History remembers the 1960s as a time of both turbulence and change in Black America, but most of the victories won in the battle for human rights were marred with casualties. Malcolm X would have been 90-years-old on May 19, but he was tragically shot down in 1965.
Leaving behind six daughters and a widow, Malcom X’s beloved third daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, chose to begin writing about her life and her memories of her famous father. In a video shared in February with Atlanta Blackstar from Newsweek Europe, she made remarks about how her father should be remembered.
“Even with the inauguration of President Obama, I feel as though my father was being written out of history. There should be a national holiday for Malcolm X,” she said. “So, I hope that all of the people who say that Malcolm made a significant impact on their lives will join us to push for my father. Not because he’s my father, but because of the work he’s done.”
In contrast, the nation has observed the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. since 1986. Though initially the King Holiday was shot down by President Ronald Reagan citing it would be too costly, Coretta Scott King and other compatriots of the civil rights leader continued to put pressure on Congress to enact the holiday as the third Monday of January. King and Malcolm X did not share the same views about how to change the social and political plight of America, but historians say they respected each other as equals, not rivals.
Shabazz has authored three books in tribute to her father— X: A Novel, the children’s book Malcolm Little and Growing Up X. Since the 52-year-old was a toddler when she lost her father, most of the memories that took place beyond the home were filled in by her mother Betty, who always kept some piece of clothing or other reminders to keep him present. She also learned more information from a college course she took with Dr. George Roberts.
“The revolution of Malcolm X means that you’re going to get the best education, so that you can contribute to the movement… to build a strong foundation,” said Shabazz. “Everyone says if there is wrong, if there is injustice, you have to do something about it. I believe that my father’s work should be illuminated and accessible to young people.”
Though there had been a Twitter group @ClaimMalcolmDay established to gather petitions for an international holiday, the group does not appear to be affiliated with the efforts Shabazz proposes to recognize her father.
Thousands of people were present to celebrate the birthday of Malcolm X at West End Park in Atlanta, 2015. Event coordinator, Ife Jie of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, said that despite not having a nationally recognized day for the human rights activist, every May 19 should automatically be considered an African-American holiday.
“This festival has been around for 26 years, so what this has done is to sustain a sense of community, cultural awareness, it’s a meeting place for those who have gone onto different places,” she said. “I think Malcolm would be proud to see us celebrate him this way. This is our holiday.”
In the 50 years since Malcolm X’s assassination, groups like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the New Afrikan Panthers, and N’COBRA (the National Coalition for Reparations in America) have continued to champion the slain leader’s fight against injustice in America. Along with the 90th birthday of Malcolm X, revelers poured libations for citizens like Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray who perished in their dealings with law enforcement. Among the dozens of vendor booths set up at the birthday gathering was a station where participants received pamphlets on how to lawfully handle being stopped by police.
Jie said that the Malcolm X birthday celebration brings together doctors, lawyers, artists and people of all walks of life to celebrate Afrocentric culture, providing a place for all to gather in one place every year, like a family reunion. In a January 2015 article by Forbes, Atlanta was listed as the number one city for financial stability among African-Americans because its population has a median household income of $41,803 and there is 46.9 percent home ownership and 17.1 percent self-employment among Blacks in the city.
Some of the sponsors for the Malcolm X birthday extravaganza were The Davis Bozeman Law Firm, WRFG Radio, Wecycle Atlanta, Atlanta Raise Up, the Juneteenth Atlanta Parade & Music Festival, A.I.M. (Arms In Motion), the Brotherhood Collective and the Sankofa Center for Strategic Planning and Evaluation.
Though the festival was free and open to the public, Jie said that the vendors were really the big winners economically. Unlike most events in Atlanta, vendors were able pay for booth space onsite at a rate of $250 for non-food participants and $450 for food vendors. Vendors were most likely to make a return on their investment within a matter of hours with nearly 2,000 to 5,000 revelers flocking to the park each day of the celebration.
“We don’t make a whole lot of money on the event, especially since permit fees have increased during Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration,” said Jie, whose family has been instrumental in the gathering since its inception. “We get vendors who come from South Carolina, Florida, California, all over the United States. Some of the vendors bank on making their profits at this festival, and come back every year because of it.”
Maudelyne Green, 32, said she was excited to unveil her Caribbean soul food concept at the festival, which will be the highlight of her family-owned restaurant in Decatur, Green Love Kitchen, scheduled to open in June.
“I think participation in the festival is of the highest importance because as we support each other it increases our self-esteem, our economy, and our unity as a community,” said the co-owner of Green Love Kitchen. “By vending at festivals like these, it give us the opportunity to showcase our work, to showcase our art.”
Quintin Bracey said that he originally attended the Malcolm X Festival last year to enjoy the hip hop group dead prez, but also sees the necessity of following the example of empowerment emphasized by the gathering.
“Human rights is a conundrum,” said the 27-year-old. “Ultimately, in America’s political system, someone else has control over your rights, but what we can do is come together to love each other better. That is what we have every right to do.”