Malcolm X

parks_gordon_178_2003
Gordon Park
s, L.A. Courtroom, Malcolm X displaying pictures of Muslim Ronald Stokes, killed by police a year earlier,  1963 (178.2003)

In the May 31st, 1963 issue of Life magazine, Gordon Parks wrote a compelling article. Together with his photographs and through the words of his personal observations and conversations, Parks examined the position of the African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement.

The excerpt below highlights the context of the photograph Parks took during the trial of 14 Muslim men. The men were charged with the assault and interference of a police officer after Ronald Stokes, an unarmed young Muslim man, had been killed by police gun fire. Gordon Parks:

“I watched Malcolm X seated in the front row, directly across from the all-white jury. His face was sphinxlike and his eyes never left Officer Donald Weese, the killer of Stokes, from the moment the policeman took the stand until he got off. During the preliminary hearings it had been established that Weese, though he knew the Muslims were unarmed, shot at least four other men besides Stokes and beat another one down with the butt of his gun. The following questions by Attorney Earl Broady and answers from Officer Weese are from the court records of the trial:
Question–Mr. Weese, when you fired at Stokes, did you intend to hit him?
Answer–Yes, I did.
Q–Did you intend to hit him and kill him?
A–Yes. The fact that I shot to stop and the fact that I shot to kill is one and the same, sir. I am not Hopalong Cassidy. I cannot distinguish between hitting an arm and so forth, sir. I aimed dead center and I hoped I hit.
Q–You are saying, sir, to shoot is to stop and to shoot to kill is one and the same thing in your mind.
A–That is correct.
Q–Did you feel to protect yourself and your partner it was necessary to kill these men?
A–That is correct, sir.

Further along in the article Parks writes:

[But] with the passiveness of King and the extremism of Muhammad, the Negro rebellion has come alive. Fire hoses, police dogs, mobs or guns can’t put it down. The Muslims, the N.A.A.C.P., the Urban League, Black Nationalist groups, the sit-inners, sit-downers. Freedom Riders and what-have-you are all compelled into a vortex of common protest. Black people who only a few months ago spoke with the polite moderation are suddenly clamoring for freedom.

52 years ago today, February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated onstage at the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom. He was 39 years old.

This post is published to honor African American History Month.

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About claartjevandijk

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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