Interview with Ossie Davis
Interview with Ossie Davis

Interviewer: Madison Davis Lacy, Jr.
Production Team: A

Interview Date: July 6, 1989

Camera Rolls: 1124-1127
Sound Rolls: 156

Interview gathered as part of Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985,
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Ossie Davis, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on July 6, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.

INTERVIEW

QUESTION 1
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

So do you remember when we started calling ourselves Black and how did you grow into that, and how do you think Black people grew into that?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Yeah.

QUESTION 2
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

So, do you remember when we started calling ourselves Black and how we grew into that?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Roughly. Yeah.

QUESTION 3
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Tell me about how you grew into it?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Well I grew into it because--

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Give me a full sentence. I grew into calling myself Black--

OSSIE DAVIS:

I grew into calling myself Black because I was aware of what was involved in the change. Both from my own feelings inside and also from an understanding what the historical context was. Those who are around remember that Malcolm X made the term Negro rather unpleasant for us and he kept pounding away at so called Negroes. He himself indicated by his own name that he certainly wasn't a Negro. He didn't know who he was. He was an X but at least there was a certain honesty in that. And, ah, Malcolm's pounding away at us, you know, made us examine what do we meant by the term Negro. It also may us aware that we did need a change of name. Negro was a title that did have a specific relevance and meaning at a certain historical phase and our struggle in America. We needed something else. Now in '64 along comes a Stokely Carmichael and he starts talking about a relatively new concept Black power. And, um, I was amazed at the response the terms got and upon reflection I can understand why. America has always looked upon Black as potentially frightening no matter what else they feel about it. And to some degree America still feel's there's something in the Black thing is scary. Stokely combined Black which was a frightening concept with power. Oh, God that's too much. So everybody sort of tended to sort of run away from Black but the more people ran from it the more we felt hey this shakes things up. So we will no longer be Negroes we'll be Black. But even the term Black ah has its own place in the historical struggle. Now we are looking for a new definition. We call ourselves now African-Americans. And as long as there is a contradiction between how we define ourselves and we are defined by White America we will keep looking for that definition that satisfies both us and them. We haven't found it yet. I don't think African-American is the final answer. It serves a need. It moves us closer to our goal but we're going call ourselves something else.

QUESTION 4
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

That's entirely different from our identity because we, we, we've known--

OSSIE DAVIS:

We've known who we are, but you know how do we present who we are so that the rest of the world will respect us for who we are?

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

OK, lets stop down.



QUESTION 5
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

You told me you first became aware of the Nation and of Malcolm through a film called "The Hate that Hate Produced". Describe your reaction to that documentary its '59 or '60 or so. Tell me about that.

OSSIE DAVIS:

Well, I don't remember very much about the documentary except that young man with his flaming--well it wasn't red hair, you know--lean and gaunt and quite capable of using language to open wounds. I was amazed at his capacity to communicate and at the naked honesty with which he expressed his feelings about Black people, about White people. He scared me. I'm sure he intended to, but certainly after I saw him in "The Hate That Hate Produced," I knew that I would never forget this man. Now I had known a little bit by reading and other things that there was, you know, the Black Muslims. I had heard about them in general terms but it was that film ah that brought it into focus. Plus the fact that Ruby and I knew Louis Lomax. I had grown up as a boy in Georgia in the same town that Louis came from and knew his family and his uncle. And we also got to know Mike Wallace on a personal basis and they talked to us about what was happening behind the scene and everything like that. But the film did make an impact on everybody and introduced Malcolm to a national audience which gave him a great opportunity which he took full advantage of.

