Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X disagreed on many issues. Nevertheless Robinson conceded Malcolm X was “articulate, incredibly sharp, and intelligent…he projected a great image for young black kids who needed virile black males to emulate.”
Robinson’s criticism of Malcolm X was that he talked a great game, but never did enough to act on his statements and back them up with action. Also that his public speeches were made mostly to generate sensational headlines.
There was a period when Jackie Robinson was writing regular columns, to which Malcolm X would respond with sharply worded letters of disagreement. An example:
“DEAR GOOD FRIEND JACKIE ROOSEVELT ROBINSON:
“You became a great baseball player after your white boss (Mr. Rickey) lifted you to the major leagues. You proved that your white boss had chosen the ‘right’ Negro by getting plenty of hits, stealing plenty of bases, winning many games and bringing much money through the gates and into the pockets of your white boss.
“You let yourself be used by the whites even in those days against your own kind. You let them sic you on Paul Robeson.
“You stay as far away from the Negro community as you can get, and you never take an interest in anything in the Negro community until the white man himself takes an interest in it. You, yourself, would never shake my hand until you saw some of your white friends shaking it.
“If whites were to murder me for the religious philosophy that I represent and stand for, I would die KNOWING that it was at the hands of OPEN ENEMIES OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE.”
Strong words. But Robinson cherished their dialogue, and always responded with respect. Some of the ideas he offered in response:
“I am proud of my association with the men you choose to call my ‘white bosses.’ I am also proud that so many others whom you would undoubtedly label as ‘white bosses,’ marched with us to Washington and have been and are now working with our leaders to help achieve equality in America.
“I will not dignify your attempted slur against my appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee some years back. All I can say is that if I were called upon to defend my country today, I would gladly do so. Nor do I hide behind any coat-tails as you do when caught in one of your numerous outlandish statements.
“Personally, I reject your racist views. I reject your dream of a separate state.
“You mouth a big and bitter battle, Malcolm, but it is noticeable that your militancy is mainly expressed in Harlem where it is safe.”
In his autobiography, I NEVER HAD IT MADE, Robinson lamented the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 as a “tragedy of the first order.” Even when Robinson disagreed “with what I thought was his philosophy of hatred and his taunting of other leaders who disagreed with him, I consistently gave him credit as a man who said what he believed. When we clashed, Malcolm stuck to his guns and I to mine. Many of the statements he made about the problems faced by our people and the immorality of the white power structure were naked truth. It was in our approach to solutions that we differed radically.”
Following Malcolm X’s pilgrimage to Mecca shortly before his assassination, he was re-thinking his view that all white people were his enemies. Jackie Robinson had seen the change coming and wrote, “He had the strength to confess himself mistaken and misguided. It was ironic that, just as he seemed rising to the crest of a new and inspired leadership, Malcolm was struck down, ostensibly by the hands of blacks. His murderers quieted his voice, but clothed him in martyrdom and deepened his influence. In death Malcolm became larger than he had been in life.”