Malcolm X and the Democrats: Excerpts from Peter Camejo’s Autobiography, North Star

by Peter Camejo on January 29, 2018

Peter Camejo

In the 1960s, Peter Camejo (1939-2008) was an organizer with the Socialist Workers’ Party, specifically, the youth group in the SWP: the YSA (Young Socialist Alliance). Below are a few excerpts from his autobiography, North Star by Haymarket Books, which was released in the summer of 2010. (pgs 34-36)       -TNS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
I met Malcolm X on several occasions. I used to go to Harlem to hear him speak. The meetings were designated for African Americans only, so Malcolm set up a front for “reporters” so that those of us who were not of African descent but supported Malcolm could attend. We sold the SWP paper, the Militant, at the meetings. The SWP members selling the paper included European Americans; sometimes, there would be hostility expressed. But Malcolm would tell the audience, “Buy the Militant. They are the only people telling the truth about us.” Sales always picked up after Malcolm spoke….                                                                                                                                                                                                

Malcolm X


….Malcolm held one belief in common with the SWP that, in particular, bonded the two groups: he expressed complete opposition to the two-party electoral monopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties. Over and over he would urge people never to vote for either of the two parties that had robbed them of their rights, that lynched them, that betrayed them day and night. His message was revolutionary. He wanted only the full truth—no compromise with injustice. He criticized Martin Luther King for calling only for nonviolent resistance. Malcolm X believed that people had the right to defend themselves by any means necessary.

Malcolm’s assistant, James Shabazz, and I traveled together on speaking tours. Like Malcolm, James was clear in calling for complete and total equality–not tomorrow, but right now. Repeatedly, he would explain how the two-party system betrays and fools people into supporting injustice. It is one of the great misfortunes of America that the undemocratic electoral system–which does not allow for proportional representation or for runoffs that could permit an independent political force to be built –has led over time to African Americans becoming Democrats by a large margin.


James Shabazz

Today, most African-Americans have ended up in the party that in the not-so-distant past championed slavery, racism, and Jim Crow segregation, solely because in their eyes the other party looked even worse. Until the late 1940s segregation still existed in many restaurants and in real estate dealings of the Democratic-controlled cities in the North. Into the mid-1960s, most Northern Democrats continued to refuse to break with their openly segregationist fellow party members in the South. Most Americans do not know that, even as late as the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, lynchings were announced on the radio and in newspapers. In some cases the railroad offered special train fares to a lynching. The NAACP begged President Roosevelt, the most famous Democratic Party leader of the twentieth century, to have the federal government intervene to stop lynchings. Roosevelt’s answer was that he had no jurisdiction to intervene in state matters, in Alabama or elsewhere. During the 1950s, when Lyndon Johnson headed the Democrats in the Senate, he bragged that he had blocked discussion of discrimination in the South and had prevented the passage of any anti-lynching bill…..

….The Democrats have continued to co-opt and sideline every serious protest movement for social justice….When I ran for governor in the 2003 recall election in California, the ethnic group that gave the Green Party its highest vote was African Americans, with Latinos second. I firmly believe that if truly free elections were allowed in the United States, the Democrats would lose their Latino and African American base.

At the huge 1963 rally in Washington D.C., at which Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, the SWPers were selling an issue of the Militant with a headline that called for the formation of an independent African American political party. We sold every single one of the thousands of papers we had bought. I believe it was ten thousand copies. I remember digging through trashcans for discarded papers and reselling them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

1963 March on Washington

It was a terrible blow to all of us in the SWP when Malcolm was assassinated in February 1965. I attended his funeral. Malcolm X had a profound impact on me and it was very painful to lose him. Malcolm’s murder, like the murder of Martin Luther King three years later, was a great tragedy for America and a devastating setback to building a movement for social justice….

Ossie Davis delivers eulogy at Malcolm X’s funeral

North Star, A Memoir by Peter Camejo, 2010

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