Revisiting The Historic Meeting Of Malcolm X And Fidel Castro In Harlem

As a first generation Dominican in the thick of what I perceive to be a massive cultural shift in America—one that encourages and perhaps perpetuates necessary political upheaval, I find myself especially curious about the enigmatic Cuban revolutionary and former Prime Minister Fidel Castro, and on the birthday of one of my political heroes no less. Malcolm X would have been 91 years of age today.

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Keeping in mind President Obama’s recent and controversial efforts to restore relations between Cuba and the United States, the influence and impact of X’s political philosophy, and the historic and contemporary ties of black progressives to the Cuban revolution, I am prompted to break open the chest and revisit the brief, yet historic meeting of the man named el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz and Fidel Castro in that famous Hotel Theresa of Harlem.

In 1960 Fidel Castro came to New York for an international meeting of the United Nations. After being harassed by the U.S. press and government, Fidel wound up storming out of the Hotel Shelburne in Downtown Manhattan, and even threatened to sleep in Central Park rather than subject his Cuban delegation to such elitist abuse.

According to Rosemari Mealy’s Fidel and Malcolm X, a host of Harlem activists (and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New York City) helped transform the wild disruption into a momentous opportunity for cultural and political expressions of solidarity and anti-racism. The Cuban delegation accepted a hospitable welcome from the Hotel Theresa’s owner Love B. Woods, which resulted in the cultivation of ideological and political bonds between African American progressives and Cuban revolutionaries.

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Mealy indicates that while hordes of mainstream media waited outside the hotel, African American press were granted exclusive entry to record this event, and only a select few had permission to cover the exchange between X and Fidel.

The Theresa is now best known as the place where Fidel Castro went during his UN visit, and achieved a psychological coup over the U.S. State Department when it confined him to Manhattan, never dreaming that he’d stay uptown in Harlem and make such an impression among the Negroes. – Malcolm X, 1964.

The most significant quality of Fidel and Malcolm X is the documentation of the voices and perspectives of that era, which linked two oppressed peoples, both of whom courageously sought liberation from Western oppression. Mealy also provides excerpts from a May 24, 1990 speech made by Fidel Castro – that resonate greatly to this day – reflecting on Malcolm X’s political legacy, expertly referenced by Joy James.

We have always been in solidarity with the struggle of Black people, of minorities, and of the poor in the United States. We have always been in solidarity with them, and they have been in solidarity with us. We must fight to defeat the campaigns, the schemes, and the lies, all that is aimed at separating us.

I think that in these times we need that friendship more than ever, and we need your solidarity more than ever. And we fully appreciate it, because we understand that one has to be very courageous to [support] … Cuba in the United States….

Cuba has an important role to play, a very big responsibility, because there were people who thought that the revolution here would collapse just like socialism [in Europe] …. But of course, this country will resist. We are waging three great battles: the political battle, where we maintain the unity of the people, the support of the people, the determination of our people; the economic battle, which is even more difficult here than elsewhere given the conditions we face; and the battle for defense.

We have to work in these three directions. But we are not doing this for ourselves. We are doing it for all the just causes of the world, at a time of skepticism. Optimism and the hope of the peoples will again be born, because the negative forces will not prevail. (59-61)

… Happy born day Malcolm, and rest in freedom.