Pierre Berton Interview
Malcolm X, Pierre Berton
January 19, 1965
BERTON: At the time of President Kennedy's assassination, you
made a speech that seemed to indicate that you were pleased that he
had been assassinated. Certainly at that time, Elijah Muhammad indicated
that you had been fired or suspended from the Black Muslim movement.
How about that?
X: I had taken a subject as my topic that day, an approach that
was designed to show that the seeds that America had sownin
enslavement, in many of the things that followed since thenall
of these seeds were coming up today; it was harvest time. At the end
of this particular lecture, during the question-and-answer period,
somebody asked me what I thought of the assassination of President
Kennedy. In line with the topic that I had just been discussing, I
pointed out that it was a case of the chickens coming home to roost,
by which I meant that this was the result of seeds that had been sown,
that this was the harvest. This was taken out of context, and reported
in one of the papers, and Elijah Muhammad, who had been waiting for
me to make a move that would enable him to suspend me and get the
support of the public in doing so, took advantage of that opportunity.
He gave the impression that I was saying something against the president
himself because he felt that the public wouldn't go along with that.
in Toronto (Canada), for the Pierre Berton Show.
How did you feel, personally, about the president's assassination
in that connection? Were you bothered about it? Were you angered by
it? Or were you jubilant?
X: No. I was realistic, in that being at the forefront of this
struggle of the black man in Americain his quest for respect
as a human beingI had seen the many-faceted repercussions of
this hate taking a grip on the American public. I think that many
of the politicians took advantage of it and exploited it for their
own personal benefit. So to me the whole thing was a case of politics,
hate and a combination of other things.
There seems to me to have been a fair amount of hate in the Black
Muslim movement itself.
X: Well, I won't deny that. But, at the same time, I don't think
that the Black Muslim movement and its hate can be classified as the
same degree or type of hate you find in the American society itself,
because the hate, so-called, that you see among black people is a
reaction to the hate of the society which has rejected us. In that
sense it is not hate.
I'm not saying that the hate, or whatever it is, isn't understandable.
I'm asking if it's effective to fight hate with hate?
X: In my opinion, I think that it is not fair to classify the
reaction of people who are oppressed as hate. They are reacting to
the hate of the society they have had put upon them or practiced against
. . . Let me ask you this about your God, Mr. X. Has he got any color?
Is he black?
Is he white?
X: As a Black Muslim, who believed what Eljah Muhammad taught,
I regarded God just as he taught, as a black man. Having since gone
into the Muslim world and got a better understanding of the religion
of Islam, I believe that God is the supreme being, and that color
plays no part in his particular being.
In fact, isn't the God of the Muslims and of the Jews and the Christians
really the same God?
X: If they believe in the God who created the universe, then we
all believe in the same God. I believe in the God who created the
universe. Muslims call him Allah. Christians, perhaps, call him Christ,
or by some other name. Jews call him Jehovah, and in referring to
him they mean "the creative." We are all referring to the
Now, let me switch the subject briefly, and ask you what you mean
when you say that the Black Muslims are not militant enough. Your
new organization, I take it, will be more militant than the Black
Muslims. In what way?
X: Well, the Black Muslim movement, number one, professes to be
a religious movement. They profess the religion of Islam. But the
Muslim world rejected the Black Muslim movement as a bona fide Islamic
group, so it found itself maneuvered into a religious vacuumor
a sort of religious hybrid. At the same time, the government of the
United States tried to maneuver the Black Muslim movement, with the
press, into an image that was political instead of religious. So the
Black Muslim movement came to be known as a political group. Yet,
at the same time, it didn't vote; it didn't take part in any politics;
it didn't involve itself actively in the civil rights struggle; so
it became a political hybrid as well as a religious hybrid. Now, on
the other hand, the Black Muslim movement attracted the most militant
black American, the young, dissatisfied, uncompromising element that
exists in this countrydrawing them in yet, at the same time,
giving them no part to play in the struggle other than moral reform.
It created a lot of disillusion, dissatisfaction, dissension, and
eventually division. Those who divided are the ones that I'm a part
of. We set up the Muslim Mosque, which is based upon orthodox Islam,
as a religious group so that we could get a better understanding of
our religion; but being black Americans, though we are Muslims, who
believe in brotherhood, we also realized that our people have a problem
in America that goes beyond religion. We realized that many of our
people aren't going to become Muslim; many of them aren't even interested
in anything religious; so we set up the Organization of Afro-American
Unity as a nonreligious organization which all black Americans could
become a part of and play an active part in striking out at the political,
economic, and social evils that all of us are confronted by.
