A Sunday Morning Meditation
Malcolm X

Eighty years ago almost to the day, in Omaha, Nebraska of all places, Malcolm Little was born to a Baptist preacher father who, by the time Malcolm was 6 years old, was murdered by a white supremacist group. When he was 14, his mother was declared legally insane and committed to a mental hospital. Malcolm dropped out of high school and began to drift, eventually making his way to Harlem in New York where he became known as Detroit Red. He was arrested at 20 and sent to prison for carrying firearms. In prison he began to study the teachings of the Nation of Islam, a militant sect that said black Americans should reclaim their Muslim heritage. When he got out of prison at age 27 he went directly to meet with Elijah Muhammad (the leader of NOI) in Chicago. It was then that he changed his name to Malcolm "X", a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their family names to have originated with white slaveholders. He returned to Boston and became a Minister of an NOI temple. He opened more temples, began to deliver inspirational speeches and became the #2 man in the Nation of Islam. In 1958, when he was 32, he married his wife, Betty, and they eventually had six daughters. There began to be tension within the Nation of Islam leadership. Malcolm felt there was jealousy of his role. In April 1964, he made his famous "ballot or the bullet" speech (click here for its entirety) ending like this:

No, if you never see me another time in your life, if I die in the morning, I'll die saying one thing: the ballot or the bullet, the ballot or the bullet.

If a Negro in 1964 has to sit around and wait for some cracker senator to filibuster when it comes to the rights of black people, why, you and I should hang our heads in shame. You talk about a march on Washington in 1963, you haven't seen anything. There's some more going down in '64.

And this time they're not going like they went last year. They're not going singing "We Shall Overcome." They're not going with white friends. They're not going with placards already painted for them. They're not going with round-trip tickets. They're going with one way tickets. And if they don't want that non-nonviolent army going down there, tell them to bring the filibuster to a halt.

The black nationalists aren't going to wait. Lyndon B. Johnson is the head of the Democratic Party. If he's for civil rights, let him go into the Senate next week and declare himself. Let him go in there right now and declare himself. Let him go in there and denounce the Southern branch of his party. Let him go in there right now and take a moral stand -- right now, not later. Tell him, don't wait until election time. If he waits too long, brothers and sisters, he will be responsible for letting a condition develop in this country which will create a climate that will bring seeds up out of the ground with vegetation on the end of them looking like something these people never dreamed of. In 1964, it's the ballot or the bullet.

He had just converted to Islam and now left for Africa to make the customary pilgrimage to Mecca. In June he returned to the US with a new name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He and his family began to receive death threats. On February 21, 1965 in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, as he was delivering a speech, he was assassinated by a member of the Nation of Islam. He was just 40 years old. On the other side of the country, in San Francisco, I was carrying my first child, it was midway through the Vietnam war era, it would be another 3 years before Martin Luther King would die, and I was busy with my own survival. They were always being held up as examples of two opposite ways to effect change - Malcolm and Martin - and they both died "by the sword." Today the world seems increasingly violent, the car bombs haven't reached my city yet but it's just a matter of time. It makes a peaceful person angry. I wrote my senator this week about the torture of prisoners and said:

I wish to go on record as being horrified at the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and other military prisons in Iraq, which is continually denied by our press but which many of us Americans know to be true because of our deep distrust of our government today and the stories that keep emerging from other sources. I would like to know what is being done about the use of torture as a way to obtain information. Is there any attempt being made in the Senate to protest this activity? I have voted for you personally for years and hope you can tell me something is being done. Thank you.

The ballot or the bullet...which is it going to be?

Neil Young 1945-

If for no other reason than creating this song back in 1988 (which won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the year in 1989 after MTV originally refused to run it because it mentioned products by name), you gotta love Neil Percival Kenneth Robert Ragland Young.

This Notešs for You

Don't want no cash
Don't need no money
Ain't got no stash
This note's for you.
Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Ain't singin' for Coke
I don't sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note's for you.
Ain't singin' for Miller
Don't sing for Bud
I won't sing for politicians
Ain't singin' for Spuds
This note's for you.
Don't need no cash
Don't want no money
Ain't got no stash
This note's for you.
I've got the real thing
I got the real thing, baby
I got the real thing
Yeah, alright.

