Asante Sana, Herman Ferguson

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And the Ancestor list continues. Another tree fallen. Ferguson was 93.

The following are two extended, and joined, excerpts from his 2011 memoir/biography, An Unlikely Warrior: Herman Ferguson: The Evolution of a Black Nationalist Revolutionary, written with Iyaluua Ferguson, a freedom fighter who is also Herman’s wife. The first is about his time with the OAAU, the anniversary of which was held this past June, while the second is about his eyewitness account of Malcolm X’s assassination, the 50th anniversary of which will be commemorated on February 21, 2015.

 

Shortly after Malcolm’s expulsion from the Nation of Islam, he announced he was forming a new organization that would be known as the Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI). It was to be open to all. I was one of the early people to approach Malcolm and offer my membership. After he expressed some concerns about me losing my job with the NYC Board of Education, we agreed that I would join the MMI without any fuss or fanfare. Shortly after that, Malcolm left the country to go to Africa and the Middle East. He was gone for about five weeks. During that time, I remember attending some of the meetings, but mainly I waited for Malcolm’s return.

I was very active in organizing work out in Queens at that time. One of the brothers who was active with my Queens group was Lez Edmond [SPELLING CORRECTED]. He kept me in touch with what was happening in the MMI. It was Lez who told me that Malcolm had returned from his overseas trip and was meeting with a small group of people who were planning to announce the formation of another organization under Malcolm’s leadership. The MMI was to remain a religious organization where the Muslims could worship. The new organization was to be more secular-oriented and was intended as a political/cultural-type organization.

Lez told me the group was in the early stages of forming their organization, and he told me he would keep me informed. Shortly after that he told me that Malcolm wanted me to start meeting with this group and I should come to the next meeting. Lez picked me up that Sunday and we drove to the Flash Inn, a well-known nightspot in Harlem.

I learned that this new organization would be named the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), and its goal was to bring all the many organizations that were struggling for human and civil rights under the umbrella of the OAAU. The OAAU would be responsible for presenting a united front that would bring the United States before the United Nations charged with the crime of denying the human rights of 22 million Black people. While Malcolm would be at the head, he would not hold any formal office. We would be responsible for staffing the various committees that were to be set up. Malcolm would work with us to develop the organization and he was to serve as our principal speaker at the rallies, which would be the main approach to expanding our membership, and at the same time bringing the thoughts of Malcolm before the public. The Audubon Ballroom was the place where our Sunday rallies would be held.

We were all so young then–ready to take on any tasks Malcolm assigned to us. Many came from the Nation of Islam with Malcolm. Others came from among the radical elements of the civil rights movement, looking for more action than those leaders were offering–SNCC; CORE; SCLC, etc. We were all looking to Malcolm for a new kind of leadership. We were all ready to go wherever he took us.

Some of us were more politicized than others. Some were already Black Nationalists. Some were Pan-Africanists. A few considered themselves political radicals. Some were intellectuals. Others were cultural nationalists. Whatever we proclaimed ourselves to be, we were all believers to some extent or other in Malcolm’s call for self-determination, self-reliance and self-defense for Black people. Malcolm was our new leader and we were going to build a movement based on his leadership. No turning the other cheek for us. No begging, praying, singing or pleading for our civil rights. Malcolm had already made it clear; our struggle was for human rights and not for civil rights. That was as true to me as that the sun rose in the east every day. And I think all who became followers of Malcolm believed the same thing.

We were meeting regularly, getting acquainted with each other and trying to bring some structure to the new organization. Lynne Shifflet [SPELLING CORRECTED] was the Secretary of the Organization while Brother James continued to head the MMI. The OAAU was divided into committees and a Chairman headed each committee. Some that I can remember were the Cultural Committee chaired by Sister Muriel; Communications Committee, chaired by Brother Peter; Education Committee chaired by me; and later on Brother Jim Campbell came on and helped me to develop our Liberation School.

