Inquisitive student finds some living history linked to Malcolm X

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Ever since Malcolm X was killed, every detail of his life has been scoured. At least that's what Malcolm Burnley thought ... until, as a senior at Brown University, he discovered a story about a campus visit.

"Reading his autobiography was a really big moment in my adolescence," said Burnley, who said he realized that Malcolm X was on his campus, but he didn't know about it. "I didn't know about it, and no one knew about it."

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Malcolm X came to Brown University in 1961 in response to Katherine Pierce's writing in the Brown Daily Herald.

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Burnley had come across a 1961 article in the Brown Daily Herald written by a student named Katherine Pierce, who argued that integration of the races was the key to progress. Malcolm X had read the article and came to Brown to push back.

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Malcolm Burnley realized that Malcolm X had visited his campus in 1961 and searched for the person he responded to on his visit to campus.
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"My instinct was to find her phone number," said Burnley. "Hope that she was still alive and really remembered the entire story."

Burnley, named in part for Malcolm X, tracked down Katie Pierce. It turned out, she remembered it all.

"He did not detract from his central thesis," said Pierce. "Which is that separation is better than segregation. Brilliant speaker."

She even had a tape of that night in Sayles Hall that included her own introduction.

"I now turn the platform over to Minister Malcolm X Shabazz."

And the words of the man himself.

"We who follow the Honorable Elijah Muhammad absolutely reject integration because we feel that it is hypocritical and that it takes too long."

Burnley believes the idea that Malcolm X would go to a university after seeing a criticism in a student paper wouldn't happen today.

"I mean, usually the battle will happen on Twitter or something," Burnley said.

Pierce said Malcolm X did not change her mind.

In fact, Malcolm X would change his, moving closer to Pierce's belief in integration before he died. Four years after he traveled to Brown.

"It was almost giddy, being in the midst of something potentially interesting historically," said Pierce.

Time has not eroded Malcolm X's place in history, nor in her-story either.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.