"When the Chickens Came Home to Roost"

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun May 26 09:27:13 PDT 2002

Gordon says:

>The Left has been sadly
>divided, and has been unable to put forward even such simple,
>obvious ideas as that the attacks were a natural consequence
>of imperialism -- that after bombing and invading ten or twenty
>countries around the world as a matter of normal policy, the
>U.S. might be expected to suffer some kind of blowback. In
>fact, I risk the ire of some of the members of the CFS on this
>leftist mailing list by even mentioning the idea -- I'll be
>accused of "justifying fascist atrocities" or some such

Once again, there is nothing new under the imperial sun:

***** When the Chickens Came Home to Roost - What Malcolm X Actually Said

By Paul Lee TBWT Guest Contributor Article Dated 4/12/2002

[Originally published, in slightly different form, in The Michigan Citizen (Highland Park), Sept. 23-Sept. 29, 2001]

Since the daring and deadly Sept. 11 commercial airplane strikes on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., many African Americans have recalled a remark made by Malcolm X about another violent tragedy that shook the nation and the world 38 years ago.

On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Tex. Elijah Muhammad, the spiritual leader of the separatist Nation of Islam (NOI), issued three directives to his officials not to comment on the tragedy.

Nevertheless, Malcolm X, then the NOI's national representative, decided to take questions after a New York speech on Dec. 1. In reply to the inevitable query, he reportedly called the Presidentís death a case of "the chickens coming home to roost."

This single statement changed the course of his life. In fact, it helped to end it.

Muhammad suspended Malcolm X for insubordination, which Malcolm accepted. However, he soon discovered that his blunder exposed him to the simmering jealousies and resentments of NOI officials. The bitter split that resulted led to his assassination 15 months later.

Ironically, several editorial writers and columnists in the United States and England dug up Malcolm X's Kennedy remark and twisted it into a justification for his assassination.

Which raises several questions: What did Malcolm X actually say about the Kennedy assassination? And what did he mean?

Finally, as Americans and others search for meaning in the New York and Washington disasters, can this be found in Malcolm X's remark? Decide for yourself.

What He Said

"[N]obody I knew even knew the meaning behind" Malcolm's words, Hakim Jamal, a cousin-by-marriage and sometime NOI member, later recalled in his 1971 memoir, _From the Dead Level: Malcolm X and Me_.

It was "an advanced observation," Robert Lipsyte, a former New York Times sports reporter, perceptively noted in his 1975 book, _SportsWorld: An American Dreamland_.

Lipsyte was indirectly referring to Malcolm's linkage of the Kennedy murder with U. S. complicity in the liquidation of several Third World leaders.

Malcolm X's remark troubled the President's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, according to former White House aide Harris Wofford in his 1980 memoir, _Of Kennedys and Kings_. The younger Kennedy was well aware of the joint Central Intelligence Agency-Mafia plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, the Communist Cuban leader.

Most Americans would not learn of the government's "executive action" capability, as it was euphemistically called, for another 12 years, when a Senate select committee headed by Idaho Sen. Frank Church investigated the CIA's role in the Alleged Assassination Attempts Involving Foreign Leaders, as its final report was titled.

Though Malcolm's remark is now recognized as a critical benchmark in his life, it does not appear to have been recorded on audiotape or film. In fact, it seems that only a single newspaper actually reported it, though other papers and wire services quickly picked it up and editorial writers and columnists promptly condemned it.

As a service to our readers, we are republishing relevant portions of that report for the first time since its originally appeared in The New York Times on Dec. 2, 1963 (see below).

Though unsigned, Malcolm X's NOI associates recall that the reporter was M. S. "Mike" Handler, who Malcolm would later develop a close working relationship with.

