Malcolm X: Durham City Council didn’t honor him last year, but will now.

Malcolm X, is shown in a 1964 portrait.
Malcolm X, is shown in a 1964 portrait. AP

Malcolm X will be honored by the Durham City Council in May.

The civil rights leader was assassinated Feb. 21, 1965. He was born May 19, 1925, and would have turned 94 this year.

The City Council decided Thursday to create a resolution “in recognition of the life of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz aka Malcolm X,” but removed a section about his leadership in the Nation of Islam in a version first proposed by council member DeDreana Freeman.

Malcolm X was also a black nationalist and disagreed with the civil rights movement’s tactic of nonviolence. He visited Durham in April 1963 to debate then-CORE leader Floyd McKissick Sr., who died in 1991. He also became a leader in the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group, which he left in 1964.

The council agreed to put a new version of the resolution on its consent agenda for its next meeting. Items on the consent agenda are usually approved without further discussion.

Nation of Islam sentence removed

Freeman proposed a Malcolm X Day proclamation in 2018, but Mayor Steve Schewel nixed it after it got on the agenda before he reviewed it or the council discussed it. Only the mayor issues proclamations, so this year Freeman asked the council for a resolution instead.

In emails to each other before the meeting Thursday, Freeman, Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, and council member Mark-Anthony Middleton decided to hash out some details of the resolution before the meeting.

At the meeting, they talked about a section that Johnson wanted removed: “Whereas, due largely to his leadership efforts, the Nation of Islam grew from 400 members when he was released from prison in 1952 to 40,000 members by 1960.”

Johnson said she didn’t want a reference to Malcolm X’s leadership in the Nation of Islam to appear to support the Nation of Islam.

“I would not be willing to support the resolution with that language included,” she said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan, a designated hate group.

Freeman agreed to remove the section.

There are other references in the resolution to Malcolm X’s time in the Nation of Islam, including that he eventually left it.

Johnson was concerned about another reference that says Malcolm X was a minister in the Nation of Islam, though the council agreed to leave it in.

“My concern is that we have in this paragraph a number of things that Malcolm X did that we are trying to honor, and we also include the reference to the Nation of Islam in that paragraph,” Johnson said. She again did not want the resolution to appear as if it supported the Nation of Islam.

That paragraph says: “Whereas, after his release from prison, Malcolm X became minister in the Nation of Islam, human rights activist, and prominent black civil rights leader who influenced the work of various organizations around black Nationalism during the 1950s and 1960s.”

Freeman did not want to take the reference out that says Malcolm X was a Nation of Islam minister. Middleton said he saw that part as being part of a historical continuum of Malcolm X’s life.

Malcolm X and Durham

Malcolm X visited Durham in April 1963 to debate then-CORE leader Floyd McKissick Sr., who died in 1991.

Malcolm X Liberation University was founded in Durham in 1969 by activist Howard Fuller. It moved a year later and then closed a few years after that.

Durham attorney and civil rights activist Floyd McKissick Sr., left, looking at camera, and black nationalist Malcolm X, right, debated in Durham in 1963. Herald-Sun file photo

The resolution does not mention Malcolm X’s visit to Durham nor Malcolm X Liberation University.

The resolution also says Malcolm X’s “speeches and written works form core pieces of knowledge regarding the history of the civil rights movement and black nationalism” in the United States and that he ”never stopped working to better himself as a formerly incarcerated individual through his dedication to religion, self-knowledge and his unselfish pursuit of black liberation denoting “True Brotherhood” until he was assassinated.”

Malcolm X speaks in Durham in 1963. Herald-Sun file photo

It goes on to say that the city “urges all residents to hereby honor the late Malcolm X for his resilience, service and dedication to empowerment through knowledge and his service and dedication to human rights.”

The resolution also calls on state and federal leaders to “actively support re-entry programs and services for our returning community members, especially those in the black and brown community who are disproportionately jailed in our current criminal legal system.”

In 2003, former Mayor Bill Bell issued a proclamation recognizing Malcolm X.

What’s next

The next Durham City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. May 6. Agendas are posted at durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/City-Council-4/.