothing but the integrity of the Senators to justify their findings—rather than the facts. The only logical reason to keep the files secret is to protect the guilty. 

Recently, new facts on this assassination have come to light. On Dec. 8, 1999, a jury awarded Coretta Scott King and her family $100 in damages resulting from a conspiracy to murder her late husband, Martin Luther King. The trial was initiated by the admission of Lloyd Jowers on national TV in 1993 that he had hired King’s assassin as a favor to an underworld figure who was a friend. At the conclusion of the trial, Dexter King, Dr. King’s son, said, After today, we don’t want questions like, ‘Do you believe James Earl Ray killed your father?’ I’ve been hearing that all my life. No, I don’t, and this is the end of it. This was the most incredible cover-up of the century, and now it has been exposed. Now we can finally move on with our lives.  

The King family, along with their attorney, William Pepper, plan to lobby historians and elected officials to get the official record of the assassination changed. There have always been many unanswered questions about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. From the beginning it has been clear that the FBI was involved to one degree or another.  

The FBI leaked the information to the Memphis press that King was going to be staying at a white hotel a couple of days prior to his arrival in the city. This forced King to stay at the less secure Lorraine Motel.  The question remains: Why would the government be part of the conspiracy against King? Why would they want him dead? A key to understanding the government’s motive is that Martin Luther King had a different political perspective at the time of his death than when he made his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. His final speeches and actions reveal that he had begun to view the struggle for equality as an economic struggle and the capitalist economic system as the problem.  

In one of his last speeches, given at Stanford University in April 1967 and titled the “The Other America,” King addressed the problem of the rich and the poor in this country. Instead of his dream, he talked about the nightmare of the economic condition of Blacks. He talked about “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist”; about the Black population living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity”; and about living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty, and human misery.” He explained that after World War II, the unemployment rate between Blacks and whites was equal and that in the years between then and 1967, Black unemployment had become double the rate for white workers. He also spoke about how Black workers made half the wages of white workers.  

From his experience when he started his campaign for equality in Chicago and elsewhere in the North, King concluded in this speech that to deal with this problem of the Two Americas was much more difficult than to get rid of legal segregation. He pointed out that the northern liberals, who had given moral and financial support to the struggle against Jim Crow, would not give such support to the efforts to end economic segregation. He also polemicized against the concept that people should pick themselves up by their own bootstraps. In the course of explaining the obstacles that Blacks faced coming into this country that Europeans did not have, he stated: “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man to pick himself up by his own bootstraps.” Black people, he said, were “impoverished aliens in their own land.”  

In this speech King also opposed the war in Vietnam. He criticized the government for spending hundreds of millions of dollars for war and not for equality. He stated his goal to organize and mobilize forces to fight for economic equality. In his last letter, requesting support for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1968, he wrote:  

“It was obdurate government callousness to misery that first stoked the flames of rage and frustration. With unemployment a scourge in Negro ghettos, the government still tinkers with half-hearted measures, refuses still to become an employer of last resort. It asks the business community to solve the problems as though its past failures qualified it for success.” 

He also stated this outlook at the SCLC Convention of Aug. 1967:  

“We’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. ‘Who owns this oil? … Who owns the iron ore?… Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” 

In another major speech in 1967, King also stated the course that he was planning to take in the fight for economic equality:  

“There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer.

“There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum-and livable-income for every American family.

“There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities…

“The coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients may be the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.

“The total elimination of poverty, now a practical responsibility, the reality of equality in race relations and other profound structural changes in society may well begin here.”  

These words have even more meaning in today’s world. At that time, the stock market was below 1,000 points. Today, it is above 10,000 points, and yet conditions for Blacks are still lower than after World War II.

At the time of their assassinations, both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were embarking on a course in opposition to the capitalist system. It is clear from reading and listening to their final speeches that they had both evolved to similar conclusions as to capitalism’s role in the maintenance of racism. That is why they were neutralized.  

