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Malcolm X, Barack Obama and Oginga Odinga

February 22, 2009

by Norman (Otis) Richmond

Malcolm X in Africa 1964
Malcolm X in Africa 1964
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated 44 years ago, on Feb. 21, 1965, because of his attempt to internationalize the African American struggle for self-determination.

Malcolm would have been 84 years old on May 19, 2009. Africans in New York City have made a pilgrimage to Malcolm’s gravesite every year since Feb. 21, 1966. While it is unlikely that U.S. President Barack Obama will acknowledge Malcolm’s joining the ancestors, people from Cape Town to Nova Scotia and Brazil to Brixton definitely will.

Unlike other U.S. presidents, President Obama knows who Malcolm was and what he stands for. Like many males with African roots, President Obama was moved by Malcolm’s life story. A cursory reading of his autobiography, “Dreams from My Father,” will prove this point.

President Obama is truly an African American; parts of his roots are with the Luo people in East Africa. The Luo are an ethnic group in Kenya, Eastern Uganda and Northern Tanzania. The Luo are the third largest ethnic group (13 percent) in Kenya, after the Kikuyu (20 percent) and the Luhya (17 percent). The Luo and the Kikuyu inherited the bulk of political power in the first years following Kenya’s independence in 1963.

When Malcolm visited Africa in 1964, he visited Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It was during that trip that he met with Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta, Ugandan President Dr. Milton Obote, and President Julius K. Nyerere and Muhammad Babu of Tanzania. Babu, Malcolm and Leroi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) held a meeting during this period in New York City. Malcolm talked about meeting President Kenyatta. Malcolm, however, was also aware of Kenya’s Oginga Odinga.

The original caption for this photo, taken June 1, 1963, reads: “Nairobi, Kenya – Waving his ‘wisk’ the newly-elected Premier of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta (R, foreground), greeted throngs of cheering citizens as he rode through the streets of Nairobi. Accompanying Kenyatta are Tom Mboya (L), Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; A. Oginga Odinga, Minister for Home Affairs; and James S. Gichuru, Minister for Finance. The motorcade was part of the National Holiday celebrations which marked the start of internal self-government for the African nation.” Photo: © Bettmann/CORBIS
The original caption for this photo, taken June 1, 1963, reads: “Nairobi, Kenya – Waving his ‘wisk’ the newly-elected Premier of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta (R, foreground), greeted throngs of cheering citizens as he rode through the streets of Nairobi. Accompanying Kenyatta are Tom Mboya (L), Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; A. Oginga Odinga, Minister for Home Affairs; and James S. Gichuru, Minister for Finance. The motorcade was part of the National Holiday celebrations which marked the start of internal self-government for the African nation.” Photo: © Bettmann/CORBIS
When Malcolm was killed in 1965, Kenyatta was still in power and Odinga and Kenyatta were still comrades. Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga (1911-Jan. 20, 1994) was a Luo chief who became a prominent figure in Kenya’s struggle for independence.

He later served as Kenya’s first vice president and a member of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and thereafter as opposition leader. Odinga’s son, Raila Odinga, is the current prime minister, and another son, Oburu Odinga, is assistant minister for finance in the 2008 Grand Coalition government. Odinga was vice president of Kenya in 1964-66 but, in 1969, he was placed under house arrest due to his opposition to the KANU government.

Odinga had an impact on human rights groups in the United States. While he was in the U.S., the State Department took him on a tour of America. The last stop was Atlanta, self-described as “The City Too Busy to Hate.” Odinga was housed at one of Atlanta’s two non-segregated hotels.

When the activists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) heard about Odinga’s visit, they decided to “pull his coat” and provide him with information that would be neglected by the State Department. They visited Odinga’s hotel room and shared stories and songs of the human-rights movement to acquaint this African visitor with how the United States treated her African population.

He responded, “Uhuru,” the Swahili word for “freedom.” Following their visit to Odinga, the SNCC delegation went to the Toddle House restaurant near the hotel. They sat in to protest the restaurant’s “whites only” policy, and 17 were arrested.

“Immediately after these events, Knoxville’s Matthew Jones, a SNCC worker, wrote a song, ‘Oginga Odinga of Kenya,’ telling this story. Odinga described the racial situation in America as ‘very pitiful.’ Soon the Toddle House restaurants chose to desegregate,” recalled Jones in an interview.

