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(1982) Audre Lorde, “Learning from the 60s”

In February, 1982, Audre Lorde delivered the address, “Learning from the 60s” as part of the celebration of the Malcolm X weekend at Harvard University.  Her presentation appears below.

MALCOLM X is a distinct shape in a very pivotal period of my life. I stand here now - Black, Lesbian, Feminist - an inheritor of Malcolm and in his tradition, doing my work, and the ghost of his voice through my mouth asks each one of you here tonight: Are you doing yours?

There are no new ideas, just new ways of giving those ideas we cherish breath and power in our own living. Im not going to pretend that the moment I first saw or heard Malcolm X he became my shining prince, because it wouldnt be true. In February 1965 I was raising two children and a husband in a three-room flat on 149th Street in Harlem. I had read about Malcolm X and the Black Muslims. I became more interested in Malcolm X after he left the Nation of Islam, when he was silenced by Elijah Muhammad for his comment, after Kennedys assassination, to the effect that the chickens had come home to roost. Before this I had not given much thought to the Nation of Islam because of their attitude toward women as well as because of their non-activist stance. Id read Malcolms autobiography, and I liked his style, and I thought he looked a lot like my fathers people, but I was one of the ones who didnt really hear Malcolms voice until it was amplified by death.

I had been guilty of what many of us are still guilty of – letting the media, and I dont mean only the white media – define the bearers of those messages most important to our lives.

When I read Malcolm X with careful attention, I found a man much closer to the complexities of real change than anything I had read before.  Much of what I say here tonight was born from his words.

In the last year of his life, Malcolm X added a breadth to his essential vision that would have brought him, had he lived, into inevitable confrontation with the question of difference as a creative and necessary force for change.

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