[sixties-l] why malcolm X's papers shouldn't be auctioned

From: RozNews@AOL.COM
Date: Mon Mar 04 2002 - 21:50:48 EST

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    I received the following from Paul Lee and I pass it on to this list. my
    best, roz

    Subj: Why Malcolm X’s Papers Shouldn’t Be Auctioned
    Date: 2/28/2002 10:54:39 AM Pacific Standard Time
    From: besteffortsinc@yahoo.com (Paul Lee)
    To: besteffortsinc@yahoo.com

    Why Malcolm X’s Papers Shouldn’t Be Auctioned

    By Paul Lee, Director
    Best Efforts, Inc.

    On Feb. 20, 2002--only a day shy of the 37th
    anniversary of Malcolm X’s tragic
    assassination--educator and political activist Abdul
    Alkalimat, editor of the Web page “Malcolm X: A
    Research Site,” issued the following announcement:

    “eBay, the online auction house, has archives from
    Malcolm X.

    “This is a case for Black Studies professionals to
    swing into action to make sure this material is not
    lost from history.

    “[Columbia University professor Dr. Manning] Marable
    made an announcement about he is doing the [Malcolm X]
    archive project - now is the time to step up and make
    sure the people can have access and not let [it]
    become ‘private property.’…

    “What library can step up and keep the whole
    collection intact and available for all time?”

    The “archives” consists of 21 lots (nos. 2160-2180)
    that are being sold on eBay by Butterfield &
    Butterfield of California. Descriptions and rather
    poor quality photos can be viewed at:


    They are scheduled to be previewed in Los Angeles on
    Mar. 8-10 and San Francisco on Mar. 15-17, and offered
    for public auction on Mar. 20. The minimum bids
    range from $1,000.00-$40,000.00 U. S.

    Unlike the Malcolm X manuscripts that have
    sporadically appeared for sale since the build-up to
    Spike Lee’s 1992 motion picture “Malcolm X,” which
    were clearly from the personal papers of Malcolm’s
    leader-turned-enemy Elijah Muhammad (even though the
    seller/s preferred to remain anonymous), these
    documents seem to be from Malcolm X’s personal papers.

    They include one of his address books (2171); the
    journals of his two 1964 trips to Africa, the Middle
    East, and Europe (2177); letters to his wife (2163)
    and brother Philbert (2160, 2162); a news statement
    written upon his return from his pilgrimage to Mecca
    (2170); photo collections (“inscribed,” “press” and
    “snapshot”) (2172, 2174, 2173); one of his Qur-ans
    (2161); speech note cards (2169), outlines (2166), and
    texts (2165, 2168), including his famous “The Ballot
    of the Bullet” talk (2178); and radio addresses (2164,

    Of these lots, only one appears NOT to be from
    Malcolm’s personal papers--namely, his letters to his
    brother. It’s also possible that the contracts and
    correspondence with Alex Haley re “The Autobiography
    of Malcolm X” are from the Haley estate auction of a
    decade ago, but it’s equally possible that these are
    Malcolm X’s copies.

    To date, Butterfields has declined to identify the
    seller or sellers, though it seems evident from the
    nature of the documents that they were at one time the
    personal property of Malcolm X.

    For what it’s worth, I’d like to suggest five reasons
    that these papers should not be put at public auction:

    1) The seller did NOT need to auction them to be
    compensated. It would have been a simple matter to
    arrange for a competent Malcolm X scholar (biographer
    Peter Goldman, for example) to properly establish
    their historical value and assess their physical
    condition. This appraisal could have formed the
    basis to solicit bids from libraries and archives to
    purchase and preserve the ENTIRE collection, or raise
    funds to do so.

    In this way, the seller could be compensated and, more
    importantly, the documents could be properly
    conserved, catalogued, and made available for study.

    2) Offering the documents for public auction tends to
    trivialize their historical significance. The inept,
    amateurish descriptions provided by Butterfields
    strongly suggest that neither the seller nor
    auctioneer understood the nature or importance of the
    documents--if, indeed, they understood the man that
    created them.

    Even from these feeble characterizations and fuzzy
    photos, I was able to discern clues and connections
    that could rewrite our understanding of aspects of
    Malcolm X’s public and private life, and I haven’t
    been actively engaged in researching his life for
    several years.