Out of Toronto, most of us who grew up in the '60's and '70's first knew him from Buffalo Springfield, the band he formed with Steve Stills, another Canadian from the Toronto folk clubs. They lasted 3 albums and Young was already moving from folk-rock to rock and roll by the time they split. He recorded a few solo albums next in 1969 (with Crazy Horse) that did reasonably well but then was recruited to CSNY, performing with them at Woodstock and releasing the great Deja Vu album. He also put out a single called Ohio after the Kent State University killings that he has continued to use for years to protest other incidents like the Tiananmen Square massacre. CSNY broke up too soon for those of us who loved their sound, but Neil Young moved on with the massive country rock album Harvest in 1972, after which he crossed the line into hard rock tinged with blues. In 1976, he joined the group who made the great rockumentary The Last Waltz and had to have a great wad of cocaine hanging from his nose edited out of the film afterwards. By the '80's, he was experimenting with all sorts of odd formats, like the use of synthesizers but ended the year with that award-winning MTV video. By the early '90's he began to settle back in to his country-rock roots but was still making political statements, like "Rockin' in the Free World." Emerging grunge bands like Nirvana labeled him The Godfather of Grunge. He toured a lot, including with bands like Pearl Jam and put out a dark album called Sleeps with Angels after Kurt Cobainšs death. Cobain's suicide note had quoted a line from a song of Youngšs that read, "It's better to burn out than fade away." At the end of the decade, he did a very successful reunion tour of CSNY. After 9/11 he became even more political, writing an anti-Bush rock opera called Greendale that chronicles the saga of a California family torn asunder by post-9/11 America. He toured extensively with the Greendale material in 2003 and 2004 along with intimate acoustic concerts with his wife Pegi. In early 2005, he booked time in a Northern California studio to work on material that is a closely guarded secret and in April suffered a brain aneurysm that was successfully treated. Like Dylan and Clapton and Springsteen, you just can't put this guy in a musical box. They all reached down deep and pulled out raw, troubled, true spirit music to give us. Neil Young - long may you run.

Howard Zinn

On the eve of the 4th of July, I thought I would check this guy out, since he has something to say about the holiday, and since his name has been flickering on the border of my peripheral awareness for some time.

Put away the flags
By Howard Zinn
Sunday, July 3, 2005
We would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols on Independence Day -- its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed. Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?
These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power and deadly for those out of power. (Rest of article here.)

So who is Howard Zinn?

Well, 83 for starters. Professor Emeritus at Boston University and major boat-rocker for another. Born in New York City in the slums of Brooklyn in 1922 to parents who were immigrant factory workers. They were so poor they clipped coupons from the New York Post to send in with a quarter for individual volumes of Dickens because they knew he liked to read. He volunteered as a bombardier in World War II and returned at age 23 a decorated soldier, graduated Columbia University, taught at Spelman College in Georgia in the 1950's, and began teaching political science at Boston U in the late '60's. He opposed the war in Vietnam, U.S. policy in Central America, and the Gulf War. Needless to say, he's not thrilled with the war in Iraq. Ironically, he also wrote a book in 1980 called "A People's History of the United States" that tried to tell the story of the United States from the perspective of minorities and it is a standard text in many U.S. high schools that has profoundly influenced the public's perception of Columbus, the Founding Fathers and American foreign policy. Here is a page that has many of his writings and here is an interview he gave a few years ago. And so, on this holiday when I can hear increasingly frequent fireworks going off around my neighborhood in broad daylight at 5 pm and the scent of god knows what kind of red meat on the barbies on my block floating past my nose, and interestingly the sight of very few American flags hanging out from the houses in my neck of the woods compared to the heady days immediately post 9/11, I would like to say I'm grateful for just about anybody (especially if they can express themselves like this guy) speaking out for the human race over the single nation. My nation needs them - bad. Maybe they can help us all live to be 83. Have a safe Monday!

To visit segments A-L click here and M-W click here.