That "striking out," what form is it going to take? You
talk of giving the Ku Klux Klan a taste of its own medicine. This
is in direct opposition to the theory of nonviolence of Dr. Martin
Luther King, who doesn't believe in striking back. What do you mean
by "a taste of its own medicine"? Are you going to burn
fiery crosses on their lawns? Are you going to blow up churches with
the Ku Klux Klan kids in them? What are you going to do?
X: Well, I think that the only way that two different races can
get along with each other is, first, they have to understand each
other. That cannot be brought about other than through communication
dialogue and you can't communicate with a person unless you
speak his language. If the person speaks French, you can't speak English
We have that problem in our country, too.
X: In America, our people have so far not been able to speak the
type of language that the racists understand. By not speaking that
language, they fail to communicate, so that the racist element doesn't
really believe that the black American is a human beingpart
of the human family. There is no communication. So I believe that
the only way to communicate with that element is to be in a position
to speak their language.
And this language is violence?
X: I wouldn't call it violence. I think that they should be made
to know that, any time they come into a black community and inflict
violence upon members of that black community, they should realize
in advance that the black community can speak the same language. Then
they would be less likely to come in.
Let's be specific here: suppose that a church is bombed. Will you
X: I believe that any area of the United States, where the federal
government has shown either its unwillingness or inability to protect
the lives and the property of the black American, then it is time
for the black Americans to band together and do whatever is necessary
to see that we get the type of protection we need.
"Whatever is necessary?"
X: I mean just that. Whatever is necessary. This does not mean
that we should go out and initiate acts of aggression indiscriminately
in the white community. But it does mean that, if we are going to
be respected as human beings, we should reserve the right to defend
ourselves by whatever means necessary. This is recognized and accepted
in any civilized society....
There are some people going to go on trial in Mississippi for the
murder of three civil rights workers. There are some witnesses who
identify them as murderers, but the general feeling is they'll get
off. Will you do anything about this if they get off?
X: I wouldn't say.
You don't want to say?
X: Because, then, if something happened to them, they would blame
me. But I will say that in a society where the law itself is incapable
of bringing known murderers to justice, it's historically demonstrable
that the well-meaning people of that society have always banded together
in one form or another to see that their society was protected against
repetitious acts by these same murderers.
What you're talking about here is a vigilante movement.
X: There have been vigilante movements forming all over America
in white communities, but the black community has yet to form a vigilante
committee. This is why we aren't respected as human beings.
Are you training men to use aggressive methods? Are you training men
as the Black Muslim movement trained the elite core known as the Fruit
of Islam? Have you got trainees operating now who know how to fight
Who know how to use knuckle-dusters and guns?
X: Yes, oh yes. The black man in America doesn't need that much
training. Most of them have been in the armyhave already been
trained by the government itself. They haven't been trained to think
for themselves and, therefore, they've never used this training to
Have you got a specific cadre of such young, tough guys working for
you or operating under your aegis?
We're not a cadre, nor do we want it to be felt that we want to be
tough. We're trying to be human beings, and we want to be recognized
and accepted as human beings. But we don't think humanity will recognize
us or accept us as such until humanity knows that we will do everything
to protect our human ranks, as others will do for theirs.
Are you prepared to send flying squads into areas where the Negroes
have been oppressed without any legal help?
X: We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to see that our
people, wherever they are, get the type of protection that the federal
government has refused to give them.
Okay. Do you still believe that all whites are devils and all blacks
saints, as I'm sure you did under the Black Muslim movement?
X: This is what Elijah Muhammad teaches. No, I don't believe that.
I believe as the Koran teaches, that a man should not be judged by
the color of his skin but rather by his conscious behavior, by his
actions, by his attitude towards others and his actions towards others.
Now, before you left Elijah Muhammad and went to Mecca and saw the
original world of Islam, you believed in complete segregation of the
whites and the Negroes. You were opposed both to integration and to
intermarriage. Have you changed your views there?
X: I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being,
neither white, black, brown nor red. When you are dealing with humanity
as one family, there's no question of integration or intermarriage.
It's just one human being marrying another human being, or one human
being living around and with another human being. I may say, though,
that I don't think the burden to defend any such position should ever
be put upon the black man. Because it is the white man collectively
who has shown that he is hostile towards integration and towards intermarriage
and towards these other strides towards oneness. So, as a black man,
and especially as a black American, I don't think that I would have
to defend any stand that I formerly took. Because it's still a reaction
of the society and it's a reaction that was produced by the white
society. And I think that it is the society that produced this that
should be attacked, not the reaction that develops among the people
who are the victims of that negative society.
But you no longer believe in a Black State?
In North America?
X: No. I believe in a society in which people can live like human
beings on the basis of equality.