Photos from the commemoration. Below, watch interviews with the students (now alumnae) who invited Malcolm X, and see New York 1's coverage of the anniversary panel.
Fifty years to the day after civil rights leader Malcolm X spoke to a packed LeFrak Gym in Barnard Hall—marking his last public speech before his assassination—a panel of Malcolm X experts gathered at Barnard to reflect on his life and legacy.
About 250 students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and community members attended the February 18 "Malcolm X at Barnard 1965/2015" event, which commemorated the life of the celebrated social activist. His 1965 speech, delivered to 1,500 members of the Barnard and Columbia communities, turned out to be his last; he was assassinated on February 21 while speaking at Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.
The event showcased news footage of Malcolm X on the steps of Barnard Hall, as well as a student film produced for the occasion of this anniversary. Among the speakers were Jane Relin and Ellen Wolkin Friedman, both Class of ’66, who as students invited Malcolm X to speak at Barnard. They were joined by Stephen Tuck of Oxford University, author of The Night Malcolm X Spoke at the Oxford Union: A Transatlantic Story of Antiracist Protest; Bayyinah Jeffries of Ohio University, author of A Nation Can Rise No Higher Than Its Women: African American Muslim Women in the Movement for Black Self-Determination, 1950-1975; and Bryan Epps, executive director of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center.
In her opening remarks, Jennie Kassanoff, associate professor of English and director of the American studies program, described the climate in 1965. "These were heady times. Four days earlier, Malcolm's home in east Elmhurst, Queens, had been firebombed....Though he was hoarse from smoke inhalation, Malcolm kept his speaking engagements. As he would tell his Barnard audience on February 18, 1965, 'I would rather be dead than have somebody deprive me of my rights.' Four days later he was dead, slain in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom."
The audience then heard recollections by Relin and Friedman who, as members of the Student Exchange Committee, sought to educate themselves and their peers about segregation and civil rights.
Relin, who recalled a flurry of arrangements that included talking to Malcolm X’s assistant at 1:30 a.m., called the speech “one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.” Friedman said that when she listened to the speaker, she realized, “There is room for us in this battle and he was a wonderful leader. And somehow we had faith that he would be able to…foster a brotherhood among all peoples.”
Tuck talked about Malcolm X’s historic visit to Oxford University, where he debated students in the formidable Oxford Union; Jeffries spoke about Malcolm X in the context of the Nation of Islam and its ideas of feminism; and Epps discussed Malcolm X’s legacy in the context of the social activism of today.
Organized by Kassanoff and Monica Miller, associate professor of English, the program was sponsored by Africana studies, American studies, English, history, political science, religion, sociology, urban studies, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and BCRW.