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Hundreds Make Pilgrimage to Malcolm X Grave Site to Commemorate His Birthday

Professor James Small speaking at the annual ceremony honoring slain activist Malcolm X on what would be his 91st birthday. Photo by Sylvia Cunningham.

VP and executive director of the OAAU, James Small, speaking at the annual ceremony honoring slain activist Malcolm X, on what would have been his 91st birthday. Photo by Sylvia Cunningham.

On what would have been Malcolm X’s 91st birthday, droves of supporters boarded a bus Thursday headed for the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York to honor the late civil rights icon.

Each year, a ceremony commemorating the life and legacy of the outspoken Black nationalist takes place at the cemetery. According to NBC News, the event has been facilitated by the Organization of Afro-American Unity since 1965. The pilgrimage, originally organized by Malcolm’s sister Ella Collins, is now arranged by the Sons of Africa, while Malcolm’s nephew Rodnell Collins manages it. Willie Stark and James Small also assist in making the pilgrimage happen, the news site reports.

“Malcolm demonstrated that he will either be free or he will accept death,” Small, who is the vice president and executive director of the OAAU, explained to NBCBLK. “And if every Black man were to take that attitude, freedom would come tomorrow, for all of us.”

The annual ritual involves the placement of a red, black and green Pan-African flag over Malcolm’s grave site and another covering a chair with a framed picture of the former Nation of Islam follower, who was also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Per NBC News, a white cloth is also draped over a stool to honor Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz.

Men donning pure white Sudanese-style garments then assemble in the shape of a square around the grave, making way for Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, New York, the news site states.

“Evolution is revolution slowed down, and revolution is evolution speeded up. So El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz set an evolutionary example for and a revolutionary example for us, blazing a path and following those who preceded him,” Imam Talib said.

Imamu Khari, who was in attendance at Thursday’s ceremony, says he grew up learning about the late activist’s teachings, as his father was a member of Malcolm X’s security team before he cut ties with the Nation of Islam. According to Khari, he admired Malcolm X more than the other African-American leaders he studied. That’s why it was important for him to make the pilgrimage. According to NBC News, he even recited one of his original poems on the bus full of passengers headed to the cemetery that morning.

“See, I’m trying to get us reparations at the very least,” 32-year-old Khari read. “Instead, they lock me in a cage like a scary beast.”

Also on the pilgrimage were first-time goers like Sheba X. She was only a baby when she met Malcolm but says her parents passed down his teachings to her.

“It’s difficult to say in one word what he has  done,” Sheba said. “He gave us not only pride but a sense of self worth through the knowledge that he passed on.”

The Ferncliff Cemetery wasn’t the only place people were celebrating the life of Malcolm X. According to Inquisitr, the city of Berkeley, California also celebrates “Malcolm X Day” and considers it an official holiday. Berkeley schools and government offices are usually closed that day. The website also reports that Malcolm X Day has been celebrated in Berkeley since 1979, making it the city’s longest-held recognized holiday.

Although she thinks much hasn’t changed in America regarding the nation’s legal and economic systems, Sheba X believes Malcolm changed the consciousness of African people, NBC News reports.

“It’s important to me to pay homage to our shining prince,” Sheba said.

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