This article was originally posted on the LSE History blog
On 11 February 1965 LSE’s Old Theatre was packed to listen to Malcolm X; on 21 February he was murdered while preparing to address a meeting of the Organisation for Afro-American Unity in New York.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. After a difficult and disrupted childhood Malcolm X joined the controversial black supremacist movement the Nation of Islam while he was in prison for larceny and breaking and entering. At the same time he began to use the name Malcolm X, explaining that the X represented the African family name he would never know.
Despite much searching in the LSE archives the only record of Malcolm X’s visit to come to light is a report in The Beaver published 18 February 1965. Malcolm X was invited to speak by LSE’s Africa Society although the background to the invitation is unknown. Tim Gopsill was the 20-year-old editor of The Beaver in 1965. In an interview Gopsill remembered meeting Malcolm X but not the content of the speech. He did recall that: ‘He was quite intimidating. It had something to do with his charisma. He had strength – just his presence.’
By the time Malcolm X visited LSE he had left the Nation of Islam and established a new religious movement, Muslim Mosque Inc, and a secular group, the Organisation for African-American Unity, to fight for the human rights of African Americans. A highly controversial figure, his visit to LSE has been the subject of great interest, coming so closely to his murder. According to The Beaver the speech received ‘prolonged applause’ and was well received, by many students. You can read The Beaver report on the LSE Digital Library.
The following day Malcom X visited Smethwick in Birmingham where the Conservative MP had won the seat in the previous year’s general election on a strong anti-immigration ticket. Prior to his LSE visit, in 1964 Malcolm X had taken part in a debate at the Oxford Union, losing the vote but getting a great deal of publicity. The theme of the speech was the relationship between the newly independent African states and the Black Moslem movement. You can read the surviving text of the speech.
Following Malcolm X’s death The Beaver followed up with an editorial on Malcolm X and his legacy reporting that: ‘’There is no doubt that Malcolm X was an orator and political leader of genius.” Though there would be many views on the nature and impact of his views and campaigns. The full editorial is available online.
If anyone reading this can remember the visit it would be great to hear your comments.
Contributed by Sue Donnelly (LSE Archivist)
Read the Beaver’s own commemoration here.
Find out more about LSE’s history and join in the 120th anniversary celebrations at lse.ac.uk/lse120. #LSE120