I heard about Malcolm X's assassination while listening to the radio in my father's car. For the life of me, I can't remember much else. I can't remember whether I was driving or a passenger. I can't remember where I was going. What I do remember is the news report that he had been fatally shot by gunmen while giving a speech in Harlem.
At the time, I knew little about Malcolm. I'd watched him on late-night talk shows that were forerunners to Common Ground, the one I'd find myself hosting three decades later.
Before the year of his assassination had ended, I'd come to know much more. By Fall, I was a freshman at Indiana University. Jazz musician Charles Ellison, who was one of three black students on my dorm floor back then and to this day remains one of my closest friends, dropped by my room with a big book in hand.
"Read this, It's the Bible," he said, showing me the newly published "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."
It was. The book stirred my soul and fired up my political consciousness unlike anything the fading Civil Rights Movement had ever managed to do. By the time I'd finished reading Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King's nonviolence approach to combating racial discrimination seemed about as relevant as a "We like Ike" campaign button. A little more than a year after Malcolm's death, when Stokely Carmichael shouted "Black Power," I took to quoting the Black Muslim leader and embracing Black Nationalism.
At that time, black Americans virtually had no power. The Civil Rights Act had become law just two years earlier, the Voting Rights Act a year after that. It would be another year before Carl Stokes and Richard G. Hatcher would be elected the first black mayors of Cleveland and Gary and Thurgood Marshall would become America's first black Supreme Court Justice.
Today, of course, 45 years after Malcolm's death, blacks have power in America. We have black mayors in the nation's largest cities, black heads of Fortune 500 corporations, black governors and senators and Barack Obama.
That's not to say we still don't have a long way to go--just look at the unemployment and incarceration rates. There's still much work to do. But there are no longer any major obstacles that we can't overcome.
In fact, from Hip-hop to fashion, African American influence at home is American influence throughout the world. We have power.
So, why was I so surprised to realize that even the very militant Malcolm has himself become mainstream in America? I don't know. But, after seeing this MSN popular searches, I suspect he has now.
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of a leader in the American civil rights movement: Malcolm X.
Powerful presence: He was a charismatic speaker, and the media covered him extensively. See videos.
Premonition? Malcolm X made this comment eight months before his killing.
Cover-up? Some don't believe that version of events. Conspiracy theories abound.