    Malcolm X was not merely a contemporary of Dr. Martin
    Luther King, Jr. He offered a compelling alternative
    vision for black freedom, one rooted in the black
    nationalism and pan-Africanism of his Garveyite
    parents, buttressed by the ethics of his evolving
    understanding of Islam, informed by his remarkable
    insightfulness, insatiable thirst for knowledge and
    commitment to growth, and communicated with liberating
    clarity by his superb abilities as an orator and (as
    these document could attest) writer.

    His protean political and religious thought was so
    rich that interpretations of ASPECTS of it helped give
    rise to entire movements, including the black power
    and black studies movements of the latter 1960s, the
    “Nation Time” and pan-Africanist movements of the
    1970s, the independent black political movement of the
    1980s, the Afro-centric and Afrikan-centered movements
    of the 1990s, and the concurrent embrace by
    tens-of-thousands of black people in the West of a
    variety of forms of sectarian and traditional Islam.

    Public action of such key documents of his
    intellectual legacy and personal history is tantamount
    to selling the Liberty Bell. As actor Ossie Davis
    said in his eulogy to Malcolm X, “In honoring him, we
    honor the best in ourselves.” In respecting and
    preserving his material legacy, we not only honor his
    (ultimate) sacrifice and inspiring example, but also
    immeasurably deepen our understanding of his
    intellectual inheritance, one that can still help
    produce “constructive” changes, as he used to put it.

    Finally, doing so can cheat his assassins, and those
    that ordered and benefited from this crime, of the
    victory that they imagined they achieved by physically
    eliminating him. This can be done by making it
    possible for him to again challenge and prod,
    enlighten and embolden; to resume his role as the
    attorney of the dispossessed--indicting the oppressors
    and defending and liberating the oppressed.

    3) Breaking up the collection thru public auction will
    further confound our understanding of his life and
    thought. Conversely, making it available thru a
    library or archive intact will greatly facilitate our
    appreciation of both, and help us to better ascertain
    Malcolm X’s role in modern history.

    Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination only exacerbated the
    tendency to accept only aspects of this thought. As
    he told an associate shortly before his assassination:
      “For the Muslims, I’m too worldly; for the worldly,
    I’m too religious. For the militants, I’m too
    moderate, and for the moderates I’m too militant.”
    To Alex Haley, he added, “I feel like I’m on a

    His legacy has been sliced and diced, appropriated and
    exploited, made to service a variety of “isms” and
    hidden agendas--everything but accepted in its
    wholeness and RESPECTED. These documents could help
    Malcolm X to finally step off the tightrope; they
    could help to lay a broader foundation for
    understanding the true depth and breadth of his
    thought and character.

    Despite the representations of his interpreters,
    Malcolm X was not inscrutable, nor even particularly
    complex. He was a highly premeditated man that
    created and left an astonishingly rich record of his
    ideas and actions, his plans and hopes. Since his
    late widow chose not to make his personal records
    public, editors, particularly the late George
    Breitman, did their best to reconstruct his evolving
    thought thru collections of his speeches, writings,
    and interviews. Inevitably, this presented Malcolm
    X’s public arguments, but not his private reasoning.

    Nearly four decades is long enough to wait for a
    balanced view of this historic inheritance. It
    should not be sacrificed to the seller’s

    4) Auctioning the papers presents the danger that they
    will (1) disappear into separate private “vanity”
    collections or (2) be purchased as financial
    investments, like stocks, held from public view to
    inflate their monetary value.

    5) Finally, to auction off the papers is, to my mind,
    immoral, a betrayal of our children. These are not
    the papers of a pop star or athlete, but the material
    legacy of a LIBERATOR, a man that dedicated and gave
    his life in the cause of human freedom. He was more
    than a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, cousin,
    or friend. For better and worse, he consciously
    sacrificed most of these roles in the service of what
    he believed to be the greater good of everyone.

    There is no reason that the seller shouldn’t
    financially benefit from these papers, if that is
    their right, desire or need, but EVERYONE should
    benefit from the documents being protected, kept
    intact, and made available for posterity. Our
    generation has the opportunity to preserve for our
    children and their grandchildren a fuller and fairer
    record of one of the most important revolutionary
    legacies of the last two centuries. If we fail in
    this trust, then we deserve to be condemned and
    forgotten by our progeny for our moral

    If these papers are saved from public auction, it can
    only be hoped that they will then be made available to
    a competent scholar or group of scholars that will put
    the elucidation and dissemination of this socially
    valuable legacy above their personal biases and

    Thank you for your kind consideration.

    Copyright © 2002 by Paul Lee


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