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When Malcolm X Met the Klan

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In Politico, Les Payne and Tamara Payne write about the time Malcolm X and the Ku Klux Klan met to talk about shared interests—like separating the races:

“The meeting began with a telegram that was delivered from the Klan at the end of 1960.

“At an NOI gathering in Atlanta, 33-year-old Jeremiah X rushed up and handed over over the message, as if passing along a burning ember. The communiqué caught Malcolm totally by surprise. It proposed a meeting between the two groups and implied that they had a lot in common. The two Muslim ministers read the cable several times, probing the missive for motive. Who exactly was this W.S. Fellows, who had signed the telegram? The inclusion of his phone number, with an exchange that indicated he lived in the Grant Park section of the city, suggested that he awaited an answer. Was this a veiled threat? A setup? The Klan did not normally send its messages to Black people by day or post them in writing.

“Unbeknownst to Malcolm and Jeremiah, this initiative from the most violent, self-declared ‘white racist’ group in America was being monitored by the FBI. Director J. Edgar Hoover had long targeted both the Klan and the NOI for surveillance, infiltration and disruption. The more recent surge of the civil rights movement had also attracted the bureau leader’s attention in the South. As many as 2,000 paid FBI informants were operating inside the Klan, it later would be revealed.

“This penetration allowed the bureau to control or influence one of every 10 members, or 10 percent of the Ku Klux Klan. This vast government network may well have instigated the Klan’s outreach to the Black Muslims for Hoover’s own ulterior motive, such as the desire to influence or get inside information about the NOI’s plans.

“The details of the Klan telegram, and the events that resulted, have never been fully disclosed. Each group determined that its involvement in this cross-racial affair must be kept secret. Records indicate that the FBI monitored the proceedings and kept its notes classified for decades. It also kept secret whatever covert follow-up action the bureau may have taken against the Klan and the Black Muslims, as well as against civil rights leaders. The original telegram was thrown out, according to Jeremiah X (later known as Jeremiah Shabazz). This account of the matter was pieced together from scattered government records, interviews with participants, group communiqués and notes, personal diaries, and knowledgeable sources.

“The meeting was the beginning of an uneasy alliance between the NOI and the Ku Klux Klan on shared goals of racial separation. It was also the beginning of Malcolm’s disillusionment with the Black Muslim organization and his embrace of the more mainstream civil rights movement.”

In other news: There’s an election coming up (yes), and you have a duty to vote (yes, yes), and things are terrible and will probably get worse (bien sûr), but don’t let that distract you from lovely things like baseball and this piece by Caryl Emerson on the great Dostoevsky critic and biographer Joseph Frank: “Joseph Frank (1918–2013) is the greatest co-creator of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s life in our time, and his path to the top was thrillingly irregular. He was not a professional Slavist. True, in the late 1930s he attended university classes, but in 1942 he began working as an editor and literary journalist. An innovative essay on European modernism won him his first fame and a Fulbright scholarship to Paris in 1950. After earning a PhD at the University of Chicago (like the critic Mikhail Bakhtin, without a BA), he taught at Princeton from 1966 to 1985, and then at Stanford. That’s the outside institutional envelope. The inside story, which stretched over a quarter-century (1976–2002), was his vast biography of Dostoevsky: five volumes totalling 2,500 pages. It grew out of his interest in the French Existentialists. Frank was vexed that their analyses of Dostoevsky were either personal and psychological, or else philosophical and theological. His task would be to fill in the middle space with the author’s daily stimuli, concrete provocations and constraints. He would do this without any relishing of private vices or pathological drives. Underneath his project was the old-fashioned and yet novel assumption that profound creativity is always a sign of profound mental health. Reviewing the fourth volume in 1995, A. S. Byatt wrote: ‘Frank is that increasingly rare being, an intellectual biographer, and his real concern is with the workings of Dostoevsky’s mind’.”

“Lost” Bob Dylan interviews shed new light on the man and his music: “Transcripts of the 1971 interviews with the late American blues artist Tony Glover — and letters the two friends exchanged — have surfaced at a Boston auction house. They reveal that Dylan had anti-Semitism on his mind when he changed his name and wrote ‘Lay Lady Lay’ for singer and actress Barbra Streisand.”

A nuanced argument against the “relevance” of art: “The word is everywhere in blurbs and reviews as a quality to admire or, more than that, as a necessary condition; ‘irrelevant’ has joined ‘problematic’ as a term of absolute dismissal, applied not so much to books one reads and hotly debates as to books one needn’t read at all. Artists feel the anxiety of relevance during every season of fellowship applications, those rituals of supplication, when we have to make a case for ourselves in a way that feels entirely foreign, for me at least, to the real motivations of art. Why is this the right project for this moment? these applications often ask. If I had a question like that on my mind as I tried to make art, I would never write another word. This pressure has only increased in recent years. I can still remember the shudder I felt in early 2017 when, after expressing my desire to review a newly translated European novel, an editor asked me to find ‘a Trump angle’ to make the book relevant to his magazine’s readers. There’s something demeaning about approaching art from a predetermined angle, all the more so when that angle is determined by our current president.”

Researchers at Purdue create an ultrawhite paint that keeps buildings cooler: “Testing of the novel paint material included a two-day-long outdoor experiment where researchers documented the temperature of the painted surface and of the surrounding objects . . . The most dramatic difference occurred during night times when the painted surface was 18°F cooler than its surroundings. At solar noon—when the sun is at the highest position in the sky—the painted material was still approximately 3°F cooler.”

James Panero visits Plymouth Rock: “There is nothing particularly impressive about Plymouth Rock. As far as famous rocks go, the seaside boulder on which the Pilgrims may have first set foot in the New World is notably underwhelming. It has not helped that this ten-ton glacial errant, an Ice Age deposit of granite on the morainal coastline of Cape Cod Bay, has been moved and abused, venerated and desecrated many times since the storied passengers of Mayflower set down roots here four hundred years ago, in December 1620. And yet it is precisely the Rock’s humble appearance that can still evoke the greatest awe.”

The editor Daniel Menaker has died. He was 79: “Daniel Menaker, who incubated literary celebrities as executive editor in chief of Random House and as a senior fiction editor of The New Yorker, and who, as a wry and discerning stylist, became a critically praised author himself, died on Monday at his home in New Marlborough, Mass. He was 79. His wife, Katherine Bouton, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.”

Photos: Massachusetts

about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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