Malcolm X at Oxford: 'They're going to kill me soon'

Photo of Malcolm X at Oxford: 'They're going to kill me soon'

Just before his assassination, the radical black activist took part in a debate at Oxford. Tariq Ali recalls their meeting, which left him in a state of shock – and is now the subject of a TV show

Malcolm X became internationally famous the day after President John F Kennedy was assassinated. Asked to comment, Malcolm calmly informed US TV reporters that he was not at all surprised that “the chickens were coming home to roost”. It was November 1963 and he was by then a leading member of the Nation of Islam, a black separatist organisation. Its leader, Elijah Muhammad, publicly disavowed him and banned him from public speaking.

I had arrived at Oxford a month previously and witnessed the Kennedy assassination on the BBC and read Malcolm’s comments in the press. A year later, Eric Abrahams – the radical Jamaican president of the Oxford Union (and a friend) – decided to invite Malcolm to participate in his farewell debate. The subject was a quote from Barry Goldwater, the alt-right Republican candidate for the presidency: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

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