WHEN Malcolm X made his third and last visit to Cairo in 1964,
he was alone. Besieged at home by the Nation of Islam, the
extremist black Muslim group that he had broken with, he was to
spend almost two months in Cairo before embarking on a lengthy
journey through Africa.
He arrived in Cairo without fanfare. But when word spread, young
black Americans keen to speak with a representative of the struggle
they'd left behind, sought him out. Many of them were former
members of the Nation of Islam, weary of its anti-white racism and
failure to play an active role in the struggle for black rights.
Before Malcolm X left the city, they had agreed to establish a
chapter of his new group, the Organization of African-American
In the early 1960s, young black men from cities like Chicago and
Philadelphia made their way to Egypt, many of them seeking not only
African but also Islamic identities. The Egyptian government
provided meager scholarships to Al Azhar Islamic University. One of
those blacks was Akhbar Muhammad, the son of the Nation of Islam's
leader, Elijah Muhammad. For most of the students, living
allowances were negligible. Some, in order to make ends meet,
played gigs in Cairo jazz clubs.
One of those expatriates still lives in Cairo. David Du Bois is
a visiting professor of journalism and Afro-American studies at the
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, but resides for most of the
year in his adopted home of Egypt. He is author of the novel, And
Bid Him Sing," a story of black American exiles in Cairo in the
In 1960, Mr. Du Bois arrived in Egypt as a traveler. Later he
became a journalist. He was following in the path of his
grandparents, missionaries in Liberia, and his parents: His father
was the revered black rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois, one of the
first names in the Pan-African movement.
Du Bois recalled his reactions after arriving by boat in the
port city of Alexandria: "I fell in love with Egypt. I got here and
discovered that everybody looked like me, and I looked like
everybody else. I was accepted as a human being without any
reference to the color of my skin. It was an overwhelming
experience. I found myself invisible."
Unlike other black expatriates he befriended in Cairo, Du Bois
was not religious. Many were new arrivals who came to study Islam
at Al Azhar. As Du Bois now says: "They came here in search both of
their African and Islamic roots, but they approached Egypt as an
He met several times with Malcolm X and remembers a "calm and
When asked by Du Bois if people needed religion, Malcolm X
replied that religion - whether Islam or Christianity - was a means
of putting "blinders" on the minds of those who might otherwise
stray from good and moral lives.
Malcolm X, traveling without any administrative support, took up
offers of help from the sympathetic expatriate community. …