What He Meant

A year after his original statement, Malcolm X gave perhaps the fullest explanation of what he meant during a talk at the Harvard University Law School Forum in Cambridge, Mass., on Dec. 16, 1964. Following is a transcript of his recorded remarks:

"And I don't think anybody would deny that when you send chickens out of your barnyard in the morning, at nightfall those chickens are gonna come back home to roost in your barnyard. Chickens that you send out always come back. That's a law of nature. I was a little farm boy myself. I got in trouble saying this once, but it didn't stop me from being a farm boy.

"When you send your chickens away, your chickens always come back home. Other people's chickens don't come to roost on your doorstep and yours don't go to roost on theirs. So the chickens that this country is responsible today for sending out -- whether the country likes it or not, and if you're in any way mature and you look at it like it is -- someday, and someday soon, it's got to come back home to roost."

Where He Got It

Several explanations have been offered for Malcolm's use of this expression. Wilfred Little, his late eldest brother, told this writer that it was commonly used in the South and that Malcolm might have picked it up from their Georgia-born father.

Lewis H. Michaux, the late proprietor of Harlem's famed National African Memorial Bookstore and an advisor to Malcolm X, told Peter Goldman, author of the 1973 biography _The Death and Life of Malcolm X_, about one memorable discussion he had with Malcolm in the back of his store.

According to Goldman, "He remembered once having said something about America's chickens coming home to roost, and out came the notebook and the pen; long afterward, Malcolm got in trouble with Mr. Muhammad for using the phrase to describe John Kennedy's assassination, and Michaux has always wondered whether the words, if not the sentiment that caused the trouble came from his back room."

Copyright © 2002 by Paul Lee

Paul Lee is a historian, filmmaker, and freelance writer and is director of Best Efforts, Inc. (BEI), a professional research and consulting service that specializes in the recovery, preservation, and dissemination of global black history and culture. BEI offers OurStory, a black history lecture series. For background on BEI and/or a description of lecture programs, write besteffortsinc at yahoo.com.


[Excerpt from The New York Times, Dec. 2, 1963. Used with permission]

Malcolm X Scores U.S. And Kennedy Likens Slaying to "Chickens Coming Home to Roost."

Malcolm X, a leader of the Black Muslims, yesterday characterized the assassination of President Kennedy as an instance of "the chickens coming home to roost."

Accusing Mr. Kennedy of "twiddling his thumbs" at the killing of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, Malcolm X told a Black Muslim rally at the Manhattan Center that he "never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon."

He added: "Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad." His remarks on the Kennedy assassination were made at a point when the audience was open to questions and comment from the floor. There was loud applause and laughter.

Newspapers chided

Malcolm X told the crowd, estimated at about 700, that immediately after Mr. Kennedy's assassination the Black Muslim leadership had been asked for comments by the newspapers. He charged this was an attempt to trap the organization into a "fanatic, inflexibly dogmatic" statement. He said the press was looking for such a remark as: "Hooray, hooray! I'm glad he got it!"

With this exclamation, there was more laughter and applause.

In further criticism of Mr. Kennedy, the Muslim leader cited the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Congo leader, of Medgar Evers, civil rights leader, and of the Negro girls bombed earlier this year in a Birmingham church. These, he said, were instances of other "chickens coming home to roost."

"They've got to come home some day," he added.

Later, a member of the audience who declined to be identified told a reporter his enjoyment of this remark was "more for the fact that he had the nerve to say it than that I really approved of it."

Copyright © 2002 The Black World Today. All Rights Reserved.

The Black World Today 729 East Pratt St., Baltimore, MD, 21202 Phone: 410 521 4678 | Fax: 410 521 9993 Email: editors at tbwt.com

<http://athena.tbwt.com/content/article.asp?articleid=459> *****

Here's a fascinating material for a documentary film, if anyone gets to make one about it. Perhaps, Paul Lee will do it one day. -- Yoshie

* Calendar of Events in Columbus: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/calendar.html> * Anti-War Activist Resources: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/activist.html> * Student International Forum: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/> * Committee for Justice in Palestine: <http://www.osu.edu/students/CJP/>

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