QUESTION 6
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Can you recall your first encounter with this lean gaunt man?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Yeah, I do, I do indeed. Ruby and I had been invited in 1968 to come to a platform in front of the Theresa Hotel in Harlem where we were going to celebrate with the NAACP the eighth anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision. And, ah, no, that was '64 I think it was, yes it was '64. And we, ah, we sat on the platform, but for some reason, ah, nobody was permitted to speak. There was a tremendous furor in the people who gathered and when the regular speakers got up, ah, ah, Roy Wilkins, everybody booed and made us all sit down. I think I even got up and tried to say a word, but I was booed roundly. In other words, that, that rally came to naught. As we were leaving the platform I was aware of several young men standing and they were neat and they were clean and they had their hair cut and all that. I knew that these were, ah, Black Muslims. And I thought that it was the Black Muslims who had organized the disruptions so I spoke to one of the brothers. "Well, ah, ha, you and me, you and Malcolm, you've done it, you've, ah, you know, disrupted the rally." He said, "Oh, no, brother, no, that wasn't us, that wasn't Malcolm, that was some someone else, we don't disrupt rallies." You know, and I was rather impressed by that--hmm hmm--better check this out. Meanwhile Ruby's brother, ah, got to know the Muslims very well and became interested in them and talked to us about Malcolm, about Elijah Muhammad and what they were they were trying to do and, ah, persuaded us on one Sunday afternoon--well, he'd been talking to us, but after the Harlem thing his invitation to go to the mosque in the afternoon and listen to Malcolm X. We decided to accept it. So the first time I actually saw him was in the mosque in Harlem one Sunday afternoon as he preached one of his sermons. It was of course a long-winded sermon, but every minute of it was interesting, bubbling, full of excitement and stings, and his capacity to rip the hide off everybody within sight, you know, was, it was beautiful. And, and he said, "I can smell the hog on ya." You know, he, he was the master at putting you at a total disadvantage, you know. And he described how we as Black folks smelled, he described how we looked, he described how we felt. Then he described what caused us to feel that way. You know, "The chains of slavery are still in your mind and in your heads and you, you look at the White man and, and you love 'em. That's what you, you hate the fact that he let you go from slavery, you want to go back there." You know, "But, but no, the honorable Elijah Muhammad is here now and we going to change all that, you know, the righteous Black man is on the scene and we're not going to be satisfied with you and, and your shucking and jiving, the time has come."** I was impressed by the man. You know, I wasn't converted, you know. I, I knew a, a trick or two myself, but I was impressed with him.

QUESTION 7
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Now when later when you got to know him, you invited him up to your home to introduce him to others because there was a lot of curiosity like your curiosity about who this was and what this was about, the kind of impact it was having on people. Can you describe to me that personality an occasion ?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Yes.

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

--

OSSIE DAVIS:

Yes. Malcolm, as I said before, had created a lot of excitement in the Black community, but also we were aware or felt that it was somewhat dangerous to be too closely associated to Malcolm. He was saying some pretty rough things, particularly about Whites. And, ah, those of us who wanted to keep peace with the White world, some of us, you know, had our jobs out in the White community. We didn't really want to get too close to Malcolm. Also you must remember that in the '50s and during the red-baiting period, everybody had learned to be a little wary of everybody else, ten-foot poles was the style of social intercourse in those days. So, ah, but I did have friends, ah, who asked me, they'd say, "Hey man, we saw a picture of you and Ruby, ah, with Malcolm X, what's that all about?" And we couldn't answer, we talked to our brother-in-law, but he didn't, you know, he wasn't a scholar, he just knew Malcolm and, and admired him greatly. And, ah, we had gone to the mosque, ah, to the restaurant at the mosque and had met him for lunch and discussed various things and were impressed with him. And we'd ask him questions and we said, "Hey a lot of people, you know, ah, want to know what you, what you really are about, but they are afraid to come to the restaurant or to the mosque, but they, they're, they're still curious." And he, he jumped at that, nothing pleased him more than going out, you know, to proselytize and to convert, he was a missionary of the first order and any opportunity he had to talk to anybody, he grabbed it. So, ah, we invited him to come out to our house in Mt. Vernon one afternoon. He came and he brought with him, ah, Herbert Muhammad who had his camera and went around taking pictures. And, ah, Sidney Poitier, he was there, John O. Killens was there, Lonnie Sattin and his wife Tina were there and a few other people. And we sat down and said, "Hey, Malcolm, now look," you know, "Brother, we understand the game." You know, "You're going around shaking the White folks. OK, we understand that, but what's your program for Black folks," you know. "What's your economic program? Is everybody going to have to become a Black Muslim in order to share in this kingdom? Are you really convinced that six or seven states in the South would be viable? I am, is that where you're really going?" You know, you know, "Come on, level. Ain't nobody listening, the cameras are not here, television is not here, come on--"

