It was during his second extended visit to Africa. It was a Quaker friend, an Afro-American, who told me that Malcolm X would visit Dar es Salaam and urged me to meet him. To what end I asked? I then told Bill about my first encounter with Malcolm X, at a United Nations reception in New York a year or so earlier. There, Malcolm X had been unyielding: there was no way that he would use his considerable leadership skills to involve whites as well as blacks in the struggle against injustice. In his world scenario there were no positive roles for whites. Given that experience, was there anything further for me to discuss with Mr X?
My friend was not put off. Malcolm had been transformed at Mecca, he said. I would profit personally from exchanging views with him, and Malcolm himself would gain from meeting not just Africans and black Americans but people like me, white Americans working in Africa with Africans.
Later that day I headed for a phone booth on the verandah of the old New Africa Hotel. The phone was being used. Occupied by whom? Malcolm X hung up, smiled, introduced himself. Some four hours later, we finished talking.
Malcolm X told me how his hadj – his pilgrimage to Mecca – had transformed him, and how his conversations with African leaders like Julius Nyerere and Jomo Kenyatta had enriched him. The two neighbouring countries had had widely disparate colonial histories, and, consequently, starkly different independence struggles: Tanzania’s was a triumph of reason, Kenya’s a revolution. Malcolm X appreciated Nyerere’s perspective that his country’s argument with the former colonial master was with the British government, not with the British people. And he was aware of Kenyatta’ s capacity to come to an understanding with Kenya’s white settler farmers, and gain their great respect. Malcolm marvelled most that both presidents were free of racial animosity.
Now, despite our earlier encounter, I could see not a trace of racism remaining in Malcolm X. The impact of Mecca and of his meetings with African leaders, enhanced by his unique ability to assimilate ideas and viewpoints, was profound.
Something else had happened. He began to see his struggle for justice as reaching past the issues of American civil rights to that of global human rights.
I have never, before or since, met a person with so incisive a mind or so great a capacity to ask probing questions and to learn what moved people. Responding to his questions, I explained that this was my third year in Africa and that I was there out of concern for justice and fairness that were planted in me by my parents, my educators and my Christian faith.
I was not to see Malcolm X again: just weeks later he was assassinated. Still, from that one meeting I knew that, at the end of his life, Malcolm wanted all of us to join in making the world a better place, more human and more humane, and that he was in a hurry.