Malcolm X in Rochester

dandc 2_17_1965 x photo3

Local coverage of Malcolm X’s 1965 visit focused on his dispute with the Nation of Islam.

Fifty-one years ago today, on Tuesday, February 16th, 1965, civil rights leader Malcolm X visited Rochester. It was not his first time in the Flower City. The famed orator and activist had spoken at the University of Rochester in 1962 and was drawn back to the city in 1963 to meet with local law enforcement to discuss the recent arrest of two Muslims during a religious service.

Two years later, on February 16th, Malcolm X returned to Rochester upon invitation from the Colgate Divinity School.

The visit occurred during a tense period in the activist’s life. His Harlem residence had just  been bombed on Valentine’s Day. The culprits were presumed to be members of the Nation of Islam, the Chicago-based organization from which X had withdrawn in March, 1964.  His new group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, bore a more secular message, which he reflected during his speaking engagements in Rochester.

For his first stop in the city, Malcolm X met with the Commission on the Negro and Theological Education, a student and faculty group at Colgate Divinity School. He then held a press conference at the Manger Hotel, where he discussed the American Civil Rights Movement, his split with the Nation of Islam and expressed his hopes to achieve “a society in which everyone can live as human beings.”

Corn Hill Methodist

Malcolm X further expounded on these ideas during his evening engagement at the Corn Hill Methodist Episcopal Church on Edinburgh Street. Standing in front of a packed house of both black and white audience members, X delivered a speech entitled “Not just an American problem, but a World Problem.” He touched on a variety of topics including Rochester’s recent race riots and the mass media’s depiction of African Americans, but above all emphasized the need to re-conceptualize the American civil rights movement as part of a global struggle.

He opined,  “…in no time can you understand the problems between Black and white people here in Rochester or Black and white people in Mississippi…unless you understand the basic problem that exists between Black and white people — not confined to the local level, but confined to the international, global level on this earth today.”

He concluded the impassioned hour-long address by stating that the Organization of Afro-American Unity sought to “make the world see that our problem was no longer a Negro problem or an American problem but a human problem. A problem for humanity. And a problem which should be attacked by all elements of humanity. A problem that was so complex that it was impossible for Uncle Sam to solve it himself and therefore we want to get into a body or conference with people who are in such positions that they can help us get some kind of adjustment for this situation before it gets so explosive that no one can handle it.”

Malcolm X’s lecture in Rochester would be the last public speech he ever gave. The human rights leader’s voice was silenced forever five days later on February 21st, 1965 when he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on February 16, 2016 at 9:00 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well written post! Learned lots of details about his last moments. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Rochester riots were in 1964 not 1963

    • Thanks for your comment, but I did not indicate that the riots occurred in 1963. I mention that Malcolm X came to Rochester in 1963 following an incident involving Muslims who were arrested during a religious service. Malcolm X discussed the race riots during his February 1965 visit.

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