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Thursday, May 19, 2005

40 Years Later, Exhibition Revives Memory of Malcolm X - New York Times

40 Years Later, Exhibition Revives Memory of Malcolm X - New York TimesMay 19, 2005
40 Years Later, Exhibition Revives Memory of Malcolm X

His voice was silenced 40 years ago when he was shot and killed during a rally in New York City.

But today, the words of Malcolm X were heard and seen once again by hundreds of people at the opening of an exhibition of his recorded speeches, letters, photographs and personal items at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The 250-item exhibition, "Malcolm X: A Search for the Truth," coincides with the 80th anniversary of his birth in Omaha.

It displays, for the first time, items that his family and organizers of the exhibition say will enable scholars to take a fresh look at the thinking and life of one of the most important black figures of the 20th century.

It is the most extensive personal record of Malcolm X's life and thought that has ever been made available to the public, Howard Dodson, chief of the Schomburg Center, said in an interview. "Because of that there are still a number of aspects of his life that are not fully known and fully appreciated," he said.

Within two hours of the opening of the exhibition, which runs through Dec. 31, several hundred people had visited. Students took turns reading aloud to each other from Malcolm X's letters from prison, while tourists looking at photos remarked at the construction of the buildings and dress of people attending rallies in Harlem in the 1960's that had been held not far from where the library is located.

Visitors also stood transfixed at a television screen playing, over and over again, excerpts from some of Malcolm X's speeches and debates.

Fight for justice, Malcolm X said in one scene, his head slightly down as he peered intently through his trademark dark-rimmed eyeglasses. "As long as there is a need to struggle and protest and fight," he said.

The timeline of Malcolm X's life, from his birth in Nebraska until his death at the Audubon ballroom on Feb. 21 , 1965, is fixed in frame after frame of black and white photographs, or scrawled in tidy penmanship in his letters.

They describe the days in the 1940's when he was involved in selling drugs and bootleg whiskey, his time in prison and the process of self-education and eventual conversion to the Nation of Islam. Beginning in 1953 he began preaching as a minister at temples in Detroit and Boston, eventually establishing his Temple 7 in New York.

Malcolm X's battered leather briefcase is enclosed in a glass case, next to copies of the Koran and his Bible, with notes scribbled on the margins. There are copies of his Arabic language practice worksheets, and letters home from Egypt in which he sends his best wishes to his wife, Betty Shabazz, and his daughters, using the Arabic greeting "Assalumu Aliakum."

Tyrone Guiles, a 42-year old man who works for a healthcare network, scanned Malcolm X's books and letters. "He taught us that color is not something to bind you," he said.

Eager faces of young black men and women, pressed up against police barriers while waiting for a 1961 rally on West 125th Street, peer into the camera in some of the black and white photographs that cover the walls of the exhibition hall.

"That is me," said Earl Harley, 69, who makes belt buckles, as he picked himself out of the crowd in one of the photographs.

He began to cry.

"He taught us to be fair and honest," he said. "To keep our heads up."

The eager faces of the marchers contrast with the somber expressions in another photograph, of mourners waiting in line to view his body in an open casket in 1965.

One of them was Alethia Ford, 63, who wraps gifts at Bloomingdale's, and recalled the day she stood on that same line with her toddler son, Ricky.

"His killing took a lot away from us," she said, looking up at the picture. "But I have what he taught me in here," she said, her hand over her heart.

There are pictures of the scene in the ballroom where he was shot, the ripped business card that was in his breast pocket at the time, a copy of the autopsy report and the retrieved shell casings that felled him at the age of 39.

Jeffrey Cousino, a 33 year old graduate student in international relations at Yale University, read Malcolm X's prison letters through a glass case.

"His message transcends race," he said. "He had a desire to look beyond his immediate world view."

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