American Experience
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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
Street Wit

Malcolm had access to folk humor and street wit, which he used magnificently. And he described often debates and encounters he had with traditional civil rights leaders. And I will leave them nameless but his capacity to imitate; to give you a thumbnail feeling of who they were and where they came from, was devastating. And one of the things he spoke about was about somebody who was so black, "the blackest brother who ever lived." And he went to the man's house and knocked on the door and the brother stepped out and greeted him "blackly," you know, and it was "so black the sun could hardly get into the hallway." And then he introduced him to his wife who was white and blond and Malcolm laughed that the brother had these two different standards of what was beautiful. His humor always had a point, a political point, a cultural point, to help us regenerate ourselves from the degradation he felt that was imposed on us by living in this exploitative society. His humor was never cruel, it was never denigrating in that sense of the word. It always meant to help you get rid of some illusion so you could move on up a little higher.

Malcolm X: Make It Plain American Experience PBS