Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sidetracked: How I never heard Malcolm X speak

I can't believe that I threw out the freaking program! 15 years ago I was cleaning house and I came across this drawer full of 1960s memorabilia -- out it all went. The anti-war memorabilia, the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll memorabilia and the civil rights memorabilia.

15 years later, I shrug when I think of those old Fillmore posters, the volumes of diaries detailing my People's Park days and my nights at the Apollo Theater. I did keep an issue of the Berkeley Barb, however -- the one with me on the front page naked from the waist up. But the one thing I really regret throwing out was the program for Malcolm X's funeral.

I also regret that I never went to see Malcolm X speak. In 1965, my friend Bill Tatum said, "Jane, you gotta go hear Malcolm X." But New York City was like a playground back then and there was always something going on and I got distracted -- Bob Dylan, the Four Tops, taking the bus to the March on Washington, bumming a ride on a chartered plane to the March on Montgomery, saving the Lower East Side from "urban renewal," taking the subway to the Cloisters, legal pharmaceutical-grade LSD -- until it was too late.

The only time I got to see Malcolm X was at his funeral.

I vividly remember trudging up to Harlem in the snow, walking through the canyon of buildings that framed Amsterdam Avenue in the hollow winter light. And on the rim of each building, as we mourners made our way up the canyon toward the funeral, were hundreds of New York City policemen in their long dark winter coats outlined against the pale February sky. And set up in front of each one was a machine gun -- aimed at us.

I don't remember much about the funeral itself. I know that Ossie Davis spoke. I remember the feeling of intense brotherhood and warmth and love for one another among the mourners and the feeling of terrible grief over our loss. But the indelible memory of that day for me was the deadly hostility of the NYPD for those of us brave enough to mourn Malcolm X.

Dammit. I should never have thrown that funeral program out. What was I thinking! The least I could have done was to donate it to our local elementary school -- probably the only school in the country with the name "Malcolm X". I guess I just got sidetracked.


Malcolm X's funeral: "Inside the Faith Temple of God" [I'm not in this photo. I was seated up in the balcony]: