On Phil Ochs, Malcolm X, and Je Suis Charlie

A guest post by Carol Lipton:

Phil Ochs penned the famous lyrics to “Love Me I’m a Liberal” about Malcolm X:

I cried when they shot Medgar Evers

Tears ran down my spine

I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy

As though I’d lost a father of mine

But Malcolm X got what was coming

He got what he asked for this time

So love me, love me Love me, I’m a liberal

He wrote those lyrics to contrast the assassinations of Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Medgar Evers, in the eyes of white journalists, was the “good Negro” who died a martyr, having marched for civil rights, while Malcolm X was the dangerous black man, the heretic who dared to expose the nature of American capitalism, and the collective delusion that we were a democracy for anyone other than white people.

The comment which most inspired the tidal wave of wrath in the media was his statement after JFK’s assassination that “the chickens have come home to roost”. Those words referred to what happened in Vietnam just three weeks before before President Kennedy’s assassination, which the world has now largely forgotten.

That was the November 3, 1963 assassination of No Dinh Nu, younger brother and chief political advisor of South Vietnam’s first president, Ngô Đình Diệm, and Diem himself, who were installed largely as the result of support by the US.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrest_and_assassination_of_Ngo_Dinh_Diem

The coup was the culmination of nine years of autocratic and nepotistic family rule in South Vietnam. There was even a meme I recall seeing in newspapers: “no Nus is good news”. Numerous coup plans had been explored by the army before, but the plotters intensified their activities with increased confidence after the administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy authorized the U.S. embassy to explore the possibility of a leadership change.

The generals initially attempted to cover up the execution by suggesting that the brothers had committed suicide, but this was contradicted when photos of the Ngôs’ corpses surfaced in the media.

When Kennedy was then assassinated on November 22, 1963 , Malcolm X quickly made the connection between US foreign policy and the potential inherent in that policy for a coup d’etat in our own country. It was a perspective that took into account the long and bloody history of CIA coups, from Greece in 1948, to the mass assassinations and coup that deposed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1963.

His statement that “the chickens have come home to roost” was no less in bad taste, or any more incendiary, than the hundreds of political cartoons penned by Charlie Hebdo. But as we approach the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s own assassination in February, 1965, nowhere do liberal pundits celebrate Malcolm X’s right to free speech, or his value to our society.

There was never was a je suis Malcolm, and there never will be. Phil Ochs was right.

CAROL LIPTON was born and raised in the Pelham Parkway housing projects, where she learned how to sleep pressed up against the wall in the summer. She was admitted to Music and Art High School on Art and Bronx H.S. of Science, and went to Science, a decision she had no control over. Largely self-taught in art, she began exhibiting and selling her watercolor paintings at age 14. Her favorite sports were punch ball, dodge ball, stickball, kickball, cycling, and Ringaleevio. She invented the first aerodynamic skully cap. Carol began playing piano at age 4 ½, and studied piano and music theory for 11 years. She was a professional musician and composer, playing the restaurant, bar and college circuit in D.C.

She went to NYU on an IBEW and Regents scholarship, where she graduated with Honors in philosophy and Political Science. She was co-editor of the poetry journal, and was a student strike coordinator in the aftermath of Kent State. After graduation, she led a cross-country 450-mile cycling trip through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  She graduated from the Catholic University School of Law. She was a grants administrator for the Expansion Arts program at NEA, responsible for making decisions to community arts programs.

As a legal services fellow in Kentucky, Carol became an anti-nuclear activist, and co-produced a special for NBC on the Maxey Flats nuclear waste site. She has co-produced specials for ABC’s 20/20 on the militia/tax protest movement, and for NBC, on a Guatemalan political asylum claimant she represented through Human Rights First, where she trained under the late Arthur Helton. She consulted to the Haitian Refugee Center, where she handled an immigration appeal.

She has worked in public interest law, for Legal Services, and in private practice, specializing in consumer fraud, employment discrimination, bankruptcy, housing, and appellate litigation. She has been a member of the Appellate Division’s Assigned Counsel panel for 23 years, and is a member of the National Lawyers Guild.

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3 comments

  1. Two minor quibbles:

    1.) It was Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslims as much as the white press that attacked Malcolm for the chickens come home to roost remark.

    2.) Evers didn’t die during a civil rights march. He was ambushed at his house. The assassination was the subject of one of Bob Dylan’s greatest songs.

    A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
    A finger fired the trigger to his name
    A handle hid out in the dark
    A hand set the spark
    Two eyes took the aim
    Behind a man’s brain
    But he can’t be blamed
    He’s only a pawn in their game

    A South politician preaches to the poor white man
    “You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
    You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
    And the Negro’s name
    Is used it is plain
    For the politician’s gain
    As he rises to fame
    And the poor white remains
    On the caboose of the train
    But it ain’t him to blame
    He’s only a pawn in their game

    The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
    And the marshals and cops get the same
    But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
    He’s taught in his school
    From the start by the rule
    That the laws are with him
    To protect his white skin
    To keep up his hate
    So he never thinks straight
    ’Bout the shape that he’s in
    But it ain’t him to blame
    He’s only a pawn in their game

    From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
    And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
    And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
    Shoot in the back
    With his fist in a clinch
    To hang and to lynch
    To hide ’neath the hood
    To kill with no pain
    Like a dog on a chain
    He ain’t got no name
    But it ain’t him to blame
    He’s only a pawn in their game.

    Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
    They lowered him down as a king
    But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
    That fired the gun
    He’ll see by his grave
    On the stone that remains
    Carved next to his name
    His epitaph plain:
    Only a pawn in their game

    Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/only-pawn-their-game#ixzz3OluuVw9e

    1. I corrected the statement on Medgar Evers’ death. Reading these Bob Dylan lyrics, it’s apparent just how much has not changed at all since the 60s.

      1. Nails it:

        A South politician preaches to the poor white man
        “You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
        You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
        And the Negro’s name
        Is used it is plain
        For the politician’s gain
        As he rises to fame
        And the poor white remains
        On the caboose of the train
        But it ain’t him to blame
        He’s only a pawn in their game

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