American Experience
Reflections Reflections

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An Adventuresome ChildGrowing Up in LansingHead of the ClassA BraggadocioA MissionaryStreet WitHarlem DemonstrationReaching a Broad AudienceDriving Around HarlemA Synthesis of Roles

Ossie Davis
A Missionary

Malcolm, as I said before, had created a lot of excitement in the black community, but also we were aware or felt that it was somewhat dangerous to be too closely associated to Malcolm. He was saying some pretty rough things, particularly about whites. And those of us who wanted to keep peace with the white world -- some of us, you know, had our jobs out in the white community -- we didn't really want to get too close to Malcolm. Also you must remember that in the '50s, during the "redbaiting" period, everybody had learned to be a little wary of everybody else; ten-foot poles was the style of the social intercourse in those days. But I did have friends who asked me, "Hey man, we saw pictures of you and Ruby with Malcolm X, what's that all about?" And we couldn't answer. We talked to our brother-in-law, but he wasn't a scholar, he just knew Malcolm and admired him greatly. And we had gone to the mosque, to the restaurant at the mosque, and had met him for lunch and discussed various things and were impressed with him. And we'd ask him questions and we said, "Hey a lot of people, you know, want to know what you really are about, but they're afraid to come to the restaurant or to the mosque, but they're still curious." And he jumped at that, nothing pleased him more than going out to proselytize and to convert. He was a missionary of the first order and any opportunity he had to talk to anybody; he grabbed it.

Malcolm X: Make It Plain American Experience PBS