He claimed to be Europe’s most powerful Black man. Michael de Freitas, often known as Michael X, was the creator of the UK’s Black Power Movement, which fought for Black people’s rights with the help of celebrities such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The controversial Black revolutionary figure would take on several guises, including a hustler from Trinidad who could pass for White.
Despite his reputation as a pimp and a gangster, Michael X was a key figure in British racial politics in the 1960s. When he returned to Trinidad, he founded a commune and dreamed of becoming President, until two bodies were discovered on his property. Here’s what happened to him.
Michael X was born Michael de Freitas in 1933 in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, to a Barbadian mother and a Portuguese father. His father abandoned the family when he was very young. Michael X was working as a ship’s boy by the age of 14. According to The Telegraph, he docked in Cardiff at the age of 17 and went on to work as a seaman while making money as a pimp on the side. In his mid-twenties, he relocated to London and settled in Notting Hill, where he worked as a rent collector for famed landlord Peter Rachman, who rented property in Notting Hill at exorbitant prices.
Michael X, a hustler, and gambler became known in his neighborhood as a man who would stand up against White intimidation and persecution. Michael X began composing poems and achieving fame in the Black community after becoming friends with writer Alexander Trocchi.
Michael X attended a talk given by Malcolm X in London in 1965. He asked the African-American nationalist and religious leader to supper after meeting with him. Not long after Malcolm X left London, Michael X announced that he was forming a Black nationalist movement in the United Kingdom, inspired by the Muslim minister’s speech. It was also during this time that he took the moniker Michael X.
He rose to prominence in Britain as the leader of the Black Power movement after founding the Racial Adjustment Action Society (RAAS), a Black militant organization in London. As a result of his association with Malcolm X, he developed an interest in the Black Muslim cause, prompting him to change his name to Abdul Malik. However, he became enamored with celebrity.
After giving a speech to a mixed group of people in Reading in July 1967, Michael X was prosecuted with hate speech under the 1965 Race Relations Act, saying, “If you ever see a white man laying a hand on your black woman, shoot him instantly.” He was sentenced to eight months in prison. His RAAS lost members while he was in prison, and it was disbanded in 1968.
Following his release, he founded the “Black House,” a Black Power commune on Holloway Road in North London. The Black House, a hub for disgruntled Black youth, was largely funded by a young billionaire benefactor named Nigel Samuel and was supposed to include a restaurant, a grocery, and a cultural center. The Black House was founded at the same time as the British Black Panthers, a group dedicated to combating racism and police brutality in the United Kingdom. Michael X allegedly used his revolutionary image to gain money to manage the Black House, according to reports.
Michael X went to Trinidad in 1971 following a run-in with the law, and the Black House shuttered. According to BlackPast, the self-styled revolutionary built a commune in Christina Gardens, Trinidad, and formed a “Black Liberation Army” there, with the goal of becoming president of Trinidad. Celebrities such as John Lennon paid visits to the colony, but Michael X would be doomed if a couple paid him a visit.
The commune was visited by Gale Benson, a 27-year-old divorced British model, and her partner, Hakim Jamal, a Black American rebel and a cousin of Malcolm X. Benson was stabbed with a cutlass by Michael X followers and buried on January 2, 1972, after a few weeks in the commune.
Days before Benson’s death, Jamal reportedly told Michael X that he didn’t “look good” with a White woman by his side. “Benson was a passenger,” says the narrator. She was dispatched to raise funds for the commune, but she came back empty-handed. The Telegraph reported, “She had become disposable.”
A native Trinidadian guy named Joseph Skerritt was also murdered a few weeks after Benson was killed. Skerritt, a member of Michael X’s organization, was assassinated and buried on the commune after showing signs of turning against Michael X.
Benson’s body was missing for seven weeks before being discovered. Those who inquired about her status were told she had left. After her murder, her lover Jamal fled the commune for the United States. Authorities discovered her body, as well as Skerritt’s, after the commune suddenly burnt down weeks after her murder. The murder was charged against Michael X and four other men.
However, as reported by The Telegraph, Michael X had already been sentenced to death for the murder of Skerrit and thus did not face a trial. Michael X was hung in the Royal Gaol in Port of Spain on May 16, 1975, after a three-year trial for the murder of Skerritt.
According to UnHerd, which evaluated the article, V. S. Naipaul depicts Michael X as a narcissist who was disconnected from reality in his 1979 essay “Michael X and the Black Power Killings in Trinidad: Peace and Power.” According to UnHerd’s review, Naipaul portrays the self-styled revolutionary as a guy willing to kill to “fulfill his delusions.”
Michael X is seen organizing the death of Benson in the film series “Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World,” cited by UnHerd, because he thought the upper-class White English woman would denounce him for cultivating and exporting marijuana to America.