Malcolm Burnley, Editor of the College Hill Independent, on Minister Malcolm X

Malcolm Burnley

PROVIDENCE, RI [Brown University] – Brown University senior, Malcolm Burnley, editor of the College Hill Independent will reveal a little-known chapter in the remarkable life of African American icon and civil rights leader Minister Malcolm X. The event will take place Thursday, February 9 at 5:30pm in Brown University’s John Hay Library, and is hosted by The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society.

The Black History Month event will include audio excerpts from Malcolm X’s never-before-heard 1961 speech and a presentation of Burnley’s ongoing research and non-fiction writing project.

In the spring of 1961, Malcolm X toured the country as spokesman for the Black Muslim movement in America, the Nation of Islam. After the University of California, Berkeley barred him from speaking at the school, he traveled to Providence on May 11, 1961 for the first and only time of his life. That evening, before a rapt audience of 800 at Brown University’s Sayles Auditorium, he delivered a forceful endorsement of black power and a holistic rejection of the American political establishment. His delivery was condemnatory of white oppression and dismissive of integration, which he believed was slowing the civil rights movement.

An excerpt of his address reads: “A hundred years have passed by since the Emancipation Proclamation. The politicians have promised us false promises, they have lied to us, they have tricked us. And today we recognize their words as political subterfuge. Therefore, we reject politics, we reject the politicians and we reject political solutions.”

Fifty years later, Malcolm Burnley stumbled upon a lone image of Malcolm X in the Brown University archives at the John Hay Library. Intrigued by the discovery, Burnley began the vigorous research that led him to the undiscovered recording of Malcolm X’s speech and the discussion that followed.

“It was sent to the John Hay Library a year ago by Katharine Pierce and shelved indefinitely,” said Malcolm Burnley. “I was the first to request access to it, and the tape was then digitized from its original form.”

In order to situate the previously undocumented Brown event within the context of Malcolm X’s career and a transitional era in Providence civil rights history, Burnley has consulted news coverage from the period, Brown alumni interviews he personally conducted, biographies like the late Dr. Manning Marable’s authoritative Malcom X: A Life Of Reinvention and the recording of Malcolm X’s lecture.

Pierce, a Connecticut native who worked for many years at the Department of Social Welfare in New Haven, and the late Richard Holbrooke—both Brown class of 1962—worked as liaisons to bring Malcolm X to Brown. Ambassador Holbrooke, who served as President Obama’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan before his death in 2010, was the Editor-in-Chief at the Brown Daily Herald in 1961. Malcolm X’s visit to Brown University was provoked by Katharine Pierce’s analysis of the Nation of Islam published by Holbrooke. Pierce’s essay, the first written by a female student to appear in the Brown Daily Herald, sparked controversy on campus and was linked to the stabbing of a female student, a mysterious case of attempted murder unsolved to this day.

Still on the trail of Malcolm X and the surrounding story, Malcolm Burnley plans to continue his research throughout the spring semester, his final at Brown. Eventually, he hopes to publish his work of historical nonfiction that, as Burnley said, “continues to evolve.”

Seating at the event is limited. RSVP to (401) 421-0606 or riblackheritagesociety@gmail.com. For more information about The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society visit ribhs.org and Facebook.