Would You Buy a Revolution From This Man?
Quanell X used to sell drugs for a living, and now he sold revolution.
Sitting alone beneath African flags, he still seemed to match his police description: five feet, ten inches tall, 200 pounds, brown hair and, of course, the black skin. The face, with particular attention to nostrils and ears, was washed 15 times a day; the hair was cut twice a week; and the whole was wrapped now in an orange suit with matching orange shoes. (There was also a bow tie, but that, he would explain later, was a ''security device,'' which would come off in the hands of any attacker.)
"In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful,'' he began. He invoked the names of all the prophets. He spoke as though all heaven and earth were listening.
But in the SHAPE Community Center, there was only a small throng of mostly black reporters, and it wasn't entirely clear why they had come. The press release had announced a new "community-based organization'' that would assist in "stopping the violence within our inner-city communities.'' This seemed a noble goal, but as it was not yet a noble deed, the release would have sufficed. Yet there they were, a half-dozen reporters with recorders and pads, waiting for Quanell X to make something out of nothing.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press, brothers and sisters, I've called this press conference today to announce to everyone -- black, brown, yellow and white -- that I have decided I would leave the Nation of Islam to form an organization called the MFOI -- Mental Freedom Obtains Independence."
Rice Owls Mens Basketball vs. Charlotte Mens Basketball
TicketsSat., Jan. 28, 7:00pm
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 10AM-3PM
TicketsMon., Jan. 30, 10:00am
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 3PM-8PM
TicketsMon., Jan. 30, 3:00pm
Super Bowl Opening Night Fueled By Gatorade
TicketsMon., Jan. 30, 7:00pm
His plan was confusing. He was leaving the local mosque of the Nation of Islam to form a group that would support the Nation. This group would have several goals, but the basic goal would be black unity, and the basic enforcer would be a roving band of gang members.
Quanell had big plans for his "paramilitary wing." To "Pastor Porkchop, Bishop Coward" and other black leaders, he warned, "Sell us out, and tomorrow, the army will be knocking at your door."
When he talked of stopping the violence, he meant police violence. Members of the MFOI would carry video cameras, which would be used to document police brutality. If this evidence did not bring about justice, well, said Quanell, "We will deal with police corruption in the streets by any means necessary." An eye for an eye, a life for a life, he said.
"I say to those corrupt police officers, I hope you are as willing to die as you are willing to kill."
There would be other goals too, of course. Later, Quanell would say that in times of rioting, the MFOI would come to the rescue of black neighborhoods by handing out maps to nice, white neighborhoods like River Oaks and West University Place. Later, he would say that if Louis Farrakhan is ever harmed, black people would kill every white in sight: "Blood will flow in America like a mighty river."
And later, it would turn out that Quanell had not left the Nation at all, but had been excused for a "moral infraction."
But at the press conference, Quanell only said what he wanted to say and then marched out with two nameless bodyguards. His announcement of an army had been most notable for its absence of soldiers.
It wasn't the first time Quanell has declared war. In fact, Quanell has had something unpleasant to say about nearly everyone -- from whites in general to Jews, Arabs, Asians and homosexuals, specifically. During the Million Man March, he made the news from here to Jerusalem when he told a Chicago Tribune reporter:
"I say to Jewish America, get ready ... knuckle up, put your boots on, because we're ready and the war is going down."
Nothing happened afterward, except that Quanell became famous. It was a year and a half later when he called the Houston Press suggesting a profile on himself. He said he had appeared on CNN, on the Jerry Springer Show and in rap magazines. Local newspapers had also done stories on him, but he said these had portrayed him in "too much of a good-guy light." It was his impression that the Houston Press shows ''the true person," and the truth was, he said politely, he's "the most dangerous young black man in the city."
"I'm not Malcolm X -- I'm Quanell," he said. "But I've never been able to escape the stigma of being called the new Malcolm."
Thereafter, he was so particular about his image that what he chose to conceal was nearly as revealing as what he confessed. He was completely at ease, for example, speaking of his days as a drug dealer, but it never was clear what he does for a living now. He preferred the view of himself as a rap artist. According to rumor, however, he worked in a drug-abuse center as a counselor to indigent teenagers. Was it true that he had a job doing good? "Not necessarily," he said, and the supervisor said Quanell had asked her not to comment.
The object, apparently, was to come across as a serious figure. Quanell would not be trifled with. Until just before the press conference, he worked as an aide to state Representative Ron Wilson, and he said Wilson advised him on how to handle this story. So when he was asked how many suits he owns, Quanell refused to reply. Later, he reported that Ron Wilson had agreed this was not a serious question, and Ron Wilson had proposed several alternatives.
"He offers insight into a segment of our community that people only read about and see on TV," Wilson has said of Quanell. "If we're going to save the black community, we're going to have to have individuals like Quanell X to guide the way."
Wilson wouldn't speak with the Houston Press, however, nor would City Council members Jew Don Boney and Michael Yarbrough, nor Pastor Michael Williams of Joy Tabernacle Baptist Church, nor anyone Quanell suggested to vouch for him as a revolutionary. There was only silence surrounding Quanell, and in the silence, for all his work, Quanell did not seem the man of the people at all, but the man without people, a revolutionary still at the beginning of his career.
His desire to help his people seemed always intertwined with his desire to help himself, and when he was told this, he agreed without pause. "I wouldn't expect you to say anything else," he said, for the same had been told of Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan, and to Quanell, anyway, getting ahead in the world just seemed the Nation of Islam way.
Then Minister Robert Muhammad emerged from the secret halls of the Nation's local mosque. He said that Quanell is a very intelligent, very passionate man of great potential, but also one who has much to learn. Muhammad wouldn't specify which of the Nation's rules Quanell broke, but the punishment could be anything from a 90-day suspension for lying to a one-year exile for fornication to an indefinite banishment for drug use.
The Nation's code of silence also weighed heavily on Quanell, but he could not help offering a clue. "Study Malcolm's history, man! Study it! Study it!"
To be born into the Nation of Islam was to understand the world in a radically different way. While pregnant with Quanell, his mother met an ex-con who had salvaged his life by joining the Nation. A wanderer until then, she became a lieutenant in the MGT -- Muslim Girls Training. She learned how to be a good wife and mother, and in December 1970 she gave birth to a son. They wanted to name him after the Muslim holy book -- the Qur'an, as the Nation spells it. Religion forbade that, so they dropped the "r" and called him Quanell.
From the day of his birth, it was drilled into Quanell that white people are the devil. All of history seemed to support this. Black Americans had been robbed of everything that could bind them together, except what white people had done to them. Slavery and its aftermath became the basis of a new faith, which sought to restore what had been lost.
Quanell accepted the whole history: The messiah arrived in the Detroit ghetto in 1930, a door-to-door salesman of silk. Wallace Fard said his silks were African silks, and he talked a lot about Africa, and before long, his customers began gathering to hear him. He told them what kind of food is good for an African, and when they accepted that, he told them about African religion.
By 1934, a Temple of Islam had been opened, and Fard was calling himself the "Supreme Ruler of the Universe.'' Then he disappeared forever. In his place rose his chief minister, Elijah Muhammad, who pronounced Fard an incarnation of Allah and himself the "Messenger of Allah.''
And what Allah told Elijah Muhammad to tell the black man no other Muslim had ever heard. The black man was born in Africa some 66 trillion years ago, he wrote, after a mighty explosion separated Earth and moon. Great civilizations rose and fell. Black people were generally happy, except for "the big-head scientist,'' Yakub. Exiled for attempting to start another religion, Yakub chose to avenge himself upon Allah by creating a race of devils. He began grafting from black people "the brown germ'' and breeding it with other brown germs. The lighter these offspring became, the more devoid of humanity they were, until finally, after 600 years, it was done. "The blue-eyed devils" had arrived.
"If that's not true," said Quanell, "then prove to me where you come from."
The promise of the faith is not an afterlife, but the prospect of being left alone -- the prophecy that God will soon end the reign of the white devils. Elijah Muhammad never suggested learning to live with them. Black people who have fallen down today were chained down by white people yesterday, and to lift them up, Elijah Muhammad appealed to their anger and pride. Go after the men in the gutter, he told his ministers. They will be the most grateful and loyal followers.
Malcolm X was one of these fallen men, a Harlem drug dealer who was in prison for burglary when Elijah Muhammad's teachings hit him like "a blinding light." He became the Nation's greatest minister, and in time, Quanell read his autobiography and saw the movie.
"He's not a hero to everyone within the Nation of Islam," Quanell said, "but he's a hero to me."
The old neighborhood is not "the livable forest," according to Quanell, and on the day he gave the tour, three bodyguards were stuffed into his back seat. They sat erect and quiet. They looked like very nice boys -- none older than 16 -- but they wouldn't speak when spoken to.
"Leave them alone," Quanell ordered. "No one talks on their post. They're taught to walk their post in a perfect manner, keeping always on the alert."
So for the rest of the afternoon, the boys sat mutely, jumping to open Quanell's door whenever the car stopped. The car was a polished gold BMW, and in south Houston, as it rolled through the streets of South Acres, perhaps not everyone understood that Quanell had changed professions and had borrowed to buy this car.
He turned a corner and pointed to the small, white, apparently abandoned house in which he grew up.
"Where that little bush is?" he said. "He died right there -- right there with his fingers in the gate." Quanell's uncle had slapped his girlfriend around. She unloaded a gun on him.
"A friend of mine lay dead rii-iight there," Quanell said a moment later, indicating a sewer. His friend had been selling drugs, and "Big Teeth David" wanted those drugs and put three bullets in the dealer's head.
"They killed a dope fiend and threw the body in the bayou over there," said Quanell, " 'cause he owed them some money."
The tour continued: more quiet streets and corpses. It was disorienting. There were tall fences and bars on the windows, but most of the houses seemed in good repair, not at all like a bomb had fallen. Quanell would say, "Man, Botany Street is notorious," but then you'd look around and have only the sense of being nowhere at all.
Quanell told about his life here with the joy of distance. It seemed his world had been walled in, and he had taken freedom where he found it -- by causing pain and then by rapping about and protesting it. He had done what he had to. Pain was the only natural resource.
"It's amazing how I was once that," said Quanell, sitting in his leather seat. "But look at the respect for Quanell X today -- and this is all over the black community."
He was six years old when he arrived from Los Angeles, "a little Muslim boy" who had been taught how to read, how to speak a little Arabic and how to always, always respect his elders. His mother had grown weary of her husband and the Nation of Islam. She deposited Quanell and his two brothers with her own mother, and she went her way. Quanell's grandmother spent most of her time working in the homes of white people as a housekeeper. After the rigid structure of his first years, Quanell entered a world with virtually no structure at all.
His first memory here is hanging out with the fellows on street corners. He grew especially fond of the pimps -- exotic old boys like Candyman, Santa Claus, Satin and Silky Slim. They'd drive by in their long cabaret cars with the top dropped and diamonds on their fingers, drinks sloshing in their hands. Women would be fawning all over them as they said, "Come here, little buddy -- let me give you some of this money here."
Quanell took the money and soon began working for the pimps. His job was to keep an eye on their women and report how many tricks they turned. It was easy work, because at the same time, Quanell was also working for the women, taking money to tell johns where to find them.
He learned quickly to look after himself. He took lessons from the pimps. What he learned about women during this time was not from the women but from the pimps. Always take a woman's money, the pimps advised. "When I got a ho, I got a ho!" was how one of them put it, and Quanell said he soaked up this advice and never talked to another woman the same way again. Now he's given them up entirely.
