The story of Malcolm X, through the eyes of a friend

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March 12, 2012 - 7:00pm

Most people think of the South when they think of the civil rights movement, but a key figure made his name in the Midwest - and his story began in Omaha.

That figure is Malcolm X, and more than 500 items once owned by a friend of the controversial civil rights leader were recently purchased by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in Omaha.

"There's still some treasures here left here to uncover," said Sharif Liwaru, the president of the foundation, as he shuffled through stacks of books and magazines, along with a box of audio and VHS tapes set out on a table in the middle of a library at the Malcolm X Center. The center is located in North Omaha, the birthplace of Malcolm X.


Sharif Liwaru looks through a collection of items once owned by a friend of civil rights leader Malcolm X, recently purchased by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in Omaha, Nebraska.

Angel Martin, KVNO News

Sharif Liwaru looks through a collection of items once owned by a friend of civil rights leader Malcolm X, recently purchased by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in Omaha, Nebraska.


Civil rights leader Malcolm X, born in Omaha, faces a crowd of reporters in 1964.
 

Angel Martin, KVNO News

Civil rights leader Malcolm X, born in Omaha, faces a crowd of reporters in 1964.


Liwaru said many of these items tell the story of the influential leader through the eyes of a friend: Malcolm "Shorty" Jarvis.

"It's always exciting to be able to learn a little bit more about someone who you knew very little about," he said. "Or for those of us who have studied Malcolm X for a number of years, it still opens up some brand-new perspectives from someone who's very close to him."

Malcolm X was born in Omaha as Malcolm Little. As a young adult, Little was nicknamed "Detroit Red," and Malcolm Jarvis hung out on the streets with him. Both men were involved in gambling, drug dealing, robbing and pimping. But each had other sides - Jarvis, for example, was also a musician.

Liwaru pointed to a music box from the collection, which holds a trumpet inside.

"(It's) in need of a little love and restoration," he said. "The keys all are fluid, that was the first thing that I noticed, was that they must have been well taken care of while he played them because they are still fluid. But the outside brass is tarnished and needs a little love."

From inside another box, Liwaru pulled out a paper neatly placed in clear plastic - a court document stating the details of the crime which landed Malcolm Jarvis and Malcolm X in prison in 1945. X and Jarvis, along with two white women, conducted a string of burglaries, stealing various items totaling between $4 and $100. Liwaru said the document is significant because it highlights the disparity in sentencing for two black men and two white women involved in the same criminal operation.

He said the women's sentence was suspended with probation, while Jarvis and X were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"So this was the original docket, number 31756," Liwaru said.

Jarvis's collection also includes several scrapbooks, including one with clippings of news articles of Malcolm X, which tell the story of his controversial life and changing views. Malcolm X was a leader in the Nation of Islam, a black supremacist new religious movement founded in Detroit in 1930, which he joined in prison. He advocated for the group's beliefs and became a divisive figure - some saw him as preaching violence and anti-Semitism, while to others he was a brave advocate for black civil rights.

His views later softened, and he left the group in 1964. Less than a year later, he was assassinated by three Nation of Islam members.

Liwaru said the articles show "how the media portrayed the particular assassination how they portrayed Malcolm X as either a teacher of hate, or they portrayed him in the area of a hero, to some.

"Most of the articles did not have necessarily a good light, but as an assassinated individual, the strength of his cause diminishes, and you see the articles kind of have a little bit of a different tone afterwards," he added.

Liwaru said this collection was brought to Omaha in partnership with the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, which is based in Detroit. It was purchased from an unrevealed source for an undisclosed amount.

"We hope that as we collect and tell the story of Malcolm and his efforts that we are also able to collect the story of those individuals who are not told. So the peripheral imagery is important to us," he said, adding that they're hoping it will serve as a catalyst for learning more about the lives of those not in the limelight.

Liwaru says a portion of the collection will be on display by May in North Omaha at the Malcolm X Welcome Center, next to the birthplace of Malcolm X. The 11 acres of land where his childhood home once stood is now a park and community garden.

 

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