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

We got roll out we're going to have to pick that up--

OSSIE DAVIS:

OK





QUESTION 08
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

OK, you got the brother up at the house your talking to him about asking him what do programs for Black people tying them up into knots.

OSSIE DAVIS:

Yes, um, I think I should mention that my memory has played tricks on me. This was really in '62 not even in '62 and that becomes important as I'll explain later. But we got Malcolm to the house and we felt we had him cornered. And we asked him all the questions that we thought were pertinent. You know, "What is your program offering Black people really? Do we all have to join and become Black Muslims to participate in your kingdom? Or is there a program that you have that affects all Black folks basically on because we're Black." He never really answered that problem, that, that, that question. We learned later of course that the, ah, he the that whatever economic program they had was a rather limited one. And you know wouldn't really havve solved all of our problems. And he had some thoughts but he was very careful not to let his thoughts get ahead of what he thought was Elijah Muhammad's thoughts and policies on the question. And when we would, you know, run him into a corner he would say "Well, the honorable Elijah Muhammad says--" "Hold it brother, hold it now. We're not talking to the honorable Elijah Muhammad. We're talking to you. What do you think, Malcolm, we should do?" On one occasion he said, "Look, I am like the man who goes inside the lion's cave to rescue the brother that is supposed to be the lion's next meal. Now the brother wants to know what you going to do. And the bro- the man, you know, ah, ah, I can't tell the brother what my plans are, how I intend to rescue him because the lion is listening. So we, we have ideas we have plans but we can't tell everybody now because the enemy will find out." Well, the truth was that you know they had not really worked out a sufficiently broad economic plan. But it did indicate to us the kind of person Malcolm was. And those of us who were there became his friends 'cause we knew there was a honest, earnest, dedicated young brother. And we had seen many leaders, White and Black, and have been able to gage their integrity, their honesty, and their degree of commitment. And while we loved all the leaders and we worked for all the leaders, Malcolm was by far morally the most pure person that we ever ran across.

QUESTION 9
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

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.

OSSIE DAVIS:

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."

QUESTION 10
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Well now at that meeting do you recall any exchange between Malcolm X and anyone else? It wouldn't betray a confidence or anything?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Oh, yes.

QUESTION 11
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Something that you could tell me.

OSSIE DAVIS:

Oh, yes.



QUESTION 12
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

You were telling me about this meeting and I asked you, you do you recall an exchange between one of the, if you will, mainline civil rights leaders and Malcolm X.

OSSIE DAVIS:

Well, this exchange was between Lorraine Hansberry and Malcolm X. She, of course, was not a main line civil rights leader but she did have a bone to pick with brother Malcolm and she picked it well. Lorraine was married to Bob Nemiroff who's White and Malcolm had made some very--some statements about Blacks marrying Whites, you know, that were devastating. You know, he, he was against it and that that was against the law of God and all kinds of things like that. So she took him to task about that. And he looked at her and he apologized. He said, "I said that because that's what I thought at that time. But I'm sorry that I said that because I see now that that's wrong and I hope you will understand and forgive me because you know I've changed my thinking and I'm, you know, I'm bold enough to say that I've changed my thinking. I'm sorry about that but that's what I believed at that moment." And she was prepared to forgive him. Now the other civil rights leaders in no instance was there any contention or even debate among them and Malcolm. Nobody was out trying to shoot Malcolm down because remember he himself, you know, had just gone through a very devastating time. He had been ran out of the Nation of Islam and was suffering a great deal from his rejection by Elijah Muhammad so nobody, you know, wanted to take advantage of that. What was discussed was what were the practical ways in which Malcolm could begin to get on board with the regular civil rights leaders but at the same time retain enough threat to serve his old purpose you know. How can Malcolm be a part of us and at the same time serve the function of being outside saying, "Look, if you don't deal with them, you're going to have to deal with me." So tactics were at issue and, ah, he was a brilliant man he could be an overpowering man but at that meeting he was very deliberately a student, listening, and asking very polite questions to those leaders but determined at the bottom line to be included. He wanted to be a part of that struggle.

QUESTION 13
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Now tell me something. You were telling me something about how, at the break with Elijah Muhammad, he visited you one evening.

OSSIE DAVIS:

Yes.

QUESTION 14
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Tell me that story.



QUESTION 15
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

All right, tell me about after Malcolm after the break he visited you at this house. Tell me about that.

OSSIE DAVIS:

Well, we had kept pretty close touch with Malcolm all through the time after we first, after he came to our house the first time. And so it was, you know, when he was excommunicated, so to speak, we were some of the people to whom Malcolm would come to talk. John O. Killens, Sylvester Leeks, myself, and some others. So, he, he new that he could trust us and we knew that, that we could trust him. And we talked to him on the phone and when he went to Africa he wrote us letters and things like that. And then when he came back and it was approaching the end and he sensed, you know, that his time was not going to be too long, one day, I forget who at who's, ah, ah, behest the whole thing, whether we called him and invited him or whether he called us and said he wanted to come up, but one day he came to the house here in this very room and he was alone.

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Lets stop.



QUESTION 16
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

He comes up to the house--

OSSIE DAVIS:

Well the meeting was for ten o'clock and ten o'clock exactly he knocks on the door and we let him in. He comes into this very room and he sits there and we talk to him. He says first of all that he, he had arrived early but because he was ahead of time he'd driven around the block a couple of times. He wanted to be exactly on time and he was. We sat and listened. We didn't have any questions we knew what the anguish was. We knew what was happening and he just seemed to need a friendly ear. So we let him talk and he talked about his time in prison. He talked about the times when he first heard of Elijah Muhammad and the change it made in his life. The things that happened. The things that he saw. The wonderful feeling when he finally found something that told him in spite of all that America had said and done to him that he was a man and he could never forget that. And he could never forget the picture of Elijah Muhammad as he came to him in prison in his imagination. This man who had lost his own father, I think, in an accident on the street car by the Ku Klux Klan or something, who needed a strong father figure and there, in the depth of his prison degradation, he comes across this one figure that reaches down and says, "Malcolm, my son, you're a man." And Elijah Muhammad remained a father figure to Malcolm. And as he sat there, it was evident that if Elijah Muhammad had just done that at that moment whatever the differences were between them, Malcolm would have been off and running. He expressed that deep hurt within him that his father had rejected him. And in describing the situation you know he went all the way back talked about revolutions talked about the American Revolution. Talked about the Russian Revolution. And he had read about the revolutions and knew the Founding Fathers and the theories. He knew what Lenin had written and all that. And he said you know to some degree, "What's happening to me and to other Black Muslims is not unlike what happened at that stage in the Russian Revolution. When the time came for it to make a change some people had to go no matter how loved and important they had been in the initial stage and, ah, now I guess its my time to go." We'd, you know, we'd never heard him quite as subjective and though he wasn't defeatist but he was philosophical. He put into perspective for us his life and his death which he prophesied and what it meant and what it should mean and, ah, we sat, we talked and sometimes we felt close to tears and other times he had us laughing. And then you know after about thirty or forty minutes we chatted on and he, he, he left. That was the last time he was, ah, at the house and it still is vivid in my mind. I, I never quite had an experience like that with a man or with anybody. Somebody so open, so vulnerable, but not helpless you know. He, he solidified his meaning to us as a son and as a brother at that time. And I've know a lot of leaders and been close to a lot of leaders but not, none, to none have I been as closely bonded as I was at that moment to Malcolm X.

