By A. Peter Bailey
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – When I first met three students from Wabash College who had driven to Washington, DC to attend the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I admit to being surprised when told that they were members of the college’s Malcolm X Society. I had heard of Malcolm X Societies at several larger institutions but didn’t expect to hear about one at a private, predominately white college in Crawfordsville, Indiana, population 15,000. One percent of those residents are black.
The students made arrangement for me to lecture on Brother Malcolm in Fall 2017. Shortly after my arrival on campus, society member, David Segovia, took me to a building in the center of the campus. That facility had a sign up front announcing that it was The Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies (MXIBS). I had never seen a building with that name on any of the 40 colleges and universities at which I had lectured since the 1970s.
The following excerpt is from MXIBS’ mission statement right inside the entrance: “The Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies functions as a center for the academic, cultural and social involvement of all student at Wabash College but most specifically for men of African descent (Italics mine). The Institute provides opportunities for students to explore knowledge and opinions in a critical fashion, develop essential leadership skills to elevate the presence of men of African descent in the life of the college.”
The Institute also “educates the entire Wabash and Crawfordsville communities about the African American experience.” It does this by maintaining “an African American Studies library and hosting lectures, films, forums and community service projects.”
Among those who have lectured at the Institution are Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Hoyt Fuller, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dick Gregory, Rep. Ron Dellums, and Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture).
The Institute’s theme is “Humility, Wisdom, Knowledge, Excellence.” In my lecture I explained why Brother Malcolm had all those qualities plus many more. I told them about a statement on the front of the Madison Building of the Library of Congress which declares “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to their own gouvenors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives.” I should have included an African proverb cited by Carter G. Woodson in his book, The History of the Negro Retold, that insisted “Whoever works without knowledge works uselessly…not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse.”
Brother Malcolm understood and acted on those sentiments better than anyone else I have ever met, I told the students, faculty and Wabash College President Gregory D. Hess, who were in attendance. He was all about the gaining and distribution of knowledge as a weapon in the campaign against the physical and psychological attacks of proponents of white supremacy and racism. Even if one disagreed with his position, his wisdom, knowledge and communicating skills forced one to increase the knowledge of their own beliefs. He was both a persistent and passionate warrior against white supremacy and a master teacher, I told them and there is no more important member of any community than a master teacher.
One important lesson we learned from Brother Malcolm was to be very careful of words as we wrote and spoke. For instance, the correct word is not slave “master” but slave owner or enslaver; it’s not “mainstream” press but majority press; it’s not white “nationalist” but white supremacist.
I showed members of The Malcolm X Society DVDs about his burial service, testimonials about his impact on the lives of charter members of the Organization of Afro-American Unity recorded at a 2006 reunion and of choreographer Louis Johnson’s compelling “Forces of Rhythm,” performed by The Dance Theatre of Harlem as Donny Hathaway sang “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
I thank the 36 members of The Malcolm X Society, especially David Segovia and its director, Dean Steven Jones, for providing me with a memorable experience and for having enough wisdom to recognize Brother Malcolm’s enormous legacy.
For more information about MXIBS, check out https://www.wabash.edu/mxibs/.