1. The Nation of Islam Organizes in Hartford
The time Malcom X spent in Connecticut in regard to the Nation of Islam (NOI) began as a humble favor. Malcom had established a house of worship in Springfield, Mass. and a Hartford, Conn. native traveled to hear him speak. She was moved by his words and invited him to speak in the city of Hartford.
In the summer of 1955 domestic workers—maids, cooks, and chauffeurs—gathered in a small apartment in a Hartford, Conn. public housing project. Without a glamorous stage, dazzling cameras, or hounding reporters- his words alone were enough to incite the group.
The Hartford NOI was inspired to grow their number and soon assembled 40 people. By 1956, Malcolm X founded Temple No. 14 in the city’s north end at 2118 Main Street.
He returned to Hartford at least twice in January 1957. The FBI tracked and recorded his movements even in Connecticut courtesy of their local office in New Haven.
The Temple 14 soon moved to 1097 Main Street. In August 1959, Malcolm returned to the new location and spoke again:
“We do not advocate violence but we do not turn the other cheek either,” he told his listeners. “When you kill a snake that is not hate. You are merely protecting yourself.” The next month he narrated a home movie about his first trip to Africa for the Hartford temple members.
All during this period police and federal agents tailed Malcolm, and Malcolm knew it. In answer to a question about the Vietnam draft, the controversial leader replied that he would not tell anyone to become a conscientious objector because he knew the government was listening. He would, however, personally refuse to be drafted.
On June 5, 1963, The University of Hartford sponsored an event. Malcolm X spoke to his largest Hartford crowd, 800 people at the Bushnell Memorial Hall. The speech was moved outside to accommodate the overflow crowd. It was a chilly autumn afternoon, which inspired Malcolm to quip “maybe what I say will make you hot.”
In 1963 the freedom struggle was indeed burning hot; racist forces in the South carried on a terror campaign of intimidation and violence. Hartford reporters, however, seemed more interested at the time in Malcolm’s disagreements with other national black leaders. Malcolm warned of “racial bloodshed” that was coming to America. He was assassinated in Harlem on February 21, 1965, three months before his 40th birthday.
J. K. Obatala, African American writer, states the speech inspired him to travel to Ghana, his ancestral homeland. “It takes a trip to Africa to realize how American we are,” Obatala wrote.
3. Recollections of a Connecticut journalist
Reporter Don Noel states that in 1963, she had one of the few interviews X granted in Hartford.
The young reporter worked for The Hartford Times at the time of Malcom’s 1963 stay. Noel attended his public appearance that June at the Bushnell Memorial. He described his own feelings post experience as ‘a mixture of admiration and dismay’.
Regardless of his conflicting views, Noel researched Malcom X’s whereabouts. Due to a recent investigation for a project that would be published, that November titled "The Negro in Hartford," he was acquainted with Thomas J. X., the minister of the Hartford mosque. When Malcolm's public address was announced, assuming he would stay with him, he called the home of Thomas J.
The interview was never confirmed as when he introduced herself and asked for Malcolm X, the man who answered asked what questions I would ask if he were to bring Malcom to the phone. I framed my first question; he responded satirically. Hypothetically stating that if Malcolm were available he would answer in such way; continuing on to answer the question.
A series of questions were answered in the same manner. The reported stated the man on the phone had a noticeable confidence. Never hesitating, or consulting for answers. It was clear it was Malcom X on the other end of the telephone.
Although the interview was vague, he stated in his recollection of the interview “I knew, and he knew that I knew.”
Young people today do not understand the remarkable progress made in 30 years. Young black Americans, especially, need to understand the sacrifices and heroism of those who came before them.
In 1963, Connecticut was beginning to realize that segregation wasn't just a phenomenon of the South. JFK was pleading for civil-rights laws; but it would take the legislative skills of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, to win their adoption. The state education commissioner was addressing racial isolation in city schools. The Hartford police chief was meeting with the NAACP to discuss discriminatory police practices. Gov. John N. Dempsey had called the General Assembly into special session to put teeth into laws guaranteeing fair access to housing.
Reporter Dan Noel states, “I preferred then, and prefer now, King's nonviolent, conciliatory approach. But social change is often made meaningful because firebrands insist that problems not be swept under a rug of good feelings. Malcolm was determined not to let white society off the hook too easily -- and he was right. We've come a long way since 1963; but we need the Malcolm’s to remind us how far we still must go.”
Most of white America did not know what to make of Malcolm X during his rise to prominence, except often to fear him. During his short life, he challenged the racist political, economic, and cultural institutions of the United States. Like Nat Turner before him and the Black Panthers after his death, Malcolm defied all the stereotypes of how oppressed people behaved in the quest for liberation.
1. Alex Haley and Malcolm X. Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. 1992.
2. Don Noel. “Recollections of Malcolm X’s 1963 Hartford Visit” Hartford Courant. November 27, 1992.
3. J. K. Obatala. “A Home Away from Home” Black World/Negro Digest. May 1970.
4. Steve Thornton. “Malcolm X in Hartford: ‘Our Mission is Not Violence but Freedom’” Connecticut History. https://connecticuthistory.org/malcolm-x-in-hartford-our-mission-is-not-violence-but-freedom/
5. “Malcolm X at U of H: Muslim Leader Warns of Racial Bloodshed” Hartford Courant. October 30, 1963.
6. “Malcolm X States Creed of Muslims at Bushnell” Hartford Courant. June 5, 1963.