Malcom X and his Mau Mau speech in Harlem in 1964

Mau Mau fighters in a detention camp. [File, Standard]

In December 1964, a year after the end of colonialism in Kenya, civil rights activist Malcolm X spoke in Harlem, the heart of Black America. His message was inspired by Mau Mau fighters in Kenya.

In the meeting, Malcolm extolled the virtues of the African freedom struggle with a rendition of ‘Oginga Odinga of Kenya’ performed by Freedom Singers, a musical group that sang “freedom songs” to encourage the Black American movement.

In the speech, fiery Malcolm X said it was time for America to have its own version of the Mau Mau. “In my opinion, not only in Mississippi and Alabama, but right here in New York City, you and I can best learn how to get real freedom by studying how (Jomo) Kenyatta brought it to his people in Kenya and how Odinga helped him, and the excellent job that was done by the Mau Mau. In Mississippi we need a Mau Mau. In Alabama we need a Mau Mau. In Georgia we need a Mau Mau. Right here in Harlem, New York City, we need a Mau Mau,” he said.

According to the book, Mau Mau in Harlem? The US and Liberations in Kenya by Gerald Horne, Malcolm X called for a “Mau Mau as a way to even (the) score” in America for blacks seeking more social and political freedoms.

So strong was the Mau Mau ideology among the Blacks in America in the 1960s that several organisations took on the name to signify their closeness to Kenya’s armed struggle.

For example, a man who called himself Charles 37X Kenyatta (after Kenya’s future president) and who was once Malcolm’s bodyguard, headed a group called Mau Mau Society, a paramilitary group that offered protection to Blacks.

During the war in Vietnam, a Black-led organisation called De Mau Mau was said to exist among the marines. The group was reportedly an undercover guerrilla unit that murdered several whites. Hakim A Jamal, a comrade of Malcolm X and suspected to be part of this group stated: “I wanted to go to Africa, but not to study Islam. I’d rather join the Mau Mau.”

Civil rights activist Charles Evers suggested using armed resistance against white domination. The activists bought bullets and “made some idle Mau Mau plans” before they fizzled out.

Others, such as Maulana of Los Angeles were influenced by the Mau Mau ideology and took a Kikuyu name (Karenga).

So strong were the Mau Mau ideals that Horne described a key goal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1968 was to “prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups that might be the first step toward a real Mau Mau in America”.