PASTIMES: Malcolm X Came to Town; Chris Upton Looks Back at the Day Famous American Race Equality Campaigner Malcolm X Visited Smethwick

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Upton

Sometimes the passage of time counts for nothing. Forty years ago this month the English cricket team was touring South Africa, the US was embroiled in a bloody foreign war and the issue of immigration was at the top of the political agenda in Britain.

The Labour housing minister of the time, Richard Crossman, dubbed immigration 'the hottest potato in politics today' and, as we know today, once this potato goes into the oven it is exceedingly difficult to remove it.

Ever since the previous government introduced the Commonwealth Immigrants Act back in 1962, restricting the numbers of new arrivals from the Commonwealth, issues of race were something that no political party could afford to turn its back on.

During the 1960s something like 1,200,000 immigrants arrived in Britain - considerably fewer than the 1,900,000 who emigrated from it, but, of course, immigration was never evenly spread.

In the urban heartlands of London, the Midlands and the North, where many of the new Black and Asian communities were concentrated, there were many votes and many seats at stake. Much of the 1964 general election had been fought on this territory.

It was in this heightened atmosphere - in February 1965 - that an unexpected and exotic figure unexpectedly turned up in the West Midlands. His original name was Malcolm Little; he now called himself ElHajj Malik El-Shabazz; but everyone knew him as Malcolm X.

Malcolm X was probably the most controversial man in America. His affiliation with the Nation of Islam in the 1940s was, no doubt, one of the results of a traumatic childhood that had seen his father murdered by racists and his mother driven into an asylum.

But Malcolm X's evolving political philosophy subsequently led him out of the Nation of Islam and into a new association, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

Unlike the Nation of Islam, the OAAU had a more global and less religious explanation for racial inequality in the United States and poverty in Africa.

It had as much to do with American power and economics as it had to do with the Koran.

There was, of course, much more to the philosophy of Malcolm X than this. Suffice it to say that Malcolm X stood at in the front line of the racial struggle in America, a charismatic and more confrontational counterbalance to Martin Luther King. And unlike King he was almost equally loved and hated.

So here was Malcolm X in the Midlands. But he was not at the Town Hall or at some other public meeting place. …