Spike Lee's film sparks interest and controversy among college students

By Bronwen Hruska and Juliann Garey
November 27, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Even before its theatrical opening, Spike Lee’s movie stirred interest in Malcolm X on college campuses around the country. Rallies and discussions have brought continuing racial resentments home to roost at many schools and have highlighted controversies about the radical Nation of Islam, which Malcolm once represented (he broke from the organization in 1964). Some of the events:

On Nov. 9, Columbia University’s Black Students’ Organization sponsored a talk by the Nation of Islam’s Minister of Information, Khalid Mohammad, as part of a lecture series on Malcolm X. In a four-hour speech, largely devoted to defending Louis Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism, Mohammad discussed what he called the oppression of blacks by whites and Jews. Among the books that the NOI sold outside the hall was one that called the Holocaust a hoax. ”Someone might have to introduce you to the door or the stairs or the sidewalk, headfirst,” Mohammad said to one Jewish student who had jumped up to ask a question in what the speaker took to be a provocative manner.

BSO president Rodney Crump defended the group’s decision to invite a speaker from the sect that many suspect ordered Malcolm’s death, claiming the NOI was an integral part of Malcolm X’s life.

At the University of Rhode Island, at midnight on Nov. 10, 300 students took over a campus building, proclaimed it Malcolm X Hall, and went on a hunger strike to protest, among other things, the abridgment of a quotation by the black leader on the wall of URI’s library: ”I could spend the rest of my life reading…Just satisfying my curiosity.” The full quotation begins, ”If I weren’t out here battling the white man every day, I could spend the rest of my life reading.”

At the University of California at Berkeley, student groups sponsored a film about Malcolm X and a lecture by Muslim leader Abdul Malik. ”There were different Malcolm Xs,” he told the group of 400, ”and you have to know which Malcolm you’re quoting.” He also told the audience, people should not make assumptions on the basis of skin color. ”Today, there are a lot of black devils out there,” he said. ”They look like us but are not down with us and there are whites out there who are with us.”