Civil Rights Struggle for the 21st Century 

Unlike Malcolm X, who never got the opportunity to act upon his convictions, Martin Luther King was organizing a movement to obtain his stated goals when he was assassinated in Memphis. He was in Memphis to build “the coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients” in support of striking municipal garbage workers. If such a force had been launched, the whole power of the anti-war and civil rights movement in the 1960s could have transformed the labor movement and become “the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.” Such a coalition, as King envisioned it thirty-three years ago, is needed today. The best tribute to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X would be to begin anew to build a movement based on the ideas and the concepts that they had developed at the time of their untimely deaths. 

Unfortunately, the civil rights movement, after Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, subordinated independent mass struggle in the streets to electoral activity: to elect Democrats. Black Democratic politicians under the slogan: “vote for me and I’ll set you free,” began distributing “war on poverty” money to Black organizations. What W.E.B. DuBois called the “talented tenth” got government jobs and became comfortable. This whole process demobilized the civil rights movement of the Black masses, who were subsequently left behind. 

Today, the bankruptcy of this policy has come home to roost upon all workers as pensions, wages, our standard of living, etc. are under attack and devalued by inflation. Blacks and other minorities especially have faced the brunt of these attacks. They are disproportionately among the ranks of the unemployed and the underemployed.  

On the question of civil rights, conditions have reverted to the 60s for the Black masses and for Latinos. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project ( the nation’s schools have become re-segregated along Black, Latino, and economic lines. Throughout this country, the inner cities are being gentrified as Blacks and the poor are forced out and scattered throughout the land.  The action in response to Hurricane Katrina and the explosion of the immigrant rights movement — a reflection of the rise of the indigenous people of all of Latin America for their rights, bring hope for a better future and are just a hint of what’s to come.

As we make a balance sheet of the Civil Right’s Movement against the backdrop of the world and domestic situation at the opening of the 21st century, it is clear that Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream” is not possible under the nightmare capitalism. The modern-day tyranny of the multinationals and their beholden representatives in government is based on dividing working people worldwide on the basis or race, nationality, and gender. Under capitalism there is no way forward for Black and Latino workers, or even for their white counterparts. If the system of capitalism is based on the exploitation of Labor, and one of the foremost methods of capitalist exploitation of Labor is the weapon of racism, how can any lasting solution to this problem of humanity be achieved under capitalism? As Malcom X said: “Racism is profitable, if it wasn’t profitable it wouldn’t exist.” 

The only permanent solution to the exploitation and oppression of African-Americans is Socialism, based on the multi-racial working class becoming the masters of their own society, culture and economy. Only on this basis can the age-old double exploitation of Blacks be eliminated and replaced by a society fit for all human beings to live in. Only on this basis can the African-American working class take its rightful place as masters of the country that was built by the blood and sweat of its slavery: both the chattel slavery of the plantation and the wage slavery of the city.  

The lesson of this history is that if we keep our politics independent of the Republican and Democratic Parties and the government; if we rely upon our own power in the streets; if we take up the struggle where Malcolm X and Martin Luther King left off, we will win.


Roland Sheppard is a retired Business Representative of Painters District Council #8 in San Francisco. He has been a life long social activist and socialist. He regularly attended Malcolm X’s meetings in Harlem and was present at the meeting when Malcolm X was assassinated. He was in charge of defense whenever Malcolm X spoke at the Militant Labor Forum in New York City from 1964-1965.

He has written several articles, spoken to various groups, and been interviewed widely about Malcolm X.

This essay is an update of a paper that was accepted by City College of New York’s (CCNY) Black Studies Program for The Third Symposium of Institution Building in Harlem: The Malcom X Legacy: A Global Perspective, held on Friday, May 20, 2005 at CCNY.

It was first written as the February, 2001 Monthly Feature for the Holt Labor Library website. (

It is based on his presentation at a forum in Boston in 2000, on the same subject. The other speaker at the forum was Minister Don Muhammad of the Boston Nation of Islam.

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