Interview with Ossie Davis

Now go forward in time since that was '62 go forward to the march on Washington and tell me about how Malcolm was there? I never heard that before.


Yes. Well before I get that let me say something else that happened in '62: st that time we were doing _Purlie Victorious_, my play on Broadway, and, ah, the Muslims did not believe in theatre. They did not want their membership to participate in theatre or go to those places which were a waste of time. Malcolm somehow managed to come to see a matinee. He came by himself. And I think he sort of sneaked away because Elijah Muhammad probably wouldn't have wanted him to show up at the theatre. He saw _Purlie Victorious_ which of course had a lot of laugh and laughs in it and he came back he said you know, "I, I think you're trying to do with laughter what I'm trying to do by other, any other means necessary. You're, you are really zinging the man and I appreciate that." He said, "Man, I, I, I saw the play and I liked it. I'll do anything I could to help you, except that if I said something in favor of the play no White folks would ever show up at the box office again. So the best thing I can do for you is to keep my mouth shut. But I really enjoyed the play." And that was in '62. If, if you remember now in '63 one of the biggest events was the big March on Washington that took place in August. Bayard Rustin had asked Ruby and me to serve as master of ceremonies at the Washington Memorial Washington monument part of the program and we had agreed. And, ah, when the time when time came for us to go down to Washington the night before the march we, a part of our responsibility was to report to a hotel room where Bayard was going to run all of us through what the program would be for the next day in a hotel room. A. Philip Randolph was there, Whitney Young was there, Martin Luther King, ah, ah, Roy Wilkins, John Henry Lewis were all there. Everybody except Jim Farmer was in that particular room. Now when Ruby and I came to the hotel and we, we got off at the floor where the conference was to be held and we were going through the hallway to get to the room, to our great surprise there standing in the hallway talking to a reporter was Malcolm X. And this amazed us because Malcolm had made statements against the March on Washington. How this integration, these so called Negroes then made a deal with the Kennedys and all that sort of thing and they should be out doing other things no here we are marching and all that demonstrating. Here was Malcolm in the hallway. And we listened to the reporter who was baiting him, you know, and then, then talking, "Why, why did you show up?" And Malcolm was saying, "Well, whatever Black folks do, maybe I don't agree with any of it. Whatever Black folks do, I'm going to be there, Brother, 'cause that's where I belong." We went on into the room and participated in the meeting getting ready for the next day. The reporter came in and after the, there was a break and announced that Malcolm X was out in the hall and he was castigating the Black leadership and talking about the march and how did that, how did that affect, how did we feel about that? How did Martin Luther King feel? How did all the other--Roy Wilkins, of all people, told the reporter, "Hey look, we know Malcolm X and we're not surprised if, that he's out there. And whatever he says, you know, it doesn't insult or hurt us. We have business to take care of and if that's all you can bring from the meeting with Malcolm X, the, the, the conversation is closed. Please leave. We got work to do." They understood all though nobody articulated it then that a part of what Malcolm was involved in was a part of a grand strategy. Malcolm, I mean Martin and the regular civil rights leaders were presenting to America our best face, our nonviolent face, our desire to be included into American society. And we wanted to show the world that we had no evil intentions against anybody. We just wanted to be included. But they also understood that America, in spite of our reassurances, would be frightened and hesitant to open the doors to Black folks. So Malcolm as the outsider as the man they thought represented the possibilities of violence was the counter that they could use. They would say to the powers that be, "Look here's Martin Luther King and all these guys. We are nonviolent. Now outside the door if you don't deal with us is the other brother, and he ain't like us**. You going to really have hell on your hands when you get to dealing with Malcolm. So it behooves you, White America, in order to escape Malcolm, to deal with us." That was the strategy. And to some degree it worked. And Malcolm was always involved somewhere in the struggle. And, and I remember, ah, near the end, ah, in January of, ah, 1965 when he attended the funeral of Lorraine Hansberry and he was asking us, Ruby and myself, to arrange an introduction to Paul Robeson who was there at the time. And I think it maybe it was that same month that Juanita Poitier, ah, set up a meeting at her house for the regular civil rights leaders to meet with Malcolm X to work out the differences between us so we could come from that meeting with a common platform. Once again A. Philip Randolph were there, Whitney Young was there, Dorothy Height was there, Malcolm X was there, several others were there. Martin Luther King couldn't make it but he sent a representative, and we spent that day discussing Malcolm's philosophy, the mistakes he made, what he wanted to do now and how he could get on board the, the, the people's struggle that was taking place. You know, know he, he, he, he moved, he grew, he developed. And, at that meeting, we saw that Malcolm was truly dedicated to the progress of Black people and to the point we're he was prepared to modify even his philosophy to the best of his ability, to take back what he had said against the White folks although he did say, you know, "I do not think all White folks are evil now but some of you are, and I'm going to keep on at it until you, whoever you are, grant us the respect that we're due as fellow human beings."