URI removes incorrect Malcolm X quote from Carothers Library after 30 years

After 30 years, a Malcolm X misquote has been removed from the outside of the Carothers Library. PHOTO CREDIT: Lucas Masiello | Staff Photographer

The University of Rhode Island has finished removing a 30 year old misquotation of Malcom X engraved on the Robert L. Carothers Library.

On Nov. 10, 1992, the URI Black Student Leadership Group (BSLG) peacefully protested a variety of issues at the University by taking over Taft Hall in an event now known as “The Takeover.” Over 200 students, led by the BSLG, participated, and later that day presented the president at the time, Robert L. Carothers, with a list of 14 demands and points of concerns from URI students of color.

Michelle Fontes, interim assistant vice president for Community Equity and Diversity, talked about one of the points of concerns.

“One of them [the points] was that the misquote not be there anymore,” Fontes said. “Because it’s just a portion of a quote, not the whole quote and there are other quotes they could have used.”

According to the URI website, URI’s BSLG said that the engraving, “A good library… I could spend my life reading” purposefully left out: “If I weren’t here every day fighting the white man.”

Now, over 30 years after the initial complaints from the BSLG, the University removed the misgraved quote from the library.

Bobby Britto-Oliveira, ‘06, said he first learned about the misquote when he was an undergraduate student.

“My initial reaction when gaining a better understanding of the misquote was not one of shock, but was more or less an expected norm,” Britto-Oliveira said. “It also immediately served as a reminder as to why it is imperative that we not only learn about the social movements that paved the way for us, but to also honor the legacy of those who were committed to it.”

Britto-Oliveira also mentioned a documentary made in Nov. 2022 by current URI student, Cristobal Bustos 25′ titled “The BSLG- A Voice Was Heard!” The documentary focused on members of the BSLG and “The Takeover” protest.

Fontes said the idea of removing the misquote has been revisited many times in the past 30 years with no real action around it, but came to fruition after conversations that Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council (MUSIC) had with herself, Sean Edmund Rogers, who was the vice president of Community, Equity, and Diversity at the time and URI President, Marc Parlange, in the fall of 2022.

“[MUSIC] Students had learned about the fact that it was there and it hadn’t been taken down, they kind of reinvigorated that argument,” Fontes said. “Some of those student leaders came to the Multicultural Student Services Center and asked questions like ‘why has it not come down?’ ‘what’s going on with that?’”

Today, the University is holding a “Malcolm X Misquote Removal Event” where URI leaders, students and BSLG alumni will provide remarks. The event will be at 2 p.m. at the Robert L. Carothers Library & Learning Commons main entrance, and in case of inclement weather, will be held in the Galanti Lounge on the third floor of the library.

“We’re going to have this event to celebrate [the removal] but we’re also going to use this opportunity to come together as a group and talk to the President about the other things that need to happen moving forward,” Fontes said. “And so a couple of times it’s been brought up ‘so now what?’ and that Thomas Jefferson is on there as well and some people feel some type of way about that, so there’s more conversations to be had.”

Britto-Oliveira said the initial problem was not the quote itself, but that it was changed to create a completely different meaning from what Malcolm intended, so the removal of the quote is commendable

“I would, however, prefer that whatever is put in its place be a thorough representation of the struggle that the BSLG selflessly went through to ensure future generations of URI scholars who look like me would have a place here,” Britto-Oliveira said. “If that means correcting the quote or creating space for it to live on or within the library, great.”

Looking forward, Fontes said an installation will be created in the first floor of the library with archives about what the BSLG did and also recognize the misquote removal. The University also hopes to install benches outside the library under where the old quote with a plaque about the misquote.

“There’s something to be said about the fact that our president hasn’t been here very long,” Fontes said. “And, you know, that move to action sent a create message. And he’s created a new strategic plan that really includes what diversity and equity look like on campus and the action around it.”