03/20/07 - early malcolm x

In today's excerpt - the Los Angeles police kill and wound several black members of the Nation of Islam in a highly controversial 1962 incident. For the trial that follows, these members need legal representation but find it very difficult to secure given the controversy. Malcolm X, little known but already with a feared reputation, spearheads the effort to secure a lawyer by approaching Earl Broady, a former police officer and perhaps the only black lawyer with the expertise and connections to adequately handle the case:

"For Earl Broady, the Malcolm X who appeared unannounced at his office seemed quite different from the daredevil Black Muslim in the news. He spoke with evenhanded precision to reconstruct the chaos, and asked for Broady's representation in the criminal trials he felt were sure to come, calculating that the state must prosecute the Muslims in order to ward off civil damage suits. Broady turned Malcolm away more than once, saying he was too busy and too close to Chief Parker. As a policeman himself from 1929 to 1946, before entering the law, Broady saw Parker as a reform autocrat in the style of J. Edgar Hoover, and gave him credit for modest improvements over the frontier corruptions of the old Raymond Chandler—era LAPD. Broady's wife, a devout Methodist, objected vehemently to the case on the grounds that the Muslims were openly anti-Christian, unlike the worst of his ordinary criminal clients, and Broady himself resented the Nation of Islam, drawn largely from stereotypical lowlifes as an embarrassment to the hard-earned respectability of middle-class Negroes. The Broadys recently had acquired an imposing white colonnade home in Beverly Hills, where Malcolm X visited when he could not find Broady at the office—calling day after day, always alone with a briefcase, playing on Broady's personal knowledge of the harsh, segregated inner world of the LAPD precincts. His patient appeals, plus the largest retainer offer in Broady's career, finally induced the lawyer to take the case. ...

"[This] case marked a turning point in the hidden odyssey that surfaced Malcolm X as an enduring phenomenon of race. He saw the shootings as a fundamental crisis in several respects—first as a test of Muhammad's teachings on manhood and truth. Ever since the Montgomery bus boycotts of 1955-56, Malcolm had criticized Martin Luther King as a 'traitor to the Negro people', disparaging his non-violence as 'this little passive resistance or wait-until-you-change-your-mind-and-then-let-me-up philosophy', and he did not hesitate to ridicule a national movement built on sit-ins and Freedom Rides. 'Anybody can sit', said Malcolm. 'An old woman can sit. A coward can sit. ... It takes a man to stand.' Always there was an element of swagger in Malcolm's appeal, and at times a bristling military posture: 'You might see these Negroes who believe in nonviolence and mistake us for one of them, and put your hands on us thinking that we're going to turn the other cheek—and we'll put you to death, just like that.' "


Taylor Branch


Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965


Simon and Schuster


Copyright 1998 by Taylor Branch


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