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A Detroit Black Panther’s Soldiering Journey with Malcolm X: Extract Memoirs from an X Heir
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| 169 A Detroit Black Panther’s Soldiering Journey with Malcolm X Extract Memoirs from an X Heir Ahmad A. Rahman My story shadows Malcolm’s. I was a leader in the Black Panther Party in Detroit and sent to prison in 1971 after an FBI investigation. A victim of COINTELPRO, I spent twenty-one years behind bars, earning my bachelor’s degree and becoming the first prisoner ever admitted to a graduate program at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. Having earned a PhD in history, I am now an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan–Dearborn. I write through the current chapter a snippet of an autobiography of my own to reveal how Malcolm’s journey was my own. Like Malcolm’s, it was a journey of discovery to consciousness of the Black condition; it is a story that illustrates my resistance to White supremacy. Most importantly, my story parallels Malcolm’s as an example of liberation through defiance to racist systemic oppression. Like Malcolm’s, my own mini autobiographical extracts selected for this important volume documenting my hero’s legacy straddle between Detroit and Chicago’s urban Black communities and histories. My path to prison began with Malcolm X and what I had heard he had said black people should do after the Ku Klux Klan bomb murdered the four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday, September 15, 1963. If posttraumatic stress syndrome colors a life thereafter, post–Birmingham bombing anger colored mine. I was twelve years old, in the same age group as 170 | Ahmad A. Rahman Addie Mae Collins (age fourteen), Carol Robertson (age fourteen), Cynthia Wesley (age fourteen), and Denise McNair (age eleven). I had spent the very same Sunday morning in my family’s Antioch Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. These girls likely enjoyed riding bikes, going to school, and playing in parks just like I did. They were me. When the Jet magazine my mother bought detailed their slaughter, I searched it for strong statements from black leaders that offered something more forceful than prayer to prevent more Sunday morning bombings. As usual, Dr. King had called for us to remain nonviolent and not lose faith in the white man. We could only defeat hate with love. Hate could never defeat hate, he said. When my friends and I got together soon after the bombing, for the first time we talked about something other than baseball, football, and child’s play. This was also the first time that I had ever disagreed with Dr. King. He was a living saint to everybody I knew. I remember saying that I thought that only monsters could blow up those girls and monsters deserved a stake in their hearts. My playmates, all Baptists like the four murdered girls, nodded in agreement. Like me, they kept seeing themselves in that church blown up with those girls. Some of us even had nightmares and woke up scared and sweaty. Dr. King’s soft words left me feeling helpless and vulnerable. I never saw a black leader on TV who believed, like us, that Dracula deserved the stake. Then one day my mother’s friend, Miss Toni, came to visit. While my mother fiddled in the kitchen, the nut-brown-skinned, blond-haired Miss Toni sat on the couch with me on one side of her and my older brother Eddie on the other. She told us that she had attended a meeting at the Nation of Islam (NOI) Temple in Hyde Park in Chicago, Illinois. There she had seen a man named Malcolm X. He said that since the government would not protect our children from being blown up in churches and our people from being murdered by the Klan, it was time for black people to form their own army. That army should go south to protect our people from KKK murderers. Hearing her say this made me almost feel like crying. At last some black leader had said what I wanted to hear. Malcolm X had told her that our black army should not go south singing and marching, as if the songs would hurt the racists’ ears and marching would hurt Klan feet. No, we should go south with the intent to fight fire with fire. And then we would see that anybody who would bomb a church and murder four innocent children was nothing but a low-down coward. We made these...