The Education Committee focused its attention on establishing a Liberation School that would cover two sessions on Saturdays. the first session was devoted to school-age youngsters. Sessions began at 9 a.m. and ended at 11 a.m. The second session, which was for adults, started at 11 a.m. and continued until about 1 p.m.

One of my most vivid memories is that the family of Yusef and Dara Iman were all members of the Liberation School and were are most consistent attendees. Yusef was a brilliant revolutionary poet and actor, a member of Amiri Baraka’s Spirit House Movers. Tragically, he made his transition much too young, succumbing to cancer at the age of 52.

A reading list was developed and assignments were given from this list. We used many speakers who were qualified to lecture on African History, the Middle Passage, Slavery and Reconstruction, and many other topics that were relevant to the centuries of suffering of our people here in the U.S. the list of speakers was long, and it included such names as John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, Queen Mother Moore, Richard Moore, Mr. Lewis Michaux, Pork Chop Davis, and on and on. All these speeches were taped for the purpose of putting together a spoken-word library.

Those tapes seem to be lost forever. The police seized those that were in my keeping when they invaded my home and arrested me. I suppose the police considered them contraband.

I should mention here that I chose to call our school a Liberation School because there were a number of schools operated by civil rights groups who called them Freedom Schools. I explained to Brother Malcolm that the name Liberation School conveyed the idea that we were educating our students to take their liberation rather than begging someone to give them freedom. Freedom when given can be taken back, but liberation has to be fought for, and once we reach that state, our former masters cannot take it back.

When Jim Campbell joined the Education Committee, he introduced the idea of developing a Leadership Training Course that was based on the thoughts and ideas of Brother Malcolm.

At the end of the course a diploma was signed by Brother Malcolm and given to each individual who completed the course. The student was then supposed to go back to his community with a kit of resource materials to begin to organize and provide leadership.

Our first class was made up of ten students who studied over a period of several weeks. A graduation ceremony was held at one of the Sunday rallies at the Audubon Ballroom. It was a thrilling sight to watch those ten proud students come out on the stage as their names to shake Brother Malcolm’s hand and to receive a specially designed certificate of graduation that had been signed by Brother Malcolm. I particularly recall the phenomenal Yuri Kochiyama being in that first graduating class. Yuri has been a consistent warrior in our liberation struggle for as long as I can remember, and remains so today.

Unfortunately, we did not graduate another class. Malcolm’s assassination ended the OAAU and all of our plans we had for that organization. Somewhere today there are ten certificates, signed by Brother Malcolm, declaring that the bearer completed the OAAU Leadership Training Course.

As I look back at those hectic times I am struck by a multitude of random memories that have stayed with me through these many years. I can see Peter on his hands and knees on the floor of the office, agonizing over pasting up a copy of the OAAU newspaper while Malcolm hovered over him, saying, “Don’t worry, brother. We’ll find some way to get the money for this paper.” And the night when Malcolm had called a meeting to inform the brothers that there was to be no more searching of people who came to our rallies. And that the security brothers were not to be armed because he thought the sight of armed security was turning off people we needed to join the OAAU. That night will always remain with me. Brothers complained loudly about these new restrictions. But Malcolm was firm. No searching. No weapons.

I have often wondered if Malcolm realized the dangerous position he was placing himself in by issuing such an order. I also think back to that night and try to recall the brothers who agreed with Malcolm and those who didn’t. In retrospect, I think that meeting was one of the most intriguing and important meetings that I ever attended as a member of the OAAU.

There are other images that are etched on my mind about those days. Things were moving quickly towards a head. My concerns about the rumors circulating among the OAAU members grew stronger, along with increasing pressures that were being directed toward Malcolm by the press and the NOI. Later we were to learn that this campaign to smear Malcolm was the dirty work of the government’s strategy to confuse the general public, and particularly those in the OAAU. There was a noticeable decline in the work of the organization as a result of attempts to destabilize us. Attempts to sow seeds of distrust and confusion among those of us who were the founders of the organization were made continuously. I recall discussing with Jim Campbell my concerns about what was happening to the organization and my fears about what was happening to Malcolm. Jim agreed with me that the picture looked very gloomy. We decided to contact Malcolm and request a sit-down between the three of us so we could inform him of our concerns and see what he thought.

