Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Another Account of the Historic Meeting Between Fidel Castro and Malcolm X During the Early 1960s

PANW Editor's Note: This is another account of Fidel Castro's visit to Harlem in the early 1960s where he met with the late revolutionary leader Malcolm X, who was then a minister and spokesman for the Nation of Islam. According to a letter from Highland Park-based researcher on Malcolm X, Paul Lee, the account presented by Sylvia Weinstein is inaccurate and based on political biases that derive from the disputes between the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party during the period in question. Weinstein's 1993 brief account was reprinted on the Pan-African News Wire recently. Below we reprint Paul Lee's letter related to this matter as well as an interview with the late Renaldo Penalver Moral, a Cuban journalist who some have attributed responsibility for arranging the meeting with Malcolm X. The Moral interview and introductory remarks are reprinted from the AfroCubaWeb site.

Dear Cameron,

The 1993 article by Sylvia Weinstein, "Malcolm and
Fidel in Harlem," which you forwarded to me from the
Pan-African News Wire, edited by my good friend
Abayomi Azikiwe, is mostly crap.

For starters, this historic meeting did not take place
in October 1961 -- in fact, not in October or in 1961
-- as her article and the photo cutline states.
Rather, it occurred on 20 Sept. 1960, a year before.

Secondly, Weinstein either has a very faulty memory or
is lying because, in fact, the U. S. Socialist Workers
Party (SWP) played a VERY negligible role, at best, in
then-Prime Minister Castro's decision to decamp at
Harlem's fast-fading Hotel Theresa.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering that brought this
about had more to do with "racial" politics than with
Leftist politics, although Castro brilliantly used the
move to exploit BOTH.

To my mind, Weinstein's carelessness establishes that
she couldn't care about history, but was more
concerned with resurrecting the long-dead horse of the
obscure ideological conflict between the SWP and the
"Stalinist" Communist Party of the United States of
America (CPUSA) -- which nobody by sectarian Leftists
and the FBI cared about then and nobody but wizened
sectarian Leftists could possibly care about now (or
even in 1993).

I'm very surprised that Abayomi, who is a careful
student of history, would reprint such tripe. I do my
best to circulate only RELIABLE history.

At any rate, please find attached my careful
historical reconstruction of the Malcolm X-Castro
meeting and Malcolm X's little-known subsequent
contacts with the Cuban delegation, including a rare

Happy Holidays!

I have the honor to remain

Historical-Lee yours,


Reynaldo Peñalver Moral, Havana

(1927 - 1999)

We regret to announce the death of Reynaldo Peñalver, a retired journalist who played an important role in the movement of black social organizations to combat racial discrimination in pre-revolutionary Cuba, this November 29th.

Reynaldo Peñalver was an experienced AfroCuban journalist based in Havana. He interviewed the greats of Cuban life and was familiar with many aspects of AfroCuban culture. He also played an important role in bringing Fidel Castro and Malcom X together in their 1960 meeting. He worked for both Prensa Latina and Bohemia.

See Interview by Pedro Pérez Sarduy below.

Excerpt from Pedro Peréz Sarduy's "What Do Blacks Have in Cuba"

Reynaldo Peñalver Moral (68) is a retired journalist who played an important role in the movement of black social organizations to combat racial discrimination in pre-revolutionary Cuba:
There was an intellectual-type black journal called Nuevos Rumbos [New Directions], but I wanted a more popular publication that would reach the disadvantaged. That’s how I came to bring out Sociales [Society], and from that point on I knew journalism was for me.’

Convinced that the situation of blacks in Cuba would change one day, and needing qualifications, he enrolled in the Manuel Márquez Sterling School of Journalism. You had to be white , or the son or relative of some influential person. The examinations were written and oral. You could be brilliant in the written exam but you had to face four or five white professors and answer the questions they fired at you. When I graduated, I worked for a long time for a journalist called JorgeYanis Pujols who paid me five pesos a week to write the chronicles he published under his name. The paper would never take me on the books.’

The revolution changed that, and Reynaldo Peñalver started work in the state news agency Prensa Latina. His idea was always to help his black people, and, when a group of AfricanAmerican publishers visited to find out the truth about Cuba, he met the director of the paper Muhammad Speaks, who spoke to him about Malcolm X and the black muslims. Ever since a first trip to the United States in 1957, he had kept abreast of the black civil rights struggle in papers and magazines: ‘I received EBONY, The Chicago Defender and The People’s Courier... I don’t know whether the last two still come out.’

In 1960, he returned to New York to cover Fidel Castro’s historic visit to the United Nations, when both met Malcolm X: ‘He thought I was a West Indian... that Cuba was an island of whites only. I explained to Malcolm X that half the Cuban population were black and mulatto, tremendously mixed. He was really excited. Then he met Major Juan Almeida who later joined the Cuban delegation. During our meeting, Malcolm X suggested setting up a black muslim branch in Cuba, and I answered that Cuba had its own religious identity, like Santería, one of the three main African-derived belief systems. He talked about black ownership of big nationalized enterprises such as Sears and Woolworth [neither of which employed blacks]. Instead of me interviewing him, he wound up interviewing me. I’ll never forget him saying Fidel should watch out for the white-devils. I told him about an incident in the city of Santa Clara, when private clubs were taken over, and racist rumors started circulating about black aspirations, and how right Fidel was to say that anyone could dance with whoever they wanted to, what mattered was they danced with the revolution.’ Those who took the message to heart started the exodus.

That was when Reynaldo Peñalver spoke with one of Fidel Castro’s aides for the famous interview with Malcolm X at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem where the Cuban delegation stayed. Photos taken by a photographer friend of Malcolm X remained unpublished for a long time - ‘It seems many people in the United States didn’t want those photos known.’ Sitting on my hotel balcony looking out to sea, he tells the story with nostalgia in his words and a shine in his eves. His parting comment was, ‘Right now, we need our African American brothers and sisters.’

[A much longer version of this interview appears in "Afro-Cuban Voices On Race and Identity in Contemporary Cuba" by Pedro Pérez Sarduy and Jean Stubbs, out this spring from the University Press of Florida. This interview is entitled "Under the Streetlamp"]

Contacting AfroCubaWeb
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Box 1054, Arlington, MA 02474
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