|“||Michael X was quite simply a hustler, who was hustling off of Malcolm’s name. He was a crook! He didn’t set up anything you could commit to – he didn’t organise anything political.||„|
|~ Darcus Howe, a black power activist who met Michael X in 1970.|
Michael de Freitas, better known as Michael X and sometimes also called Abdul Malik (August 17, 1933 - May 16, 1975), was a Trinidadian civil rights activist and self-styled black revolutionary. While he spent most of his time in London, England, he eventually fled back to Trinidad and Tobago after jumping bail on an extortion charge. While there Michael was convicted of the murder of a follower of his named Joseph Skerritt and executed. His involvement in a second murder, that of Gale Benson, has been disputed.
Michael de Freitas was born in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, to an "Obeah-practising black woman from Barbados and an absent Portuguese father from St Kitts". Known as "Red Mike", he was expelled from school at age 14. De Freitas moved to the United Kingdom in 1957 and worked as an enforcer and frontman for extortionist Peter Rachman. While he claimed to dislike this job, de Freitas was perfectly willing to use the money to pay for his lifestyle.
After becoming involved with radical politics in and around Notting Hill, he gained his nickname Michael X after a misunderstanding; while he was travelling with Malcolm X somebody asked who he was, and Malcolm X referred to him as his "brother". The person did not understand and thought he was the actual brother of Malcolm X. "Michael X" became a well-known exponent of Black Power in London.
After meeting Malcolm X, Michael X converted to Islam. In 1965, he founded the Racial Adjustment Action Society under the alias Michael Abdul Malik. In 1967 he became involved with the hippy movement and helped to organise the Notting Hill Carnival, which would become an annual event.
However, that same year he gave a speech at an RAAS event in place of activist Stokely Carmichael during which he described the Notting Hill riots of 1958. He said: “In 1958 I saw white savages kicking black women in the streets and black brothers running away. If you ever see a white laying hands on a black woman, kill him immediately.” Press reports of Michael's speech led to him being charged with incitement to racial hatred under the Race Relations Act, making him the first non-white person to be charged with such an offence.
The trial was controversial at the time, not because anyone thought Michael X was innocent, but because more high-profile racists like Enoch Powell were not prosecuted for inciting hatred against black people. Michael was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.
In 1969 Michael X appointed himself leader of the black power commune known as the Black House. Celebrities like John Lennon and Yoko Ono donated money to support the commune, which was financed by a millionaire named Nigel Samuel. Michael X himself said that he had moved on from his violent rhetoric and was "keeping a sane approach". He started to seemingly make amends for his previously bigoted statements.
However, in what media called the "slave collar affair", a businessman named Marvin Brown was lured into the Black House and violently attacked. Witnesses said that Brown had been beaten and forced to wear a spiked slave collar while Michael X tried to extort money from him. Two men were convicted of assaulting Brown and sentenced to 18 months. Soon after, the Black House burned down and Michael X was arrested for extortion along with four others. He was bailed out of prison by John Lennon in January 1971 before fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago.
After arriving in Trinidad, Michael X set up another black power commune, also called the Black House. He told the Trinidad Express that he was still very much interested in bringing about social revolution. However, that changed when the second Black House also burned down and police investigating the fire found two bodies buried on the site.
The bodies were identified as belonging to Gale Benson, a British socialite and the daughter of an MP, and a barber named Joseph Skerritt. Skerritt was allegedly the cousin of Michael X, while Benson had met Michael through her relationship with Malcolm X's cousin Hakim (an associate of Michael X). At the time, Michael X had been visiting the Prime Minister of Guyana. However, the local police arrested Michael X and sent him back to Trinidad and Tobago to be charged.
Michael X was accused of the murders of both Skerritt and Benson, but was only charged with Skerritt's murder. Both police and the prosecution accused him of ordering his associates Stanley Abbott and Edward Chadee to kill Skerritt because Skerritt had refused to attack a local police station as part of Michael's revolution. A witness at the trial backed this claim up. Malik/Michael was convicted and sentenced to death. Abbott and Chadee were convicted of Benson's murder, though they claimed Michael X had done it while they watched.
The Save Malik Committee was set up by supporters of Michael X to save him from execution. They launched appeals claiming that hanging was a form of cruel and unusual punishment. After Michael X had spent two-and-a-half years on death row, the last of these appeals was rejected. He was hanged on May 16, 1975.