Malcolm met with us on a Saturday afternoon in Jim’s Harlem apartment. The apartment we were meeting Malcolm in was located on the fifth floor and gave us a clear view of the entire street. We were able to observe Malcolm’s car when he pulled up across the street from the building. I was struck by the fact that Malcolm was traveling alone and by his casual manner as he crossed the street and entered the building.

Throughout the ensuing meeting with us, Malcolm maintained that casual attitude. He flipped a large coin absently through the fingers of one hand as our discussion ranged over a wide spectrum of subjects. Although he listened carefully as we talked, he expressed no concerns about his personal safety, but he did attempt to deal with our concerns about the OAAU and how it seemed to be floundering. Although we had asked Malcolm to meet with us for about an hour, it was many hours later before we ended our discussion and he left.

My last view of him that afternoon was as he descended the stairs, still causally flipping that same coin as he returned to his car.

 

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February 21, 1965 was a bright, sunny, cold day. It was a Sunday, and we had scheduled a rally at the Audubon as usual. The situation was far from normal. Some of the committees of the OAAU seemed to have ceased functioning. Malcolm’s home had been torched and he and his family had barely escaped with their lives. Speculation was rife about how had done this cowardly act. It was said the Nation of Islam had done the deed. The press hinted that Malcolm had set the fire himself.

Malcolm said that the circumstances surrounding the fire were outside the things that the NOI could or would do. “They would certainly try to silence me,” he said, “but they don’t wage war on women or children, and my pregnant wife and my young children were in that house at the time.” Malcolm had earlier told some of the brothers that he had mistakenly blamed the NOI for the problems that were happening to him. He did not believe the NOI had the resources to try to poison him in Egypt, and he knew for certain that the NOI had no influence on the French government. They could not persuade France to bar him from entering that country. These things had all happened to Malcolm on his trip abroad.

When asked where those problems were coming from, Malcolm pointed to the south and said, “They are coming from Washington.” Malcolm, for the first time, was shifting the blame for his problems away from the NOI and shifting them to a far more dangerous source–the United States government.

My mind was racing with thoughts of that nature as I drove towards the rally. Which way to turn? What to do?

As I turned off Broadway into W. 166th Street, I noticed something strange. Usually when we held our rallies, the street in front of the Audubon Ballroom was teeming with NYC policemen who were detailed there to cover the event. This day, there wasn’t a cop in sight!

As I drew up in front of the Audubon, I spotted a lone cop standing across the street in the small park that faced the building. “That’s strange,” I muttered to myself. “Where are the police today?” I knew that Malcolm had ordered that no police were to be allowed inside the auditorium, but always there was a large contingent of police outside the building. Their absence today was most unusual and very strange.

I continued to drive down the street, looking for a parking spot for my car. I found a spot a block or two from the Audubon Ballroom, I locked the car and returned on foot to the building. The cop whom I had seen standing across the street in the park  was nowhere in sight. I entered the building and noticed some of our security people manning the entrance door. We greeted each other as they waived me in.

It was obvious that a large crowd of people where assembled to hear Malcolm speak. Not noticing any people from the OAAU in the crowd, I took a seat about midway in the aisle just across from a row of semi-circular booth-like seats. As I glanced around, I noticed that one of the semi-circular booths across from me was almost filled by some members of the OAAU. They beckoned for me to join them and I did. I sat facing the stage where I would have a good view of the podium from which Malcolm would soon be speaking.

The murmuring from the crowd came to a halt as the brother who would address them prior to introducing Malcolm began to speak. Brother Benjamin was a good speaker and he soon had the crowd giving him its full attention. The stage was empty except for Benjamin. A row of empty chairs was placed side-by-side on the stage as though speakers were expected to fill them. (I learned later that Rev. Galamison, Mae Mallory and Ralph Cooper had been invited to speak. None of them were there.) I noticed Brother James peeking out of the door leading from the off-stage holding room, surveying the audience, and then withdrawing. Finally Malcolm walked out. He took a seat in one of the chairs just behind Benjamin.

When Benjamin noticed the appearance of Malcolm, he took that as his cue and began to introduce Malcolm to the crowd. Malcolm stood and began to walk toward the podium. Benjamin turned to yield the podium to him, and as their paths crossed, Malcolm was seen to pause and whisper something in Benjamin’s ear. Benjamin nodded and walked off the stage, heading towards the rear of the auditorium. (Benjamin told me later that Malcolm had ordered him to go to telephone and find out if Rev. Galamison was coming.) Malcolm continued forward until he was standing at the podium, facing the expectant crowd. Every eye in the audience was fixed on Malcolm, and a hush filled the room.

Malcolm began to speak, saying “Salaam Alikum, Brothers and Sisters!” At that moment, at though by some pre- arranged signal, a loud commotion broke out in the audience. There was the sound of loud voices cursing and that was followed by the sound of a chair falling to the floor.

I immediately swung my head to follow the sound of this interruption and saw that the noise was coming from two men who were seated near where I had originally sat when I first entered the room. The two men had flung aside their chairs and one man was crouched over as he moved away from the other man. “Get your hand out of my f—–g pocket, n—-r!,” came out of the mouth of the other man.

At this moment, I realized that something was drastically wrong. Never had I ever seen such a spectacle before. In all the times I had seen Malcolm speaking to all sorts of crowds, there was never any type of interruption. Such a thing was unthinkable. I felt a distinct feeling of unease as I quickly swung my head away from that scene and focused my attention back to Malcolm. Very calmly and without any sign of what was about to happen, Malcolm had stepped aside from the podium and leaned toward the crowd with his hand up-raised as he uttered his last words, “Cool it, brothers and sisters!” He began to lower his arm when a loud noise tore through the air. It was a sound of a sawed-off shotgun being fired into Malcolm’s exposed body.  The blast straightened Malcolm upright, and as he stood there for the next few seconds pistol shots began to be heard as the killers continued their depraved work. Malcolm was held upright as the storm of pistol shots continued. There was a momentary pause in the shooting and Malcolm then toppled backwards, his head making an awful sound as he fell prone on the stage. There was a brief pause in the shooting, and then it continued with the sound of large and small caliber pistol shots filling Malcolm’s fallen body for what seemed like an eternity.

I remember thinking, If they would stop shooting into his body, he could survive. But I knew from experience that nothing could live through such a fusillade of point-blank bullets, fired at such close range. Whoever was responsible for this deed wanted to send a message to the Malcolm followers in the hall, and by extension the entire Black Nationalist community, that a similar fate awaited anyone who desired to take on Malcolm’s role.

When the shooting ended, I found myself under the seat I had been occupying, with my head and shoulders extending into the aisle. The sudden end to the loud noises and the screams of terrified people created a vast and eerie silence throughout the hall. Chairs were flung all over the room. People were still cowering from the recent noise and the confusion. As I looked out on this scene, I noticed three figures standing in the middle of the room. There were three men standing one behind the other as though they were uncertain as to what their next move should be. The man in front wore what looked like a knee-length coat. There was a gun of some sort in his hand. I knew these were some of the men who had taken part in the just-completed killing of Malcolm.

I watched closely for as long as I could. The three men suddenly began to run towards the rear of the hall., towards the exit door. A few seconds passed as the men passed out of my sight. There was the sound of some scattered shots as the men disappeared. By this time I had crawled out from under the chair and the adjoining table and had taken a look at the stage. People were crowded around Malcolm’s fallen body. There was nothing I could do there. I decided to go outside to see what was happening out there. During that time there were still no police to be seen.

