1975: Michael X

On this date in 1975, black revolutionary Michael X was hanged for murdering an insubordinate follower.

Born Michael de Freitas to a mixed-race parentage, the future Michael X immigrated to London from his native Trinidad in 1957.

There, he quickly established a criminal niche — drugs, racketeering, prostitution. “They’ve made me the archbishop of violence in this country,” he joked. It was a background noticeably parallel to that of Malcolm X, whose naming convention he took after a 1965 meeting.

By then, our day’s subject had been swept into the contradictory whirl of the 1960’s, emerging as Britain’s “authentic voice of black bitterness”, whose networks ran the gamut from the criminal underbelly to the rich and powerful.

(He’s a fringe character in the 2008 film The Bank Job, which imaginatively posits that he ducked prosecution for a heist by threatening to expose incriminating photos of swinging royal Princess Margaret.)

Michael’s chameleon-like identity — he was raised to pass as white, and known as “Red Mike” by black nationalist compadres — meshes well with the Rorschach-blot times he lived in. Certainly there was the eloquent spokesman of black militancy. There was also, ever more predominant, the violent avatar of social breakdown.

Michael X skipped bail in England to bolt for Trinidad and an agricultural commune with an increasingly creepy bent. Eventually, two bodies turned up: Joseph Skerritt, personally murdered by a machete-wielding Michael X for refusing to attack a police station and/or general disillusionment; and (sensationally) the socialite daughter of a Tory M.P. evidently buried alive.

Michael X — now Michael Abdul Malik — still had the cachet to draw celebrity support for his clemency campaign; Angela Davis, William Kunstler and John Lennon (who had put up Michael de Freitas’s bail in some previous legal scrapes) backed the “Save Malik” committee, but to no avail.

On this day..