Black Muslims, Malcolm X, and BYU

By June 5, 2009

I’m sorry for the severe delay in posting this research.  It is a very interesting facet of my overall research at discussions of civil rights in BYU’s newspaper The Daily Universe:

In March 1964, the Daily Universe published a series of three editorials on the Nation of Islam, which were most likely reprinted editorials from a national newspaper.[1]  The first of the three editorial was published three days after Malcolm X announced that he was leaving the Nation of Islam, and an editor’s note preceding the first editorial noted that the editorial series was being published given “recent developments in the Black Muslim movement” and “recent publicity” on Cassius Clay and the Nation of Islam.[2] Although the new series was listed under the headline of “Black Muslim Threat,” the editorials discussed the religious movement in more objective and respectful terms than might be expected of an extreme group at BYU. Of particular interest is the editorial discussing the history of the Black Muslim movement, where the author refers to the founder of the Black Muslim movement as having the “reverence and verve of a Mormon missionary” as he taught Muslim practices and beliefs door-to-door.[3]  As the editorials were likely written by a national reporter, this reference shows a consideration of Black Muslims and LDS church members as having similar religious practices and experiences to one another (and potentially reflects that the LDS church was viewed in a similar negative fashion as the Nation of Islam often was). There were no responses to the series of editorials, so one can only speculate on how BYU students responded to the suggestion of a shared experience between Black Muslims and Mormons, but the statement offers a new perspective on how BYU students were introduced to and thought about aspects of the civil rights movement. Furthermore, the publication of the editorials in the Daily Universe reflects an attempt to provide further information to BYU students on how to process the contemporary news events related to the Nation of Islam.

During 1964 and 1965, there were several mentions of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X in the articles and news snippets of the Daily Universe. These mentions included a few articles in the sports section of the paper on the boxer Cassius Clay, including an article on 24 March 1964 that mentioned that Clay had begun to refer to himself as Muhammad Ali and that he was suspended from his title as the world heavyweight champion.[4]  On 5 February 1965, a large front-page article reported that Malcolm X had visited Selma and announced that he felt the mainstream civil rights movement would not remain nonviolent for much longer.[5]  On 22 February, the paper published an AP article on Malcolm X’s murder on the front page of the paper, as well as a lengthy article on the capture of the suspected killer of the civil rights leader on the third page.[6] An article two days later discussed the destruction of a mosque following Malcolm X’s death.[7]  It is interesting to note that the discussion of the Nation of Islam, Black Muslims, and Malcolm X in the Daily Universe was carried on solely through national news articles rather than student reporter or student letters to the editor, and that these topics were spoken about much more objectively (and sometimes in a more positive light) than mainstream civil rights occurrences.

My main goal now is to figure out for sure whether or not the set of editorials was written by a national reporter or on the BYU level, because that does affect how we interpret the comparison to an LDS missionary. In his autobiography (in collaboration with Alex Haley), Malcolm X refers to a set of editorials published in the early 1960s (before the BYU editorials were published) on the Nation of Islam that brought a lot of attention to the religious group. I am currently working on identifying that set of editorials to see if they are the same as what was published in the DU. If that is the case, then that means that the Daily Universe staff saw a present relevance in the news to the topic and accordingly published previously written material in order to educate BYU students on the topic. I will post an update when I have an answer on this issue, because it greatly affects the interpretation of “non-mainstream” civil rights reporting at BYU, as well as the exact meaning of the LDS reference.

[1] Following the beginning of printing national news from sources such as United Press International (UPI) or the Associated Press (AP), the Daily Universe usually would differentiate as to whether a news piece was from one of these news sources or was written by a BYU student reporter. However, the editorial pieces were less clearly delineated, and so we cannot be sure as to whether or not this series was written by a student reporter. The language, however, seems to point towards a national reporter as the author.

[2] Daily Universe, “I. History,” March 11, 1964.

[3] Ibid.; emphasis added.

[4] United Press International, “Suspension Of Cassius Clay’s Title Recommended For Detrimental Acts,” Daily Universe, March 24, 1964.

[5] Associated Press, “Malcolm X In Selma Predicts End To Nonviolent Civil Rights Movement,” February 5, 1965.

[6] AP, “Malcolm X Murdered While Addressing Rally,” Daily Universe, February 22, 1965; AP, “Negro Suspect Held In Malcolm X Slaying,” Daily Universe, February 22, 1965.

[7] AP, “Muslim Mosque Wrecked By Fire; [Ven]geance Team Seeks Muhammed,” Daily Universe, February 24, 1965.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Good to see you posting again, Ardis. There is really a lot more on the subject (civil rights coverage in the DU) that I initially thought there would be, and you’ve done a great job unpacking the details. I’m really quite surprised that these editorials solicited no responses from the faculty of student body, especially because of the comparison to Mormon missionaries you mention.

    Comment by Christopher — June 5, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  2. This is wonderful, Ardis; thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Ben — June 5, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  3. Ardis, this clause struck me as a bit curious: “…in more objective and respectful terms than might be expected of an extreme group at BYU.” What do you mean by it?

    Comment by Jonathan Green — June 5, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  4. I’m deleting this comment until I get more information–SCT

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 5, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  5. Ardis–your work is wonderful. THANK YOU!

    Comment by Margaret Young — June 5, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  6. Ardis, love your work. thank you!

    Comment by TrevorM — June 6, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

  7. Jonathan–this response is a bit delayed, but what I meant by that clause is that groups that were considered to be extreme–non-mainstream–were often reported on or spoken about in highly negative terms. Although there were aspects of the editorials that were negative towards the Black Muslim movement, the language overall was more objective in comparison to other groups that were reported on in the paper.

    Comment by Ardis — June 17, 2009 @ 5:59 pm


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