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


March 9th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Omaha’s Malcolm X Foundation recently got its hands on a collection of items, which belonged to another Malcolm: a friend of Malcolm X. His collection offers a personal perspective on the life of the controversial black leader.

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Sharif Liwaru looks through a collection of items, which belonged to another Malcolm, a friend of Malcolm X. (Photo by Angel Martin)

The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation recently collected over 500 items once owned by Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis, a friend of the controversial civil rights leader Malcolm X.

“There’s still some treasures here left here to uncover,” said Sharif Liwaru, the president of the group, 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.

Liwaru said many of these items tell the story of the influential leader through the eyes of a friend.

“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, they each had other sides to them. Jarvis was also a musician.

Malcolm X facing a throng of reporters in 1964. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress via Wikimedia)

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.”

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 and took 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.

The Malcolm X Welcome Center is located in North Omaha, near the birthplace of Malcolm X. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Jarvis’s collection also includes several scrapbooks: 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, which he joined in prison. He advocated black supremacy and became a divisive figure to some, while to others he was a heroic 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 said.

Liwaru said while most people think of the South when they think of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X was a central figure in the story. And his story began right here in Omaha. Liwaru said this collection was brought to Omaha, in partnership with the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, which is based in Detroit. He says 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,” he said.

“So the peripheral imagery is important to us, so the people who don’t get the limelight, (and) did not get the limelight. We’re … looking to be able to have a catalyst with this to get some of those activities going,” Liwaru said.

Liwaru said 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 on Evans Street.

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