A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie: A Story of Wasted Scientific Potential

“People in the inner cities are naturally creative and inventive often times out of necessity.”

I originally published this piece on the Examiner in February of 2016.  It is not about a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) practitioner or inventor per se, but instead it is a look at an individual who had the potential to practice science.  Because of life choices and circumstances however, he used his intellectual gifts for criminal activities.  This person is an example of the wasted intellectual ability in the United States’ inner cities and also something my father talked about which was that, “People in the inner cities are naturally creative and inventive often times out of necessity.”

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West Indian Archie was portrayed by Delroy Lindo, in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington.  Though he was a minor character in the movie and in Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, West Indian Archie holds several significances, particularly in the realm of science.  Many of these significances are extremely relevant today in an era where there is a great push to get underrepresented minorities involved in STEM.

Malcolm X (then Malcolm Little) first met West Indian Archie in New York city prior to converting to Islam and dedicating his life to Civil Rights.  West Indian Archie was one of the bigger players in the ‘Numbers’ game in Harlem who had done time up the Hudson River at Ossining State Prison best known as ‘Sing Sing‘.  He eventually took Malcolm under his wing and taught him the Numbers game, and used the novice in his illegal activities.

West Indian Archie had the amazing ability memorize long sequences of numbers such that he never had to write them down.  He in fact warned Malcolm never to write his customer’s numbers down to minimize the potential for incriminating evidence should he get apprehended by the police.  As with most street partnerships, theirs eventually crumbled due to greed and ego, and Malcolm Little eventually fled Harlem to save his own life.

After Malcolm Little converted to Islam and became Malcolm X, he later found West Indian Archie close to death and the two reconciled their differences.  After educating himself in jail and gaining a new perspective on the world, Malcolm X realized that someone like West Indian Archie with his ability to memorize long sequences of numbers, could have used his talent to become any number of things particularly in the sciences. He could have become a physicist, an astronaut, a mathematician, etc.  He realized that in blighted urban areas all over the United States there were similar minds with the abilities to practice science that were wasted and used in things like criminal activity by default – a challenge we still face today.

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Whose job is it to teach Black History?
The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
How my HBCU led me to my STEM career
Ben Carson’s education story and what it means revisited
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month look at NASA’s Lieutenant Colonel Michael P. Anderson

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Author: anwaryusef

Anwar Y. Dunbar is a Regulatory Scientist. Being a naturally curious person, he is also a student of all things. He earned his Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan and his Bachelor’s Degree in General Biology from Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU). Prior to starting the Big Words Blog Site, Anwar published and contributed to numerous research articles in competitive scientific journals reporting on his research from graduate school and postdoctoral years. After falling in love with writing, he contributed to the now defunct Examiner.com, and the Edvocate where he regularly wrote about: Education-related stories/topics, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Financial Literacy; as well as conducted interviews with notable individuals such as actor and author Hill Harper. Having many influences, one of his most notable heroes is author, intellectual and speaker, Malcolm Gladwell, author of books including Outliers and David and Goliath. Anwar has his hands in many, many activities. In addition to writing, Anwar actively mentors youth, works to spread awareness of STEM careers, serves on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium, serves as Treasurer for the JCSU Washington, DC Alumni Chapter, and is active in the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church. He also tutors in the subjects of biology, chemistry and physics. Along with his multi-talented older brother Amahl Dunbar (designer of the Big Words logos, inventor and a plethora of other things), Anwar is a “Fanboy” and really enjoys Science-Fiction and Superhero movies including but not restricted to Captain America Civil War, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Prometheus. He is a proud native of Buffalo, NY.

8 thoughts on “A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie: A Story of Wasted Scientific Potential”

    1. Thank you for reading this Jennifer. My analytics are telling me that this a still a very popular post and this will always be an important topic.

  1. Hi, I read this blog after rewatching Malcolm X. I wondered more about West Indian Archie. Thanks for writing this blog. I also am alot more disturbed than I ever was in my life after watching the movie All the Way about LBJ presidency right after JFK was assassinated. My understanding of what happened in the 60s with the race riots, etc. was glossed over I believe, in school. I am still learning, and listening.

  2. I just finished watching “Godfather of Harlem” and have been doing a deep dive of all associates of Bumpy Johnson and Malcolm X. Great read, thanks!

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