"Between five and 30 minutes of pleasure, it really ain't worth it, man, for the hell you got to go through," he said. "Real pleasure was never meant to come from a woman, anyway. Real pleasure comes from a man developing his successes."
By junior high, the Muslim boy was getting into gang fights with chains and sticks and bricks and bottles. School was competitive: He and his friends would compete for the most F's. Teachers threatened to call his mother. Quanell said go ahead.
He thinks it was a teacher who christened their gang the South Acres Fools. Quanell admits he was the brains of the group: "I would always tell guys how to carry themselves -- don't look so obvious when you're doing your certain indiscretions."
When he was 15, his grandmother left to tend a sick relation. A relative was supposed to look out for the boys, but didn't, and before long, the phone and electricity had been cut off, they had been evicted from the house and the doors and windows had been boarded up.
With nowhere to go, Quanell and his brothers pried the board off the back door. They didn't want their plight to become known by Children's Protective Services, so they told few people. One of these was a neighbor who let them borrow water and run an electrical cord from her house. When her son didn't come home at night, she let them eat his dinner. Otherwise, Quanell said, he'd sometimes borrow a dollar at school and buy four packs of noodles with it. Or he'd do something else, perhaps steal something.
They didn't have their grandmother's phone number, he said, so they lived like this for 11 months. Because of his age, Quanell had been moved on to Worthing High School, and he said he played that year on the basketball team.
By this time, crack had come to the hood, and the whores had become even more desperate, and many had died. Crack had long ago dried up Quanell's pimp money, and so when he got the chance, he became a crack dealer.
"I got some rocks from a partner of mine," he said. "I spent $100. In 30 seconds, I had $300! Shee-it -- how in the hell you going to tell me to get a job?"
Money rushed over Quanell like a river through a desert. Some days he drove a Cherokee to school; other days, maybe a Jaguar. He had his hair straightened. He wore gold chains and had a gold tooth installed in his mouth. Every week, he'd buy a new pair of Nikes and new warm-up suits. After slipping a teacher some cash once, he got passes that allowed him to parade down the halls. Often, he'd march into the cafeteria and buy everyone lunch.
Yes, he had rivals, and how did he deal with them?
"Next question," said Quanell. "It's a black thing. You'll never understand."
On May 24, 1989, Quanell was selling crack in his front yard when he heard police cars racing down his street. He jumped into a BMW and raced the other way, but they cornered him and cuffed his hands, and as he lay on the ground, he remembers a white policeman grinding a .45 pistol into his ear and hissing, "I'm tired of you niggers selling dope!" Then the cop kicked Quanell in the ribs.
It was not treatment to which Quanell was accustomed. Except for a gang rape when he was 11 (consensual sex, he says), he had never been arrested before. He was not prepared for what he found in the jail. The minute he walked in the door, the guards began shouting at him, as though he had done something wrong.
"Take off your motherfucking shoes and get ass naked and bend down and cough!" the guard told him. "And if you don't cough, I'm going to boot you in your motherfucking ass, and make you cough!"
The sentence was ten years' probation. Quanell was in jail only shortly, but he emerged "mentally, morally, spiritually and politically dead," he said. And a little angry, too, with uncertain career plans. It was in this state that Quanell wandered into a Farrakhan rally and found his roots.
"I said to myself, 'My God, this black man talking about white folks like that -- he's gotta be crazy! Folks will kill him!' I saw a man with unbelievable courage."
He was told to be proud, that he descends from the Tribe of Shabazz, the planet's original inhabitants who once ruled in dignity and splendor. He was told what happened to this noble race, and then he was told who did it to them. Finally, Quanell was told to stop selling poison to his people and to get off the ground and stand like a proud human being and fight the people who have been flogging his people for centuries.
"It let me know that no matter how bad I had been," said Quanell, "that if I took hold of the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, I could change and become someone respected, someone to admire."
