The History Behind Colin Kaepernick's Shirt of Malcolm X and Fidel Castro
Colin Kaepernick is keeping us all woke this week, even incorporating some incredible Cuban/African-American/Afro-Latinx history into the mix.
At the press conference where he explained why he has decided to sit during the National Anthem in protest of racial inequality in the U.S., the NFL player wore a Malcolm X hat with a t-shirt featuring images of the late Black leader meeting Fidel Castro. That encounter occurred in Harlem in September 1960, a year after the dictator came to power in Cuba and five years before the activist's death.
Castro was visiting New York City for the 15th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations at a time when U.S. and Cuba were facing the beginnings of their rocky relationship. Castro had just nationalized industry and placed high taxes on U.S. imports. Because of this, the Cuban delegation faced a great deal of trials and tribulations during their stay. Not only were they restricted to Manhattan, but they were also asked to deposit a $20,000 security fee in cash in order to stay at the hotel in Midtown they made reservations with.
The delegation ended up moving to Hotel Theresa, a black-owned business in Harlem, which was an idea from none other than Malcolm X. He proposed it to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, who then sent the idea over to Castro. Castro jumped at the opportunity to support his argument that Black Americans should support his reign in Cuba, where he promised that Afro-Cubans would be lifted out of oppression.
At this time, Black Harlem warmly welcomed Castro, many of them agreeing that they shared a common struggle with Afro-Cubans. They were also excited because many other foreign government leaders believed staying in Harlem was beneath them. The stay turned into a major celebration of people running out to the streets to cheer on the Cuban delegation as they arrived to the hotel.
The meeting between Castro and Malcolm X lasted about 15 minutes, and was mostly an exchange of what each one's struggle meant to them. With the presence of an interpreter, two reporters and a photographer, the two men sat on the edge of a hotel room bed and expressed their solidarity for a common cause: the fight against racial discrimination.
While the two never met again, there's no doubt that this was an extremely powerful meeting of the minds. The fact that Kapernick decided to wear a shirt of these two seemingly different leaders coming together and admiring each other's work toward racial equality is super symbolic and inspiring.