Malcolmology 101, #16: James Farmer Debate

Malcolm X continued his string of college debates with an appearance in 1961 at Cornell University against CORE executive director, James Farmer. Sponsored by the Cornell Committee Against Segregation, the speech was on a familiar theme: “Integration or Segregation.” Although the pitting of a prominent integrationist against Malcolm’s separatist attitude was a familiar one leadsgate, the black nationalist leader was caught off-guard by Farmer and CORE’s stance, which was significantly more militant than the attitudes of the more conservative NAACP he had previously debated. The Freedom Riders of the year before had made significant strides in the south and challenged Malcolm’s position that integration was an untenable position. Despite Malcolm’s attacks on integration as a solution promoted only by the black middle class, Farmer challenged him with a better solution: “We know the disease, physician, what is your cure? What is your program and how do you hope to bring it into effect?” Ultimately, Malcolm resorted to the charge that Farmer was married to a white woman. However, despite the ineffectiveness of many of his arguments at the debate, Malcolm continued to make inroads among CORE’s constituents and other more activist-oriented movements. What also continued to make Malcolm’s position difficult is Elijah Muhammad’s insistence that he remain silent on political matters. The following year, he wrote his national spokesman: “When you go to these Colleges and Universities to represent the Teachings that Allah has revealed to me for our people, do not go too much into the details of the political side … speak only what you know they have heard me say or that which you yourself have heard me say” (MXC-S, box 3, folder 8). The debate with Farmer was emblematic of Malcolm’s tenuous position within the Nation and foreshadowed greater challenges he would face in the coming years.


Citation: Malcolm X FBI File, Summary Report, New York Office, May 17, 1962, p. 23.

Citation: Malcolm X FBI File, Summary Report, New York Office, May 17, 1962, p. 23.

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