Even in a library basement, the words of Malcolm X cut the air like a lightning bolt. “If I can die having brought any truth, having spread any ray of light that will help destroy the racist cancer …
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Even in a library basement, the words of Malcolm X cut the air like a lightning bolt.
“If I can die having brought any truth, having spread any ray of light that will help destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America, then all the credit is due to Allah,” said Charles Everett Pace, who portrayed the civil rights icon at Littleton’s Bemis Library on Feb. 27, directly quoting X’s oratory and autobiography. “Only the mistakes have been mine.”
Pace is a Chautauqua Scholar, part of a group that portrays historical figures, giving speeches and answering questions in character. Pace also portrays several other black historical figures, including the poet Langston Hughes and York, the slave who accompanied Lewis and Clark to the Pacific.
Malcolm X, a towering figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, was born Malcolm Little, the son of a likely murdered civil rights crusader. With his mother committed to a mental institution, Little turned to a life of crime.
Little was sentenced to prison for larceny, and behind bars he converted to the Nation of Islam, a black separatist sect. There, he took the last name X, in place of the surname he felt had been imposed by white oppressors.
In the years that followed his parole, X preached a fiery form of civil rights that advocated for blacks to return to Africa.
X eventually grew disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and later participated in a hajj, a spiritual journey to the holy city of Mecca carried out by Muslims. While there, he worshipped alongside white Muslims he felt treated him as an equal, and came to feel that racism was taught rather than inborn, and that equality could be achieved.
Still, X sought black empowerment and separatism as opposed to the integrationist approach of Martin Luther King Jr.
“The white man is more afraid of separation more than integration,” Pace quoted X as saying. “Segregation means he puts you away from him, but not so far away he doesn’t have you totally within his power. Separation means you’re gone. The white man will integrate faster than he will let you separate.”
X was killed in 1965 at age 39. Many years of civil rights strife still lay ahead.
The thunder of X’s words leaving him as he broke character, Pace’s eyes gave way to the gentle eyes of the older, calmer man he is.
“Astronauts have told us that when they look down from space, they see Earth without borders. I see us as earthlings on planet Earth,” Pace said. “Any way of looking at ourselves other than humans on earth is folly. Until we understand this, these conflicts are nothing new.”
Pace said he sees his performances as embodiments, conjurings.
“Over the last 43 years, I have spoken his words and analyzed X’s life with audiences from Texas to Tanzania, South Dakota to South Africa, old England to New England. There is an old African saying that asserts to speak a dead man’s name and words is to make him live again. I speak, thus X lives. `Nuff said.”
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