Most new recruits are taught in a group, but Quanell was picked out by Minister Robert Muhammad and taught individually. At the mosque on Cullen Street, he said, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Without drug money, he was broke, but the Nation supported him and gave him suits to wear, and he was inspected every day to ensure that he was clean -- "very, very clean." He read and read. Afterward, Robert Muhammad would quiz him on his reading and correct him when he mispronounced words. Quanell followed Robert Muhammad wherever he went, "sucking off all the knowledge he could give me." Little by little, Quanell began to understand the world.
He learned again what white people had done to black people. Also, he recalled an Asian shopkeeper who had smiled at him but who had scolded her daughter for touching his hand when she gave change. This was racism, Quanell realized. He began to understand the Arab shopkeepers, too. They were Muslim, and yet they sold things Muslims were not supposed to consume -- pork, liquor and pornography. Quanell drew no conclusions about shopkeepers but only about Arabs. It could only mean that Arabs, like everyone else, were preying on people they didn't care about.
"Jews? I didn't know anything about Jews," Quanell explained, "until I joined the Nation of Islam."
A cabal of Jewish bankers, he read, had actually been causing him problems for all of his life. These bankers have secretly controlled the globe for centuries, causing friction between people so that wars would erupt so that loans must be made to fight them so that Jews would lead wealthier, happier lives.
Sounded good to Quanell. Why else, he asked, would the Jewish owners of record companies sell rap music glorifying black destruction?
Quanell bought everything, and as he did, everything began to happen for him. He became the Nation's local youth minister and began preaching pride and oppression in schools and on the radio, anywhere he could find an audience. He told black people what the white slavemasters had done to them, how they had tied pregnant slaves to different horses and had ripped them apart and how they had stomped on the babies who fell out.
He became known for his poise and way with words, and an old friend from the hood, the rapper Scarface, called him in to handle the reporters. Quanell insisted that he's a moderating force with local rap groups. He said he tries "to help the brothers to a higher understanding of their talents.'' Don't insult black sisters, he advises them. Don't talk about shooting other black brothers. Rap about social change. Rap about shooting policemen.
As an example of his work, he offered the Scarface song, "I'm Black."
"Well, United States of America," he declares on the song, "do you honestly believe just because you wear a badge, that means you have the right to treat my people like animals? I'll be damned! Your blood will flow at the hands of the black man!"
Then to the sound of machine guns, Scarface jumps in: "Mister Officer, Mister Mister Master, I'm picking out your casket, sir. Die motherfucker ... Fuck you motherfuckers...."
Anyway, things were going well in July 1992, when Quanell walked into his younger brother's apartment and found him in a puddle of cold blood, his skin rubbery to the touch. Three others had also been shot in the head, and there was an emptiness in the safe where the crack money had been. Soon the place was swarming with reporters, Quanell remembers, and it was there that he met Ron Wilson. According to the account that went out over the wire, "The shooting sparked anger among the mostly black residents of the area, who linked it to deteriorating social conditions caused by white people."
If there's ever anything he can do, Wilson offered Quanell, and soon Quanell was on the phone, asking Wilson to come hear him speak. Wilson must have been impressed, because he invited Quanell to appear with him at his own speaking engagement.
A Texas A&M fraternity had thrown a party in which some white boys had amused themselves by prancing around in blackface. Later, Quanell stood up to denounce racism, and in the course of doing so, managed to denounce homosexuality. A "sickness," he called it. Wilson, in turn, was called upon to denounce Quanell X, which he refused to do. The actions of the fraternity should not be tolerated because "they're supported by state funds," Wilson told reporters. "Quanell X is not."
The reporters put down their phones; Wilson put Quanell on the state payroll as his administrative aide. They became very close. Unlike with Robert Muhammad, Quanell said, he and Ron Wilson have never disagreed.
"Ron is like a father to me," said Quanell. "Ron taught me how to give back to the community."