As I stood amidst this scene of carnage and terror. I began to sift though what I had just observed over the past few minutes. It began to occur to me that during the entire episode I had remained rooted to my seat and had only taken refuge under my seat after the second series of shots had rung out. I recall that while the firing was going on, there was a series of flashing yellow bulbs like the kind used to focus light on a scene that was being filmed. These flashing yellow lights were flickering off and on, rapidly one after the other, and seemed to be coming directly over the Audubon stage area. It dawned on me that the entire scene of Malcolm’s assassination was being filmed. Sonofabitch, they filmed the whole horrible event! Only governmental intelligence agencies have such a credibility. This certainly lends credence to Malcolm’s claim that Washington was the area from which his problems were coming. Not Chicago.

I went downstairs and out the front door to confront an unforgettable sight. To my right there was a crowd of people who had obviously rushed out of the hall in pursuit of the fleeing assassins. They were holding one man. It was clear that they meant him no good. A couple of policemen were trying to rescue the man from the enraged people who were trying to pull their captive apart. They didn’t seem to need my help and I turned and walked toward Broadway.

On the corner of Broadway and W. 166th St. was a shop that sold prosthetic devices. I stood there pondering the events I had just witnessed and trying to fit all the pieces together. From the entrance on 166th St., Malcolm’s security people emerged carrying Malcolm’s bullet-ridden body on a gurney commandeered from the hospital across the street. A small group of policemen were trailing the brothers, offering no help at all. I looked down at the body of my slain leader. His tie had been ripped loose from his throat, his shirt had been pulled open, and his chest was exposed. I could see the pattern of bullet holes that encircled his left chest around his heart. Rage and sorrow competed for a space in my being as I fought to control my emotions and focus on what I had seen and what might lie ahead.

At that point, a New York City police vehicle pulled up at the corner. There was a police officer driving and seated beside him was an officer wearing the scrambled-eggs cap of an officer of some senior rank. This officer got out of the vehicle and began walking towards the commotion further down the block. Within a few minutes he returned, assisting a civilian who was bent over in pain. The officer helped this civilian to the police car and carefully placed him in the rear seat.

By this time my curiosity had been completely aroused. I thought the civilian was probably one of our people who had been on duty at the door and had been injured as the killers escaped. I walked over to the car and poked my head through the open window and looked directly into this man’s face. I had never seen this person before! He was bent over, clutching his abdomen, seemingly in great pain. The police brass, who by now had gotten back in his seat next to the driver, ordered the driver to get out of there right away. The car sped off, but to my surprise they drove straight down W. 166th Street and sped out of sight. I thought the injured man would be taken immediately just across the street to the large hospital (Manhattan Presbyterian), where Malcolm had been taken by our security people.

Who was this mysterious stranger? Why were the police so anxious to get him off the scene so quickly? What was his role in the killing? Why had nothing been said by the media and the police about this second man?

The first man had been rescued from the enraged crowd and placed under arrest. His name was Thomas Hager. he served 25 years for his involvement in the crime. Two other men were later arrested and convicted of participation in the assassination. But who was the man I saw in the police car, wounded and being shielded by police brass? This and other questions still cast their shadow around the events of February 21, 1965.

Malcolm’s brutal and untimely death spelled the end of both his organizations, the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. My short period of time working in those two organizations marked a turning point in my life. Malcolm’s legacy still gives direction and meaning to the Black Liberation Struggle. Our fight to liberate our political prisoners and to give substance to our drive for self-determination is clearly reflected in our call for land and reparations.

It does not seem that we only had Malcolm with us for about thirteen months after he left the Nation of Islam. Yet in that short period of time, Brother Malcolm cast his shadow over our Movement in so many ways. He changed our focus from civil rights to human rights. He influenced the birth of many Black Nationalist organizations (the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Afrika, the Black Liberation Army, to name just a few). People who fight for their freedom from oppression and for national liberation know his name worldwide.

Some Justice, Finally, For Jack Kirby!

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This is really good. I never forgot reading a history of American superhero comics that told the story of a tearful Jack Kirby taking his young kids to the toy store in the 1970s to get action figures of superheroes he created–in boxes with his art on it!–and would have to deal with the knowledge that he would never get a dime from any of it. Similarly, it must have been hard for Kirby’s family to go to the movies for the past 14 years, watching characters Kirby either created or co-created make millions, if not billions, of dollars.

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