“Never Cross a Man Not Afraid to
Malcolm X
Political Science 110EB
Emmett Till, 1941-1955
Emmett Till
• Born in Chicago, visiting family (sharecroppers)in
Money, Mississippi.
• Mamie Carthan Till, mother, was worried that
Emmett would not understand the differences
between Chicago and the Mississippi Delta
– “Mind your manners.”
– Tensions on the rise after Brown v. Board of Education
– The permanent awareness of existing within an
actively hostile majority
Emmett Till
• Facts uncertain
• At local grocery store, Till probably dared by
friends to flirt with Carolyn Bryant, a 21 yearold white woman.
– Whistled? (most probable)
– Grabbed hand, asked for date?
– Said, “Bye, baby.” on leaving?
Emmett Till
• One of friends runs off to tell Emmet’s cousin,
Wheeler Parker, Jr.
– Advised to get away fast
– Parker on Till: “"He loved pranks, he loved fun, he
loved jokes... in Mississippi, people didn't think
the same jokes were funny." “
– All Delta natives know what can happen
• The permanent threat of violence is a fact of life
Emmett Till
• Word spreads quickly among town’s whites
• Bryant’s husband vows to “teach the boy a
• At 12:30am, the Bryants, half-brother J.W.
Milam, one other man drive to house of Rev.
Wright, where Till was staying, take him away
in the back of a pickup
Emmett Till
Taken to a shed
Beaten, skull fractured
Eye gouged out
Shot in the head
Wrapped in barbed wire, bound to 70 lb.
cotton gin fan, dumped in river
– Mother demanded open casket funeral
Emmett Till
• NAACP leader Medgar Evars arrives to help
investigate in face of police indifference
• Murdered in Mississippi, June 12, 1963 by rifle shot to the head
(Malcolm X: 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr.: 1968)
• At trial, positive identification by witnesses, other
black witnesses not even called
• Some black witnesses arrested to prevent testimony
• All white jury acquits Bryants, others, in 67
– "If we hadn't stopped to drink pop, it wouldn't have
taken us too long.”
Emmett Till
• After trial, Bryant & Milam admit to murder
• Look magazine pays for interview.
– They had meant to “just whip him... and scare some
sense into him.”
• Till: "You bastards, I'm not afraid of you. I'm as good as you
are. I've 'had' white women. My grandmother was a white
• Milam: “Chicago boy, I'm tired of 'em sending your kind
down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to
make an example of you -- just so everybody can know how
me and my folks stand.'”
• He was killed because he wasn’t afraid.
– Link to interview, subsequent letters to the editor on website
Letters to the Editor
• “To publish this story, of which no one is proud, but which was
certainly justified, smacks loudy of circulation hunting. Roy Bryant
and J. W. Milam did what had to be done, and their courage in
taking the course they did is to be commended. To have followed
any other course would have been unrealistic, cowardly and not in
the best interest of their family or country.”
– Richard Lauchli, Collinsville, Illinois
• “..You are champions of the NAACP...”
– John Barber, Montgomery, Alabama
• “..I want to cancel my subscription to your magazine at once. I will
not have my home contaminated with...filthy, dishonest articles...”
– Mrs. W. R. Prevost, Utica, Mississippi
• “...If this case is not reopened and the guilty punished, I shall laugh
at the word ‘justice.’”
– William T. Bates, Folsom, Pennsylvania
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
• Read this text as an argument
in the first person, not a
personal affirmation
– The claim is not that Malcolm
X’s experience is remarkable,
but that it is not
• Malcolm Little  Satan 
Malcolm X  El-Hajj Malik ElShabazz
• Atheist  Nation of Islam 
Sunni Islam
• Themes
– Systematic racism
– Degradation & dehumanization
– Pervasive violence and domination
– Self-loathing
– Oppression of ideas
– Liberating power of truth
– Race consciousness
– Dignity, honesty & order
Systematic Violence
• “When my mother was pregnant with me, she
told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan
riders galloped up to our home in Omaha,
Nebraska, one night.” (3)
– From even before the beginning
Systematic Violence
• Sundown Towns
– No blacks allowed on streets after dark
• Mother the product of rape by a white man
• Father murdered by white supremacist Black
– Four of father’s six brothers killed by whites
• Home burned to the ground by Black Legion
– “The white police and firemen cam and stood around
watching as the house burned down to the ground.”
Systematic Violence
• Example of systematized racism:
• Father’s skull crushed, laid across streetcar
tracks and cut almost in half
– Ruled a suicide
• “How could my father bash himself in the head, then
get down across the streetcar tracks to be run over?”
– Insurance won’t pay off
– Family sinks into poverty
Systematic Racism
• Mother must raise eight children alone
– Life of constant insult: living on charity and
passing as white
– Fired whenever it is discovered that she is black
• Constant humiliation & degradation
– Stress & shame causes mental illness
– Family broken up by welfare agency
• “The monthly welfare check was their pass. They acted
as if they owned us, as if we were their private
property.” (16)
The oppressive power of names
• “Soon, nearly everywhere my father went,
Black Legionnaires were reviling him as an
‘uppity nigger’ for wanting to own a store, for
living outside the Lansing Negro district, for
spreading unrest and dissention among ‘the
good niggers.’” (5)
– Good = subservient
– To want to live as a free & independent man is
“uppity”, i.e. not to be permitted of black men.
