Black Lawyers: The Malcolm X Edition

Written By: Elsie Law - Mar• 02•22

Through his interviews and writings, Malcolm X often communicated his early-life desire to become an attorney. No one can deny that Malcolm X, history’s most potent advocate, would have been an incredible attorney. Before his life was taken, his youthful ambitions were snuffed out by a racist school system. He described the incident that dashed his hopes of becoming an attorney in his autobiography stating:

“He told me, ‘Malcolm, you ought to be thinking about a career. Have you been giving it thought?’ The truth is, I hadn’t. I never have figured out why I told him, ‘Well, yes, sir, I’ve been thinking I’d like to be a lawyer.’ Lansing certainly had no Negro lawyers-or doctors either-in those days, to hold up an image I might have aspired to. All I really knew for certain was that a lawyer didn’t wash dishes, as I was doing.

Mr. Ostrowski looked surprised, I remember, and leaned back in his chair and clasped his hand behind his head. He kind of half-smiled and said, ‘Malcolm, one of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic. Don’t misunderstand me, now. We all here like you, you know that. But you’ve got to be realistic about being a ni**er. A lawyer-that’s no realistic goal for a ni**er. You need to think about something you can be. You’re good with your hands-making things. Everybody admires your carpentry shop work. Why don’t you plan on carpentry? People like you as a person, you’d get all kinds of work.’

The more I thought afterwards about what he said, the more uneasy it made me. It just kept treading around in my mind.

What made it really begin to disturb me was Mr. Ostrowski’s advice to others in my class- all of them white. Most of them had told him they were planning to become farmers. But those who wanted to strike out on their own, to try something new, he had encouraged. Some, mostly girls, wanted to be teachers. A few wanted other professions, such as one boy who wanted to become a county agent; another, a veterinarian; and one girl wanted to be a nurse. They all reported that Mr. Ostrowski had encouraged what they had wanted. Yet nearly none of them had earned marks equal to mine.

It was a surprising thing that I had never thought of it that way before, but I realized that whatever I wasn’t, I was smarter than nearly all of those white kids. But apparently, I was still not intelligent enough, in their eyes, to become whatever I wanted to be. It was then that I began to change inside.”

57 years ago, Malcolm X was assassinated. Malcolm X often spoke about his desire to become an attorney. As a second-year law student, today, and every day, I salute and honor this most honorable ancestor. Thank you for your example, bravery, integrity, purity, self-discipline, love, intellect, Godliness, honesty, and leadership.

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