37: The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta

Louis DeCaro Jr.

In "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005. Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips. Louis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997). read less
HistoryHistory

Episodes

Part I: On the Walk to Death
Apr 23 2021
Part I: On the Walk to Death
In the first episode, Lou reflects upon his first interview with Kenyatta, looking back at the difficult days of 1964-65, when Malcolm X was ousted from the Nation of Islam. Malcolm finds himself in conflict with his former brethren over possession of his house in Queens,  resulting in Malcolm exposing Elijah Muhammad's sexual abuses of young women to the media. When Malcolm goes abroad again in 1964, his two organizations back in New York City face pressure and strife, prompting Kenyatta to ask Malcolm to return.  These circumstances provide the backdrop to the crises leading up to Malcolm's assassination in February 1965, and the aftermath of his independent organizations, the Muslim Mosque Incorporated and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  In "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005.   Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips.  Based upon extensive interviews with Kenyatta, the story is juxtaposed against Kenyatta's FBI files and other research.Louis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997).Support the show
Part II: Without An Anchor
Apr 23 2021
Part II: Without An Anchor
In the second episode, Lou recalls how he and Kenyatta began their association, in a somewhat uneasy fashion, since Kenyatta wanted him to become his writer.  As it turned out, Kenyatta had a history of using writers to advance his message in Harlem for decades, often publishing pieces in Harlem's New York Amsterdam News. At first, involvement with Kenyatta raised concerns, especially since Lou began to learn that his reputation in Harlem was open to question.   In retrospect, he reflects upon Kenyatta's interaction with Malcolm's two organizations, and  their demise following the assassination.  In particular, Kenyatta's FBI file opens up an understanding of why Kenyatta would "leap from the frying pan into the fire."In "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005.   Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips.  Based upon extensive interviews with Kenyatta, the story is juxtaposed against Kenyatta's FBI files and other research.Louis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997).Support the show
Part III: Kenyatta of Harlem
Apr 23 2021
Part III: Kenyatta of Harlem
In the third episode, Lou talks about becoming closer to Kenyatta, who begins to share his story, beginning with a childhood traumatized by racism and violence in the South, and its ramifications in later life.   Lou also discusses Kenyatta's first independent efforts as a stepladder speaker in Harlem--an "inflammatory" career that brought him into center focus of the New York Office of the FBI, and Director J. Edgar Hoover.In "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005.   Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips.  Based upon extensive interviews with Kenyatta, the story is juxtaposed against Kenyatta's FBI files and other research.Louis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997).Support the show
Part IV: The Rabble Rouser Index
Apr 23 2021
Part IV: The Rabble Rouser Index
In the fourth episode, we learn how Kenyatta had become a major annoyance to the New York Office of the FBI, which saw him as a provocative and disturbing public figure in the later 1960s. With Malcolm gone, Kenyatta turns to supporting Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the Harlem Congressman and Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, who is facing his own struggles in Washington D.C.  As a machete-waving belligerent, Kenyatta is disliked by Martin Luther King Jr. , and with King's assassination, Kenyatta demonstrated his preference for Malcolm over Martin in an unconventional manner. Once again, however, Kenyatta makes yet radical shift -- this time in a most unpredictable direction.In "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005.   Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips.  Based upon extensive interviews with Kenyatta, the story is juxtaposed against Kenyatta's FBI files and other research.Louis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997).Support the show
Part V: Black Hunger and Other Pains
Apr 23 2021
Part V: Black Hunger and Other Pains
In the fifth episode, Kenyatta shifts from being a "bombastic, machete-waving extremist to a streetwise community leader" with connections to people in high places. Allied with Barry Gotteherer, "the mayor's man" among other people, Kenyatta continues to be a controversial figure in Harlem, but now because he is distrusted by many community activists. Meanwhile, Kenyatta becomes aware of the suffering of the Biafran people, whose independence movement has led to blockades and starvation, and he travels to Africa to intercede.  Reflecting on Kenyatta's concern for the poorest in the community, the story then flashes back to the Harlem street days of a zoot-suit wearing Charles Morris, playing the "up north success" and then returning South where his life descends into criminality and imprisonment.In "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005.   Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips.  Based upon extensive interviews with Kenyatta, the story is juxtaposed against Kenyatta's FBI files and other research.Louis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997).Support the show
Part VI: Shortcomings and Other Glorious Moments
Apr 23 2021
Part VI: Shortcomings and Other Glorious Moments
In the sixth episode we continue to follow young Charles Morris's dreadful experiences in the flourishing racist prison system in North Carolina of the late 1930s. Fast forwarding the story, we see Kenyatta's emerging role as a community reformer in the late 1960s and early '70s, and Lou's reflections on Kenyatta in the 1990s, when his community polemics prove embarrassing and offensive, especially in the wake of the death of Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, who died in 1997 after a tragic house fire.  Still, as Lou observes, Kenyatta's offensive behaviors probably reflected past memories of Malcolm's death and, likewise, his own near assassination in 1969, quite likely, by the same movement that had killed his friend.In "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005.   Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips.  Based upon extensive interviews with Kenyatta, the story is juxtaposed against Kenyatta's FBI files and other research.NOTE TO LISTENERS: ALTHOUGH KENYATTA'S NARRATIVE CONTAINS THE USE OF THE "N-WORD" IN THIS SECTION, IT IS NOT REPRODUCED.  INSTEAD, AN APPROPRIATELY OFFENSIVE "BEEP" SOUND SERVES AS THE "N-WORD" MARKER.--LDLouis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997).Support the show
Part VII: Where It Ended Up
Apr 23 2021
Part VII: Where It Ended Up
In the seventh episode, young Charles faces the ongoing racist abuses of prison authorities and then "escapes" as a parolee to the military, where he finds an even more outrageous experience of racism.  Struggling against a system where even black officers are subordinated to white inferiors, Charles pushes back and pays dearly for it.  And, in a twist of fate, Charles becomes the cell mate of one of jazz music's all-time legends, with a not-so-musical outcome.  Finally, Lou gets married and Kenyatta goes to his wedding--but then somewhat suddenly gets married too, and Lou is hardly "over the Moon" about it.NOTE TO LISTENERS: ALTHOUGH KENYATTA'S NARRATIVE CONTAINS THE USE OF THE "N-WORD" IN THIS SECTION, IT IS NOT REPRODUCED.  INSTEAD, AN APPROPRIATELY OFFENSIVE "BEEP" SOUND SERVES AS THE "N-WORD" MARKER.--LDIn "The Curious & Embattled Life of Charles Kenyatta," historian and biographer, Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., narrates the story of his association and friendship with Charles (37X) Kenyatta, a follower of Malcolm X and prominent personality in Harlem from the 1960s until his death in 2005.   Reminiscing about his decade-long association with this controversial Harlem personality, Lou weaves Kenyatta's own story into the narrative, revealing the life and struggles of an unlikely Harlem leader, a man whose passion for the poor and the disenfranchised was matched by his own quest for leadership and notoriety--a quest filled with twists, turns, and backflips.  Based upon extensive interviews with Kenyatta, the story is juxtaposed against Kenyatta's FBI files and other research.Louis DeCaro Jr. is a biographer of abolitionist John Brown, but entered his life of scholarship in the late 1980s and early '90s as a student of Malcolm X, and ultimately produced a doctoral dissertation and two books on the Muslim activist, On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X (1995) and Malcolm and the Cross: Christianity, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X (1997).Support the show