“Oginga Odinga of Kenya” became one of Malcolm’s favorite songs. Malcolm and the legendary human rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party shared the platform at a church in Harlem. The Freedom Singers of SNCC performed various songs, including “Oginga Odinga of Kenya.”

A vendor sells Obama wheel covers on Oginga Odinga Street in Kisumu, Kenya, on Jan. 19, the day before President Obama’s inauguration. – Photo: Fred Ooko, AP
A vendor sells Obama wheel covers on Oginga Odinga Street in Kisumu, Kenya, on Jan. 19, the day before President Obama’s inauguration. – Photo: Fred Ooko, AP
One of the reasons over 90 percent of the African population in the United States gave their support to President Obama and not Sen. Hillary Clinton was his opposition to the war in Iraq. Africans in American have always been in the vanguard of opposing imperialist wars. The great Nevis-born African Caribbean leader Cyril Briggs, who helped found the African Blood Brotherhood in 1919, was fired from his job at the New York Amsterdam News for speaking against World War I.

Contrary to popular belief, it was Malcolm, not Martin Luther King, who first opposed the war in Vietnam. Malcolm was the first African American leader of national prominence in the 1960s to condemn the war. He was later joined by organizations like the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and the SNCC, the Black Panther Party, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the Republic of New Africa.

This was in the tradition of David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Martin R. Delaney, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Cyril Briggs, Claudia Jones, Ella Baker and Paul Robeson.

Malcolm continued this anti-imperialist tradition. He continued to link the struggles of African people worldwide. King always maintained, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He came out against the Vietnam War with his famous April 4, 1967, speech at Riverside Church in New York City.

On a visit to Kenya in August of 2006, Barack Obama was hosted by Raila Odinga, son of Oginga Odinga, and is said to have spoken in praise of him at rallies in Nairobi, for which Obama is roundly condemned in the right-wing blogosphere.
On a visit to Kenya in August of 2006, Barack Obama was hosted by Raila Odinga, son of Oginga Odinga, and is said to have spoken in praise of him at rallies in Nairobi, for which Obama is roundly condemned in the right-wing blogosphere.
What direction will President Obama take on international affairs? Will or will he not send troops to Afghanistan? What stand will he take on the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)? Which tradition will he follow? Will he take an anti-imperialist stance like Malcolm and Odinga or will he follow in the footsteps of his fellow American presidents? Time will tell.

Norman Richmond can be contacted at norman@ckln.fm.

Becoming aware of Africa

Stokely Carmichael, Charlie Cobb and George Greene of SNCC at a 1963 protest in Atlanta, Georgia – Photo: Danny Lyon, Magnum
Stokely Carmichael, Charlie Cobb and George Greene of SNCC at a 1963 protest in Atlanta, Georgia – Photo: Danny Lyon, Magnum
This is an excerpt from “No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000,” edited by William Minter, Gail Hovey and Charles Cobb Jr., who was field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi from 1962 to 1967. The book is available from http://www.noeasyvictories.org and http://www.africaworldpressbooks.com. Charles Cobb Jr. writes:

It was in ’63 that we really started to become aware of Africa, as I remember. Oginga Odinga, who was at that time the vice president of Kenya, was touring the United States, and one of the places he visited was Atlanta, Georgia.

A whole bunch of us went to see him, just because he was an African leader. There was no political assessment of Kenya, or any of that. He was a black guy who was a vice president of a country, and we had just never seen that. He was staying at some posh hotel in downtown Atlanta, and he saw us. We had this talk, and shook his hand; it was a big thing.

Afterwards we decided to go have coffee at a restaurant next door to the hotel, and we were all refused service. We were kind of high on meeting this black leader, and so naturally we refused to leave the restaurant, and we all got arrested. Oginga Odinga became a known name in the organization. There were songs written about him. Because of this incident, discussion started.

Oginga Odinga

I went down to the Peach Tree Manor
To see Oginga Odinga
The police said ” Well, what’s the matter?”
To see Oginga Odinga.

Oginga Odinga, Oginga Odinga
Oginga Odinga of Kenya
Oginga Odinga, Oginga Odinga
Oginga Odinga of Kenya.

Uhuru, uhuru
Freedom now, freedom now
The folks in Mississippi
Will knock you on your rump
And if you holler FREEDOM
They’ll throw you in the swamp.

9 thoughts on “Malcolm X, Barack Obama and Oginga Odinga

  1. Stephen Bradford Groton

    Malcolm X brought dignity to men. He did so with basics:
    Self Reliance
    Literacy
    Faith
    Fidelity to Family
    Sobriety

    After his pilgrimage to Mecca he saw the larger picture and it had less to do with races than with mankind. He became dangerous to vested interests at that point. Keeping racial conflict inflamed fits the needs of those interests. The truth of our oneness, our spiritual nature, our individual potential power has always been a threat to vested interests. They become cowardly perpetrators of conflict. Malcolm X would have understood this: Those who create and perpetuate conflict are the true enemies of mankind. Had he lived he may well have become the greatest leader of the century, certainly of the second half. I did not appreciate him when he was alive. I feel I somehow failed him. He is missed.

    Reply
  2. Nurriddeenah Abdullah

    Hmmmm. What to say about the world’s Prince Malcolm… So many things.He is the living example of one of the world’s most Beautiful spirits! He showed us through living example things that we thought were traditionally impossible.Coming out from the deepest and darkest hut of society and emerging through faith, self-revolution, and self-determination into the husband Malcolm, the father Malcolm, the friend Malcolm, the leader Malcolm, the Prince Malcolm and the Great Spirit Malcolm! He awakened the somber spirit of mankind to act in its most pure and humble of forms. He infected so many with power, of whom were the downtrodden, the sunken, the weak and the miserable of society. He loved his people, kidnapped Africans living in America when nobody loved them, not even themselves. He grew to learn and firmly believe that the oppression of his Africans in the Americas was inseparable from the oppression suffered by his sisters and brothers and friends on the continent itself. This emerged into his truth that the oppression of both of these was inseparable from the oppressions suffered by all peoples in the Entire World! He said,”The only way we’ll get freedom for ourselves is to identify ourselves with every oppressed people in the world. We are blood brothers to the people of Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti… Cuba – yes Cuba too.” He spoke up for those who very little or nobody spoke up for. He educated himself and closely watched the actions of those taken by the oppressed people across the seas to gain their Independence. Everything he did was for the Liberation of his peoples, all peoples. That was his ultimate aim. And he is of Islam’s martyrs. Yes Prince Malcolm, thank you…
    “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”-Prince Malcolm X.

    Reply
  3. Nurriddeenah Abdullah

    Those who are dead are never gone, they are in the thickening shadow.-African Poem.

    Do not suppose that those killed in the Way of God are dead. No indeed! They are alive and well provided for in the very presence of their Lord, delighting in the favour God has bestowed on them, rejoicing over those they left behind who have not yet joined them, feeling no fear and knowing no sorrow, rejoicing in blessings and favour from God and that God does not let the wage of the believers go to waste.-Qur’an.
    Their Lord responds to them: ‘I will not let the deeds of any doer among you go to waste, male or female – you are both the same in that respect. Those who have left their homes or been driven out therefrom or suffered harm in My Cause and fought and were killed, I will erase their bad actions from them and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing under them, as a reward from God. The best of all rewards is with God- Qur’an.

    Reply
  4. makeda

    Malcolm, you remain our shining melanin prince. Your words remain as valid today as 100 years ago. I loved you then and I love you now.

    Reply
  5. Sunnstarr

    First of all, there is a Kenyan Birth Certificate for Obama and it has been submitted as evidence to Judge David O. Carter in California, complete with an affidavit from Lucas Smith, the man who obtained it in Mombassa.

    Second, there was a supporting document released yesterday (October 21, 2009) with signatures from Obama’s maternal grandmother, which clearly states “Birthplace: Kenya; Registered Honolulu. HRS 338-17.8 per Grandmother”.

    http://sites.google.com/site/obamabirth/Home/obama-short-form-birth-certificate

    (Scroll down and click on image of the COLB application to see it full size.)

    It seems that both of his grandmothers, maternal and paternal, refused to lie on his behalf.

    “Audacity of Hypocrisy” does not even begin to cover this greatest of all frauds! Barack Obama’s days in power are numbered. Hopefully he and his administration will not be able to do more harm to this nation than they already have.

    Hollywood and the Mainstream Media will never recover the people’s trust after this.

    Reply
    1. Pete Wall

      Who ever posted this is a disgrace to society, you are one of the few ignorant people who still supports racism. Woe on you, hope your days living is numbered

      Reply
  6. Said Chikuti

    Every race should lift itself up to the common standard of humanity. Malcolm was the king of kings to me.

    Reply
  7. Thanam Mahamud

    Brother Malcolm truly stood for something. Obama is a disgrace, not strong enough of character to have real convictions.

    Reply

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