Quanell kept giving his gift of expression. He told his truth on rap albums and at rap concerts. In 1995, when the African-American Leadership Conference was held at TSU, Quanell pushed to the front of the country's black leaders to field a question about rap. When he was done, Farrakhan was standing there with his mouth open, "like in awe" -- or at least Quanell took it that way.
At the Million Man March, having spotted a reporter taking notes, Quanell gave him his card and told him what he knew about Jews. In the Chicago Tribune story that appeared afterward, he was identified as the Nation's national youth minister and the minister of its Houston mosque.
At the same event, Quanell managed to get on the air with Bernard Shaw. Contrary to the Nation of Islam rule of non-engagement, Quanell told the world that black America would soon quit singing and start swinging.
He made tapes of his television appearances and offered them to the press. When reporters would call to speak with Wilson, they would often encounter Quanell instead, suggesting profiles of himself. Such stories appeared in the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle. "Some say he has the drive and personality of a young Malcolm X," the Chronicle story read. Many people have said this, said Quanell, but when he was asked who, he offered only a story from a defunct magazine called YSB. That story also said Quanell has been compared to Malcolm, but it also didn't say by whom.
"For some reason," said Quanell, "destiny has me trapped in Malcolm. I wanted to come out of Malcolm because members of the Nation of Islam spoke so ill of Malcolm, and I didn't want them to see me like that and think ill of me. But it happened!"
After his speaking engagements, Quanell would return to the mosque and find his brothers even angrier than usual. He had become a national figure; their anger, he was sure, could only be jealousy.
"Study Malcolm's history, man! Study it!"
In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Quanell indicated the passage on envy. Malcolm had spent years traversing the country, spreading the word on white people. He had established more than 100 mosques in all 50 states. And when he returned from his travels, he would hear only spite.
"It was being said that 'Minister Malcolm is trying to take over the Nation,' it was being said that I was 'taking credit' for Mr. Muhammad's teaching, it was being said that I was trying to build an empire for myself. It was being said that I loved playing 'coast-to-coast Mr. Big Shot.'"
Though he invoked Elijah Muhammad's name wherever he spoke, Malcolm's own name and face had become more visible. This created a tension between Elijah Muhammad and his chief minister, which reached a breaking point after President Kennedy was killed.
Elijah Muhammad had instructed his ministers to make no comment to the press, but Malcolm found himself in front of microphones anyway. His comment (a matter of white hatred coming home to roost) was far from the most provoking Malcolm had ever made, but nonetheless Elijah Muhammad imposed a period of silence on his chief minister. Malcolm was stunned, and linking this to rumors and the fact that he had been blacked out of the Muslim newspaper he had helped to found, he wrote, "I could not evade the obvious strategy and plotting coming out of Chicago to eliminate me from the Nation of Islam ... if not from the world."
This is the history that Quanell believes he was doomed to repeat. "If you read between the lines," he said, "you can tell what happened."
One day last summer, when Quanell was sent to help a brother raging about in a drug frenzy, he found the police there as well. Quanell recalls one officer telling him, "You know, you're really making things tough for us out in the street." Quanell offered to chat another time, but he said the officer declined.
Later, when the brother was arrested for snatching a purse, the police went searching for accomplices and summoned Quanell. He entered the station proudly, accompanied by Robert Muhammad and Ron Wilson. They waited eight hours, he said, before he was placed in a lineup and told he could go.
The police had never given Quanell anything but trouble. It was the cops who had arrested and humiliated him. It was the cops who had never solved his brother's murder, and it was the cops, he believed, who were possibly behind it. ("Maybe they thought they couldn't get to me," he said.) Now, as he saw it, the cops were harassing a black man again, and Quanell wanted to open the doors of hell upon them.
Quanell said Robert Muhammad told him to hush up. Quanell was dumbfounded. He won't say any more now. He just points to the Malcolm X story and the fact of his growing fame.
Sometime in August, as he tells it, Quanell committed the infraction that he basically defines as disobedience. In September, after he was excused from the mosque, he appeared in a fine suit before a group of TSU students. The tape of the event shows him orating on the evils of white people and even calling for a raid upon the house of George Bush, for dealing crack unto the black community. Then Quanell opened those doors of hell:
"I refuse to allow some foot-shuffling, some head-bowing, knee-bending, boot-licking, behind-kissing, old-times-ain't-forgotten, still-wish-we-in-the-land-of-pick-cotton, sell-out, window-dressing Negroes to QUIET ME DOWN, quiet down the spirit of young brothers and sisters, because Reverend Ham Hock, Pastor Porkchop, Deacon Chickenfoot and Bishop Coward would not stand up and fight for the liberation of their people -- I'M SORRY!"
At the SHAPE Center, five months later, Quanell announced his "army of God." It was not exactly the shot heard 'round the world. The Chronicle buried a small, confusing story about it in the pages of the local section. In the Acres Home Citizen, Bud Johnson, "The Old African Warrior," wrote that Quanell had baffled the media in describing "what appears to be a mostly nether organization."
Robert Muhammad, for his part, issued an open letter in which he said the Nation "will do nothing to hurt or harm what [Quanell] is attempting to do of good." On the other hand, Muhammad wrote, "If he goes contrary to the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, it will bring him down.
"The Honorable Louis Farrakhan and we who follow him pray that Allah will bless Brother Quanell to return to the fold when his time is up ... As-Salaam Alaikum."
Quanell isn't sure he'll ever return to the local mosque. He never mentioned it, but another section in the Autobiography dealt with Malcolm's life after leaving the Nation.
"I knew better than all whites knew, and better than nearly all of the black 'leaders' knew, that the most dangerous black man in America was the ghetto hustler," Malcolm wrote. "The ghetto hustler is internally restrained by nothing. He has no religion, no concept of morality, no civic responsibility, no fear -- nothing."
Malcolm wanted to gather Harlem's hustlers and take them to places like Little Rock and Birmingham, where black people were getting beat up. Malcolm's hustlers would not get beat up. He had great plans, but he began receiving death threats and then black Muslims began following him, and on February 21, 1965, as he stood to speak in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, he was shot by several men. He died at the age of 39.
In case someone is following, Quanell drives fast now. His driver's license gives only the address of the Nation of Islam, and his phone number is unlisted. Still, he said, he gets death threats. He stays on his toes. In restaurants, if he can't get a black waiter to look out for him, he'll go into the kitchen himself to watch the white cooks prepare his food. He said he didn't fear white reporters, but inside his apartment, Quanell made a point of mentioning that a bodyguard was upstairs. His backup was not vigilant, however. The toilet soon flushed, and there came the sound of a shower.
In the living room, Quanell sat away from the windows. Above one of the red couches was a large photo of his younger brother, dead in his coffin. Otherwise, amid sketches of Elijah Muhammad, the velvet painting of Farrakhan and a giant portrait of Malcolm X, there were photos of Quanell himself, making speeches.
He said the MFOI will fight for reparations to the descendants of slaves, and it will support black politicians and will help to establish a black economy. There was so much the MFOI would do, but Quanell eventually boiled it down to just this:
"Why not start a gang that will stop those police officers from doing what they do to our people?" he asked. "We got to have that kind of gang!''
A gang that will fight Quanell's war in the name of the people: Why not? Quanell has been a gang leader before. If gang members will kill over who's wearing a blue rag and who's wearing a red one, he said, "Can you imagine what these brothers will do if we change their thought processes?''
The afternoon began filling then with unanswered questions. Quanell flashed a copy of what he said was an MFOI magazine, but he wouldn't allow it to be read. The MFOI has an 800 number, but no one answers it. Brothers were training at that very minute, he swore, but he wouldn't display a single soldier.
Upstairs, the bodyguard had finished his shower. He came down, said goodbye and walked out the door. Quanell sat alone with his back to the wall, still talking about revolution.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.