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New class at SFSU on Malcolm X challenges students' perspectives



Ted DeAdwyler
SFSU Office of Public Affairs

(415) 338-1665


Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs

Class one of the few of its type in the country

SAN FRANCISCO, March 22, 2002 -- To students in San Francisco State University's new class on the life of Malcolm X, the recent controversy surrounding the auction of the African American leader's personal papers isn't surprising.

"A lot of people won't admit it but the man is an historical figure and his papers should be treated with dignity and respect. In this class I am learning much more about his ideas than Spike Lee's movie ever told me about Malcolm X," said 21-year-old Leah Kimble-Price, a junior psychology major at SFSU.

The new class in the SFSU's Black Studies Department -- created and taught by Oba T'Shaka, a popular professor of black studies at SFSU and author of the best-selling book "The Political Legacy of Malcolm X" --- is one of the few, if any, courses in the country devoted to the life of Malcolm X, the charismatic black leader who more than 40 years after his assassination still remains a revered figure.

"Malcolm X is as meaningful as ever with young people of color because they identify with him," said T'Shaka, who began his 30th year on the S.F. State faculty this year. "They admire that he rose from the streets and with an eighth grade education and with time in prison, he became a major influence in this country and around the world. And I have always admired him, too."

T'Shaka said his new course on Malcolm X --- who made his first pilgrimage to Mecca 38 years ago next month --reflects renewed interest in black studies classes as San Francisco State's College of Ethnic Studies develops more contemporary courses for students.

For example, the Department of Black Studies last year offered a course on the role of hip-hop music in society. The course attracted more than 100 students each semester, making it one of the most popular courses in black studies. And the department recently introduced an on-line class on black culture and cyberspace.

The Malcolm X course this semester has 16 students who meet three times a week, but T'Shaka predicts three times as many will enroll next semester because the course will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The creation of the black studies course was a natural for T'Shaka, who graduated from S.F. State in 1961 with a bachelor's degree in government. During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, T'Shaka, who was then known as Bill Bradley before changing his name, was a major force behind the push for equal rights and increased job opportunities for African Americans and other people of color in San Francisco. He served as chair of the San Francisco chapter C.O.R.E. (The Congress of Racial Equality). And during 1963-64 T'Shaka organized a movement of 10,000 people in San Francisco for better jobs.

During a meeting of black leaders in San Francisco at the offices of the Sun Reporter newspaper in the 1960s, T'Shaka met Malcolm X. "I was impressed by his thinking, his organizational skills and his passion for what he believed in and how it could be achieved," recalled T'Shaka.

His class on Malcolm X, which offers students three units of credit, takes several approaches. First, students look at Malcolm's X background, his time on the street, his time in prison, his evolution in becoming a popular leader in the black community, and his break with the Nation of Islam.

Students then analyze the influences on his life, especially how his family was a central part in the development of his thoughts. Another section of the course consists of a critique of the arguments of the critics of Malcolm X. "Do they make good points? Did Malcolm make mistakes along the way? Should he have done some things differently?" said T'Shaka, adding that the students also explore Malcolm X's global influence.

One of the assignments at the end of the semester calls for students to look at how the writings of Malcolm X might apply to their own lives.

Berry Gardner, a student in T'Shaka's class and a colleague from the civil rights movement, said the class is helping him pass down timeless, street smart lessons to an even younger generation of African Americans. "As a volunteer I work with kids in Berkeley who don't know much about Malcolm X's and his ideas. This class is helping me pass on this valuable knowledge," said Gardner, who is 65 and recently earned both a business degree and black studies degree from S.F. State.

T'Shaka said the course is popular because it gives students a fresh perspective on an intriguing subject. "This course shows that Malcolm X had a worldwide view of life. And his legacy has lessons for us all. I even had a Japanese American teacher once come up to me say 'I learned a lot about being proud to be Japanese by reading about Malcolm X', "said T'Shaka.

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Last modified April 24, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs