Fidel Castro and Malcolm X at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem on September 19, 1960.
Castro was visiting New York City to address the United Nations. He had checked into the elite Shelburne hotel in Midtown but it allegedly demanded an exorbitant fee in hard cash. Tabloid newspapers fumed that Castro’s “uncouth primitives” had “killed, plucked, and cooked chickens in their rooms at the Shelburne and extinguished cigars on expensive carpets”.The president and his entourage of 50, almost all dressed in combat fatigues, were said to have considered sleeping in hammocks in Central Park and threatened to march to the UN and set up camp on the grounds.But Malcolm X and other civil rights leaders arranged for the Cubans to stay at the rundown Hotel Theresa in predominantly black Harlem. Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography that Castro “achieved a psychological coup over the US State Department when it confined him to Manhattan, never dreaming that he’d stay uptown in Harlem and make such an impression among the Negroes”.
“Castro’s first words were lost to us assembled around him,” the New York Citizen-Call reported. “But Malcolm heard him and answered, ‘Downtown for you, it was ice, uptown it is warm.’
“The Premier smiled appreciatively. ‘Aahh yes, we feel very warm here.’
“Then the Muslim leader, ever a militant, said, ‘I think you will find the people in Harlem are not so addicted to the propaganda they put out downtown.’
“In halting English, Dr Castro said, ‘I admire this. I have seen how it is possible for propaganda to make changes in people. Your people live here and are faced with this propaganda all the time and yet, they understand. This is very interesting.’
“’There are 20 million of us,’ said Malcolm X, ‘and we always understand.’”
Malcolm X was later quoted as saying Castro was the “only white person he ever liked”.