Friday, May 19, 2006

May 19: Get Caught Reading Day

Today is the birthday of Malcolm X, the fiery, vocal civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1965. He was born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1946 he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to seven years in prison.

In prison, Malcolm became frustrated with his efforts to write letters. In order to find the words he couldn’t seem to muster, he turned to a dictionary. He studied it page by page and copied dictionary pages verbatim. Armed with an improved vocabulary, he began to turn to other books, becoming a voracious reader.

His voluminous reading made Malcolm literate, but it also set him free:

You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge . . . months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life (1).

You don't have to be behind bars to learn about the freedom that reading and knowledge bring. The month of May is Get Caught Reading month, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). The goal of the program is to "spread the word about the joys of reading through an industry-supported literacy campaign." The program was launched in 1999 by former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder. For more details on the program, go to:

Ironically, Malcomb X did not start reading until he was caught and incarcerated, and once he was in prison, he became so obsessed with the written word that he would stay up at night in his cell reading, trying to avoid getting caught reading by the night guards:

Each time I heard the approaching footsteps, I jumped into bed and feigned sleep. And as soon as the guard passed, I got back out of bed onto the floor area of that light glow, where I would read another fifty-eight minutes – until the guard approached again (1).

Today’s Challenge: X or M.J.K.?

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were without a doubt the most prominent black leaders in the American civil rights movement. Both men were assassinated; however, they did not always agree on methods. King advocated non-violent protest while Malcolm was an advocate of equality by any means necessary. The quotes below are by both men. See if you can identify the four by Malcolm X and the four by Martin Luther King, Jr.

1. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

2. Without education, you're not going anywhere in this world.

3. I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.

4. You don't have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.

5. A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.

6. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

7. As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free.

8. You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.

Quote of the Day:
Keep going; never stoop; sit tight;
Read something luminous at night.
--Edmund Wilson

Answers: 1. King 2. X 3. King 4. X 5. X 6. King 7. King 8. X

1 - Malcolm X with Alex Haley. The Authobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Random House, 1965.

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