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Yes, cut.



QUESTION 17
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

You remember I was telling you on the phone that one person took little film and said for the first time I saw Malcolm X smile and that's something I'll take away with me when I see this movie. He caused you to laugh a lot. Do you remember anything or can you give me an idea?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Yes. Malcolm had excess to folk humor and street wit, you know, which he used magnificently. And he described often debates and encounters he had with traditional civil rights leaders. And, ah, I will leave them nameless but his capacity to, to, ah, imitate, ah, you know, to give you a thumbnail feeling of who they were and where they came from was devastating. And one of the things he, he spoke about was about somebody who was so Black, you know, the Blackest brother who ever lived and he went to the man's house and knocked on the door and the brother stepped out, man, and greeted him Blackly you know and it was so Black, you know, the sun could hardly get into the hallway. And then he introduced him to his wife who was White and blonde and Malcolm laughed that the brother had these two different standards of what was beautiful. His humor always had a point. A political point. A cultural point. To help us regenerate ourselves from the degradation he felt that we that was imposed on us by living in this exploitative society. His humor was never cruel it was never denigrating in that sense of the word. It always meant to help you get rid of some illusion so you could move on up a little higher.

QUESTION 18
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

You called the brother--





QUESTION 19
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

All right, you described him as a surgeon who sought to lance the boil of self-hatred. How is that true about him?

OSSIE DAVIS:

He was keenly aware of the nature of the oppression under which we operate under American society. He was keenly aware that the truly operative chains was somewhat like that other two thirds of an iceberg under the surface, that most of us Blacks or Negroes as he called us really thought we were free without being aware that in our subconscious all those chains we thought had been struck off were still there and there were many ways where what really motivated us, motivated us, was our desire to be loved by the White man. And that we would do anything destroy ourselves, our mothers, our sisters, our society, our communities, if only the White man would smile at us. And that some of our leaders some of our greatest leaders were guilty of this sickness and this disease. Malcolm sought to excise, to, ah, dig out that boil in our psyche, you know. And he used humor because traditionally we Blacks have always had recourse to our own sense of humor to keep us on track. Malcolm would use that but he definitely meant to lance that sense of inferiority. He knew it would be painful. He knew that people could kill you because of it. But he dared to take that risk. Malcolm insisted that we be men even if it killed us.

QUESTION 20
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Now way, how did you learn of his death and what was your reaction? How did it get to you?

OSSIE DAVIS:

Ruby and I were with Lerone Bennett at a meeting to study for the associate for the study of Negro life and history and we came from there to Ruby's mother and we were sitting watching the television. I think some Russian Ballet was on or something like that on that Sunday. And then the program was interrupted and the announcement was made that Malcolm X had been shot. It was--we were less than ten blocks away and, ah, as a matter of fact, had we had not had this previous engagement we would have been at the that, that--I forget the place now, the Audubon. Was it the Audubon? Because we knew that Malcolm was supposed on that day to reveal his new program, the one that we had tried to get him to spell out way back at Five Cooley Place. But we couldn't make it, but Malcolm at that time was living at Ruby's brother's house because his house had been fire bombed. So we knew that, ah, Tommy Wallace was going to drive the family to that meeting because Malcolm, of course, was not living at home. We heard the news and we sat stunned as everybody was stunned And that night we went into the Harlem community to walk and mingle with the people. There was a kind of sense of loss and as we passed people, some who were even strangers we would stop and greet each other and, and, and say what this man had meant to us**. And I felt, in Harlem, a determination to say something about who the man was because at that time the headlines were full of so many awful things. He was being described as a mad dog whose violence had killed him, and that sort of thing. There was a feeling in the community that this was not so, that we had to do something to let the world know what we, in Harlem, thought of this man. That we loved him, respected, and admired him. And the week after his death we in the community went around trying to come up with something by way of the funeral that would refute all of this negativity and say once and for all who this man was. I was approached ultimately by Sylvester Leeks and, ah, Percy Sutton, ah, who said that they wanted me to give the eulogy at Malcolm's funeral. I said, "Why me? I'm not a member I'm, I'm a friend but why me?" "Well, you're the least controversial person we can think of. The Muslims would accept you. The left wing will accept you. The right wing will accept you. The Black folks will accept you. The White folks will accept you. So you're it." I said, "Al right," and I accepted that. Meanwhile we went around with sister Betty Shabazz's blessings trying to find the house where we could hold the funeral. And a lot of the churches in Harlem, though the ministers knew and admired Malcolm, would not open their doors. And we could understand why. Because Malcolm was killed on Sunday, on Tuesday night the mosque was fire bombed and everybody feared that at the funeral some big explosion was going to take place and nobody wanted his church to be the place. Finally, there was a place on Amsterdam Avenue that opened up but their expectations that violence was going to take place pervaded the whole atmosphere. You know, it was like an armed camp. Ruby and I arrived early that Saturday morning for the funeral, walked through the community which was quiet and still, you know. And the police were everywhere and we went in, ah, to the, ah, to the church and the body was there. But there were police there you know and, ah, we didn't know what was going to happen. People were being searched and, you know, all kinds of things were taking place. As a matter of fact, the night before the funeral, Ruby's brother had called and said, "From what I hear on the streets, I don't know what's going to happen. I suggest that you guys, maybe you shouldn't go." And we sat up, you know, in that kitchen until three or four o'clock in the morning deciding whether we would go. We decided to go and I sat down and wrote a few words that I would say. And we went in and, ah, our job was to sort of announce who was speaking next and, ah, where this telegram came from and various other things. And then it was my moment to deliver the eulogy, ah, to Malcolm and there he was, you know, lying before me and all of us this beautiful magnificent spirit, you know, and it was, ah, all I could do to keep my own personal emotions out of what I was saying because, of all the leaders that I knew and loved and admired and have walked with and walked behind, this one, as I said before, had been closest to me. I felt I was losing a son. But I had an assignment. And that assignment was to say something that would let the world know what Harlem felt about this moment and about this brother. To dignify the occasion in a way that was worthy of a man who stood with the greatest leaders we ever produced. And, ah, so it was that I said what I had to say at that time and I suppose, ah, ah, in terms of the total effect it, it, it, it did the job. When the funeral was over and Malcolm was taken--he was stripped of his western clothes and then the Muslims came and dressed him for proper Muslim burial--they had a service and after that the coffin was closed. We all got in. We went out to Ardsley, the cemetery, and when we got there you know the professional grave diggers were standing there with their shovels but some of the Black brothers said, "No, ah, ah, we can't let you do that. We dig this grave, you know, we cover this brother with dirt." And it was a moving moment and I was proud at that moment to be Black. And proud that my community and people, no matter what had been said by the outside world, said to the brother we loved and respected and admired you. And so we buried him and there it is**.

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

OK that's not bad.



QUESTION 21
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

Of the few words you wrote about Malcolm in that eulogy, ones that stand out, "On you is our manhood, our shining Black prince." Tell me about that and relate it to anything you want relate it too just like Malcolm.

OSSIE DAVIS:

Well, it seemed to me that Malcolm spoke directly to the emasculation of the Black male in particular. And Malcolm wanted to heal that emasculation. He wanted to teach us how in spite of that to be men again. So, I thought that I would like my children and generations to come to know this most important aspect of Malcolm X, that he was indeed our manhood, you know, our shining Black prince who didn't hesitate to die because he loved us so. I thought that in honoring him we honored the best in ourselves and I wanted that to be a part of what the world would remember when they thought of Malcolm.

MADISON DAVIS LACY:

OK we can stop down now.