Bayard Rustin, left, and Malcolm X, center, talk at their Howard University debate in Washington on Oct. 30, 1961. Seated to the right is Michael Winston, the debate moderator.
“I left Community Church some months ago with mixed feelings. The occasion was a so-called debate between Malcolm X. and Bayard Rustin, and the topic was ‘Separation and Integration.’ Being a pacifist, a Negro, and one who has been involved in the racial struggle lately, I expected to be with Mr. Rustin all the way and against Mr. X. completely. My mixed feelings were the result of the discovery that I was applauding more for Malcolm X. than I was for Bayard Rustin. During the debate — actually it was more a statement of position on both their parts — it seemed to me as though Bayard Rustin were taking the position of the ‘radical middle.’ I know, of course, that this is not the case with Mr. Rustin, but it seemed so as I listened. There is no question in my mind but that he presented the saner attitude, yet the amazing thing was how eloquently Malcolm X. stated the problems which Negroes have confronted for so many years. The biggest difficulty about listening to him — especially for a Negro — is that he wraps the problem up so neatly that one is almost carried on into his faulty conclusions by the wealth of emotions he evokes. I must confess that it did my heart a world of good to sit back and listen to Mr. X. list the sins of the white man toward the black man in America. He does it well. I daresay that if I were not already convinced of the efficacy of looking on humans as humans rather than as black, white, or any of the shades in between, I might have joined the Black Muslims forthwith. For too many years, black Americans have not been able to look at white Americans as the same kind of humans, for the most part, and have been placed in a situation where they must make the white man feel comfortable. If they don’t — especially in the South — it can be a matter of life and death. In his short story ‘This Morning, This Evening, So Soon,’ James Baldwin explains this conundrum. He has the narrator of the story, a Negro who ‘has it made’ In Europe, returning to Alabama for a while. The narrator admits that he didn’t ‘despise them (the white people) any more than everyone else did, only the others never let it show. They knew how to keep white folks happy, and it was easy — you just had to keep them feeling like they were God’s favor to the universe.’ The point at which I depart from Malcolm X. and the Black Muslims is the very point at which I wish they were strongest. They seem to want to set up a black superiority to replace a white superiority. Both are equally bad. …”
Washington Post: Pacifism or self-defense? The backstory of a famous debate between two towering civil rights figures.
Malcolm X: Bayard Rustin Debate (November, 1960)
W – Bayard Rustin
YouTube: Bayard Rustin debates Malcolm X, Malcolm X vs Bayard Rustin Jan 23rd 1962 (Live)