About 5,000 persons braved the soggy grounds of Anacostia Park yesterday to pay homage to Malcolm X, the charismatic spokesman for black self-sufficiency who was slain in l965, a year after he split from his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam.
It was the 12th annual Malcolm X Day celebration, and in the crowd were many too young to remember the man whose life they were celebrating. Some said they had become familar with his works through the Malcom X Cultural Center of Southeast Washington, which sponsored yesterday's event.
"He was for educating the young people so we would have jobs," said Sonia Robinson, 16, a student a Ballou High School. "He taught black people that they could make it if they tried."
"He was for unity of all black people," said her classmate, Barbara Johnson.
The celebration featured a Southeast musical group, The Junkyard Band, and a voter registration drive. It had been scheduled for May 22 and was to include a speech by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of Operation Push, and an appearance by the musical group Soul Searches. But rain washed out the original date for the event, and neither Jackson nor the Soul Searches was there yesterday.
Malcom X Day was inaugurated in l972 by a committee of Southeast Washington residents who felt that Malcolm X, later known as El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, carried a special message for them.
"In our view, the connection between Malcolm X and Southeast Washington is a natural one," said Malik R. Edwards, executive director of the Malcolm X Cultural Education Center. "The path emblazoned by Malcolm X for self realization, as well as his unrelenting expression in behalf of black people for cultural, political, and economic actualization, is both a lesson and a challenge."
The Malcolm X center, located at 2208 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, has a program that encourages students to stay in school, a youth development program that emphasizes community activity, and a drug education program that features seminars by city drug-treatment officials.
The Nation of Islam had been cloaked in obscurity for almost two decades when it drew the attention of an ex-convict who took the name Malcolm X. He had zeal and an acerbic speaking style, and he helped swell the ranks of the Black Muslims from a few hundred to more than several hundred thousand.
Although Malcolm X was once anti-white, he became a believer in equality among all people in his final years after converting to Islam. He was assassinated on Feb. 21, l965.