TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: A Statement by Abdul Alkalimat 7/15/91
Three newspapers in New York City on 7/10/91 (New York Times, Daily News, and Newsday) reported that Betty Shabazz had filed suit against Writers and Readers Inc. and Abdul Alkalimat in Federal District Court. On that same day I was informed by the lawyer for Writers and Readers that an agreement had been reached with the attorney for Pathfinder Press and that the issue has been settled. I am pleased that the situation has been resolved, but I am outraged that my name has been smeared by Pathfinder Press with the insinuation of illegal or immoral action regarding the literary legacy of Malcolm X. This brief statement is my attempt to clarify the facts and raise the issue to the level of Black liberation politics.
The first point of clarity is that my relationship with Dr. Betty Shabazz is one based on mutual trust and friendship. We share the desire to keep the memory of Malcolm X alive and a vital force in shaping the political thought of Black youth and freedom loving people everywhere.
I have been actively working to promote the ideas and legacy of Malcolm X for the last 25 years. Through the Black studies movement and Black arts movement based in the community I have advocated the importance of Malcolm X. In 1967 the mighty "Wall of Respect" was painted by OBAC in Chicago that started the modern Black mural movement, and Malcolm X was the most prominent person on the wall. I was a founder and first chairperson of OBAC. In 1985, as the political leader of Peoples College I wrote the text for the Black Liberation Month News dedicated to Malcolm X/Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz. We distributed over 50,000 copies of this 8 page newspaper free!!
As founder of the Cooperative Research Network, I initiated the Malcolm X Work Group (including Profs Bill Sales and James Cone among others). After several years of collaboration and joint participation in annual symposia (held at Roosevelt House and Queens of CUNY, and Stony Brook of SUNY) we planned an international conference on Malcolm X:
Radical Tradition and a Legacy of Struggle. It is this context that the present controversy emerges.
I was contacted by Glen Thompson of Writers and Readers who proposed that he publish a reprint of the conference study guide. As a small Black press who would keep the study guide in print with on a shoe string budget, Writers and Readers was doing a service for the Black liberation movement. Our position was that the quotes that we were using could be included on the basis of the "fair use" provision of the copyright law. Further, we believed that the function of the study guide was to introduce the full range of available texts of Malcolm X's writings to a new generation of Black youth, and by so doing promote the sale of all relevant publications.
Pathfinder Press, without approaching Writers and Readers, sent letters to the major book distributors and bookstores trying to stop the sale of Malcolm X for Beginners by claiming that it was an illegal publication. Their attorney's sent threatening letters and made outrageous claims including a demand for payments that far exceeded what could be done. At this point it became evident that Pathfinder was fixed on destroying a small Black publisher (Writers and Readers) and a Black activist intellectual (Abdul Alkalimat).
Writers and Readers sent a press release to alert the community to this attack being waged by Pathfinder. Pathfinder called the press and used its influence alleging that this issue was being settled and therefore it would be better if the press release from Writers and Readers was not published.
Indeed, I agreed to relinquish all claims to royalties and to turn them over as the major part of the financial settlement with Pathfinder Press. At this stage I have agreed to make no financial gain for my work on the project. But, I do question the control that Pathfinder exercises over the work of Malcolm X, and the profits they make from the sale of Malcolm X's books. Without the sale of books by Malcolm X Pathfinder press would have folded years ago!
Many people have been outraged by the rapid increase in price for their most recent publication The Last Speeches which nearly doubled in price in little more than one year. Who's fooling who about ripping off the legacy of Malcolm X - Pathfinder should stand accused and be made to answer to the community for its behavior and failure to return these profits to the Black liberation movement.
Even though Pathfinder knew that an agreement was imminent, they went to court and got the issue in the newspaper. In point of fact, the same day that it appeared in the press the issue was settled. If the issue had gone to trial we would have won on the basis of "fair use" but it would have been a costly and time consuming struggle. Pathfinder is a larger institution backed by a political party and therefore we found it difficult to marshal the resources to fight them in the government courts. But, we believe that the tremendous importance of the political issue, the "capitalist highjacking of Malcolm X" by Pathfinder Press, is one that has to be tried in the courts of the Black liberation movement. This is a long overdue political debate. This document has been written as a contribution to this necessary political struggle.
The more talk generated on this issue it seems the more confused things get. This my last statement: