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

Sonia Sanchez
Harlem Demonstration

The first time that I really listened to Malcolm was when New York CORE was doing a large demonstration. And Malcolm had sent out a directive to all of the organizations, most especially the civil rights organizations, that you cannot have a demonstration in Harlem unless you invite me to speak. So in our office at 125th Street, we moaned and groaned and said, "Who is that man? Imagine that man saying such a thing. Who does he think he is?" And of course we had to say yes. So we went to this big demonstration. Malcolm came with his bodyguards. I shall never forget that day. It was a day where it was cloudy. There was no sun. And in New York City when it's cloudy and rainy, you finally see the colors of the buildings. The yellows came out on the buildings and the reds came out on the buildings. And when Malcolm got up on this man-made stage the reds on his face came out. The red in his hair came out, with that kind of blonde red thing. I was standing on the island there, looking at him and my friend said, "I'm going back to the office. We're going back." And I said, "I'm going to stay because I like the rain." There was this kind of quiet drizzle that was happening there. And I looked up and looked around, determined not to look at him, determined not to listen. But he started to talk and I found myself more and more listening to him. And I began to nod my head and say, "Yeah, that's right. That makes sense. That's logical, mm-hmm." And the audience was like, "Yeah Malcolm. Yeah man, mm-hmm, Malcolm. Amen. Yes, mm-hmm, right on, yes brother, mm-hmm." There was this great call and response that goes on in the African American community. When he came off the stage I jumped off the island, walked up to him and of course when I got to him the bodyguards moved in front. And he just pushed them away. And I went in front of him and extended my hand and said, "I liked some of what you said. I didn't agree with what all that you said, but I liked some of what you said." And he looked at me, held my hand in a very gentle fashion and says, "One day you will, sister. One day you will, sister." And he smiled. And I remember just standing there because I was ready to withdraw my hand in a very fast fashion, it was like extending the hand like, here it is, for being polite, but don't really, you know, that's it. But I left it there and he smiled at me. And I remember walking back to the office, the CORE office there at 125th Street, smiling. Well what happened then is that every time he was speaking in New York City, I was there. I came there to the temple. But what was strange is that everybody else was doing it. [Amiri] Baraka was doing it. The poets were doing, the musicians were doing, the teachers were doing it, the nurses were doing it. Everybody who was an intellectual was coming out to hear what this man had to say. People don't want to remember that or talk about it. And that's how we became very much involved. And he saw us coming. We would try to disguise the fact that we were coming. We didn't tell people we were coming. You'd come in and sit on the side and you wouldn't say anything. And you just kind of sit there and you look around and there you see all your friends, you nod your head and then keep looking at him. And I began to -- through him -- I began to go to the Schomburg more and read up on history because he began to give us black history.

Malcolm X: Make It Plain American Experience PBS