Malcolm X and the Sudanese


Malcolm X is shown with his 16mm Bell and Howell motion picture camera at JFK International Airport on July 9, 1964, before his departure for Egypt PHOTO/Matty Zimmerman/AP

Sudan and Sudanese people left a deep imprint on Malcolm X and his activism.

Over the past year, the Sudanese revolution has sparked a renewed interest in pan-Africanism among Sudanese youth, as Nubian culture is celebrated and the ideas of revolutionary African leaders like Amical Cabral and Thomas Sankara are re-examined.

But it seems few people are aware of how much Malcolm X was drawn to the Nubian civilisation and deeply impacted by Sudan. Much has been made of his trips to Africa, his interaction with people like Ghana’s anti-colonial leader Kwame Nkrumah and Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the cultural consequences of his visits.

But the impact of Sudan on Malcolm X’s thinking – and Sudan’s subsequent influence on African American culture – remain unexplored.

In July 1959, Malcolm X took his first trip to Africa. Travelling as an ambassador for the Nation of Islam and with a passport issued in his new name, Malik el-Shabazz, the young minister visited Sudan, Nigeria, and Egypt – and a few months later Ghana, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Malcolm X’s sojourn in Sudan seems to have been formative, leaving a powerful impression on the 34-year-old. Until the end of his life he praised the Sudanese for their kindness and solidarity, and recalled the wonders of the city of Omdurman.

His travel diaries and letters are sprinkled with references to the Sudanese. In one entry in April 1964, he writes of the “quiet confidence” of the Sudanese – in another, he says, “I never cease to be impressed by the Sudanese.”

On August 22, 1959, Malcolm X wired a letter to The New York Amsterdam News stating that people in Africa seemed more concerned about the plight of their “brothers in America” than their own conditions; and that Africans saw America’s treatment of black people as a “yardstick” by which to measure the sincerity of America’s offer of assistance. He often mentioned the Sudanese as evidence of Africa’s support for the African American struggle. 

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