Malcolm X in Oxford: Black power amid dreaming spires

Stephen Tuck revisits Malcolm X's historic 1964 speech at the Oxford Union and explains why his words so electrified the audience...

Malcolm X chats with Eric Abrahams – the Oxford Union president who vowed to “fill the room with blacks” – before giving his famous address on 3 December 1964. (Getty)

This article was first published in the December 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine

On the evening of 3 December 1964, a most unlikely figure was called to speak at the Oxford Union: Mr Malcolm X. It seemed quite a mismatch. The Oxford Union, the most prestigious debating society in the world, was the self-styled training ground for the politically ambitious of Britain’s young intellectual elite. Malcolm X, by contrast, was the global icon of revolutionary black nationalism. A one-time Harlem hustler and prison inmate, by 1964 Malcolm X was (in)famous for his call to oppose racism by “any means necessary”. When he arrived in Oxford, he was under a death threat (from former colleagues in the Nation of Islam, a religious movement), and the FBI was on his tail.

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