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Redlands Forum talk highlights independent research and criminal justice system

U of R Diversity in Action Resident Abdur-Rahman Muhammad (right) accepts an honorary plaque from University Advancement Associate Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations Anuradha Diekmann ’19, ’24. (Photo by Carrie Rosema)

Educate, challenge, engage, and inspire—these are the objectives of the Diversity in Action program at the University of Redlands. During the second week in March, the University hosted Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a journalist, historian, independent researcher, activist, and the inaugural Diversity in Action Resident.

“Diversity in Action is lived and experienced by and through those who are committed to social change, to reform in response to inequity or conflict, and to the strengthening of local communities, like our own. Frankly, diversity in action, today more than ever, is our collective responsibility: to include listening, considering, and respectfully challenging diverse perspectives,” said University Dean of Student Affairs Donna Eddleman.

Throughout the week, Muhammad delivered guest lectures, met with student leaders, dined with University leadership, and facilitated a book club discussion. During a Redlands Forum event on March 9, Muhammad spoke about his work and Malcolm X’s life and legacy.

Muhammad has devoted over three decades of his life to understanding the facts surrounding the assassination of Malcolm X and is widely regarded as one of the experts on the subject. He is featured in the Netflix documentary series Who Killed Malcolm X?, which historians and commentators say is largely responsible for the reinvestigation of the assassination and the subsequent exoneration of the two men who were wrongly convicted of the murder.

In 2010, after years of combing through witness testimonies and government documents, Muhammad published the name of the shotgun assassin—William Bradley—whose weapon killed Malcolm X. Bradley was previously unaffiliated with the case.

“Mr. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is a living example of the powerful truth that, with passion, vision, and motivation, one person can make a difference that changes everything,” said Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer Christopher Jones, introducing Muhammad to the Forum audience.

Before taking the stage of the Memorial Chapel, Muhammad played a clip from an episode of ABC’s Soul of a Nation. The excerpt featured Muhammad A. Aziz (formerly known as Norman 3X Butler), one of two men wrongfully convicted of Malcolm X’s assassination, and detailed his path to justice over the course of 55 years.

Throughout his talk, Muhammad aimed to resolve the decades-old question: if Malcolm X was an international figure, why wasn’t his death treated with the same attention? To provide context, Muhammad compared the life of Malcolm X with that of another important activist—Martin Luther King Jr.

“Today, we say Malcolm and Martin; we say them together,” he said. “They enjoyed—in Black America and in the community of struggle—they enjoyed equal stature. We take for granted the fact that we needed them both.”

However, this was not the case in the early 1960s, when both leaders were on the national stage. King was seen as a respectable, peaceful, educated leader, while Malcolm X was aggressive, militant, and misunderstood. When they were killed, King was worthy of national mourning; Malcolm X was not.

Taking a more granular perspective, Muhammad spoke about Malcolm X’s involvement and later renunciation of the Nation of Islam. After years of subscribing to the Nation’s ideology and Elijah Muhammad’s leadership, Malcolm X grew disillusioned with the organization and left. After receiving numerous death threats, he was killed on February 21, 1965.

“There was a trial, it was reported on in the papers, everyone generally assumed that the Black Muslims did it. It didn’t really matter—some men were sent to prison and that was it. No one really cared much at all,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad, however, did care. After learning about the details of the case as a student at Howard University, he began to see discrepancies that would launch a 30-year quest to set the record straight. Years of combing through archival footage, government documents, and facilitating interviews with witnesses and their children led to Muhammad’s important discoveries. When he published a photo of William Bradley in 2010, he said that media teams didn’t want to follow the story for fear of facing a libel case. But that revelation was key in the 2021 exoneration of two men who were wrongly convicted of killing Malcolm X.

Before the event ended, audience members were invited to ask Muhammad questions. Johnston Center for Integrative Studies student Suphanat Isarangkoon ’22 asked for advice on launching a career in independent scholarship. Muhammad responded: “Find the balance—between earning a living and doing meaningful work.”

Watch a recording of the talk or learn more about the U of R’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.