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New Left Review 69, May-June 2011

Tariq Ali


The rich repertoire of songs and music that African-Americans have produced over the last century has to a large extent been recorded. Its value is recognized all over the world. The same cannot be said for black oratory, which shared the same roots and reflected similar emotions: slavery, segregation and imprisonment produced resistance, anger, bitterness and, often, resignation. Very few speeches were written, leave alone recorded, until the mid-20th century; and yet they had a huge cultural and historical impact. W. E. B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey were amongst the greatest orators during the early twentieth century. A generation later, Adam Clayton Powell, the independent Congressman elected from Harlem, could electrify an audience. This is the tradition within which the 1960s activist Malcolm X should be situated. It was his ability to articulate political ideas instinctively that won him an audience far beyond the ranks of the converted. First and foremost, he was one of the greatest orators that North America has ever produced. [1] Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Allen Lane: London and New York 2011, £30, hardback 592 pp, 978 0 713 99895 5

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Tariq Ali, ‘Leaving Shabazz’, NLR 69: £3

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