The oppressive power of names
• “The white kids didn’t make any great thing abut us,
either. They called us ‘nigger’ and ‘darkie’ and ‘Rastus’
so much that we thought those were our natural
names. But they didn’t think of it as an insult; it was
just the way they thought about us.” (12)
– Internalizing the contempt of the oppressor
– The contempt is casual, unthinking. So habitual that it isn’t
even thought of as an insult.
– Demonstrates the unquestioned systematization of white
– Part of Malcolm X’s goal is to reveal this power & strip it of
it’s legitimacy
The oppressive power of names
• From his favorite teacher: “Malcolm, one of life’s first needs
is for us to be realistic. Don’t misunderstand me, now. We
all here like you, you know that. But you’ve got to be
realistic about being a nigger.”
– Systematic racial oppression seen as just the way it is.
– As part of the racist system of oppression, things are
• “A lawyer—that’s no realistic goal for a nigger. You need to
think about something you can be. You’re good with your
hands—making things. Everybody admires your carpentry
shop work. Why don’t you plan on carpentry?” (43)
– Don’t be what you are or what you can be, be what the system
of racist oppression wants to make of you.
The oppressive power of names
• “Where ‘nigger’ had slipped off my back
before, wherever I heard it now, I stopped and
looked at whoever said it. And they looked
surprised that I did.
• “I quit hearing so much ‘nigger’ and ‘What’s
wrong?’—which was the way I wanted it.” (44)
Internalizing Contempt
• For Malcolm X, the problem is not only
oppression by white society, but its
acceptance by blacks themselves.
• “I actually believe that as anti-white as my
father was, he was subconsciously so afflicted
with the white man’s brainwashing of Negroes
that he inclined to favor the light ones, and I
was his lightest child.” (7)
Internalizing Contempt
• “I was among the millions of Negroes who were insane
enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be
born light-complexioned—that one was actually fortunate
to be born thus.” (5)
• “How ridiculous I was! Stupid enough to stand there lost in
admiration of my hair now looking ‘white,’… I vowed that I’d
never again be without a conk, and I never was for many years.
• This was my first really big step toward self-degradation:
when I endured all that pain, literally burning my flesh to
have it look like a white man’s hair.” (64)
• “In any black ghetto in America, to have a white woman who
wasn’t a known, common whore was—for the average black
man, at least—a status symbol of the first order.” (78)
Internaliz Contempt
• “They prided themselves on being incomparably more ‘cultured,’
‘cultivated,’ ‘dignified,’ and better off than their black brethren
down in the ghetto, which was no further away than you could
throw a rock.
• Under the pitiful misapprehension that it would make them ‘better,’
these Hill Negroes were breaking their backs trying to imitate white
people.” (48)
• “So many of those so-called ‘upper class’ Negroes are so busy trying
to impress on the white man that they are ‘different from those
others’ that they can’t see they are only helping the white man to
keep his low opinion of all Negroes.” (123)
– Division of the black community against itself
– Identification with the oppressor
– “White” understood to mean “better”, “black” to mean “worse”
• “In the ghettoes the white man has built for us, he has
forced us not to aspire to greater things, but to view
everyday living as survival—and in that kind of
community, survival is what is respected.” (105)
– A life of oppression and brutality leaves the individual
– In the absence of even the possibility of better things,
Malcolm X at this point in his life embraces a form of
nihilism. He sees his life of self-loathing, drugs, sex, and
crime as self-degradation.
– This is due in part to a lack of self-knowledge and selfrespect
The color line
• “We laughed about the scared little Chinese whose
restaurant didn’t have a hand laid on it, because the
rioters just about convulsed laughing when they saw
the sign the Chinese had hastily stuck on his door: ‘Me
Colored Too.’” (131)
• “Hymie really liked me, and I liked him. He loved to
talk. Half his talk was about Jews and Negroes. Jews
who had anglicized their names were Hymie’s favorite
hate. Spitting and curling his mouth in scorn, he would
reel off names of people he said had done this.” (143)
• The race card: “Who in the world’s history has ever played
a worse ‘skin game’ than the white man?” (206)
• “She knew from personal experience how
crime existed only to the degree that the law
cooperated with it. She showed me how, in
the country’s entire social, political and
economic structure, the criminal, the law, and
the politicians were actually inseparable
partners.” (134)
– No legitimate authority: Law, religion, society all
complicit in racist oppression & hypocrisy
• The curse of Ham
Being toward death
• “I believed that a man should do anything that
he was slick enough, or bad and bold enough,
to do and that a woman was nothing but
another commodity.” (155)
• “Deep down, I actually believed that after
living as fully as humanly possible, one should
then die violently.” (159)
• “I lived and thought like a predatory animal.”
• “The white man is the devil.”
• My mind “flashed across the entire spectrum
of white people I had ever known; and for
some reason it stopped upon Hymie, the Jew,
who had been so good to me….
• I said, “Without any exception?”
• “Without any exception.”
Black Legion
Welfare officials