The unlikely friendship of Detroit Red and Chicago Red
In the early 1940s before converting to The Nation of Islam, Malcolm Little, then known as “Detroit Red”, became close friends with Jon Sanford, aka Redd Foxx then known as “Chicago Red”. They both were sharp dressers and resembled each other with their red hair. They worked at Jimmy’s Chicken Shack in Harlem and hustled the street together. “They used to rob places together and sleep on rooftops together. Redd said he knew Malcolm has his back and trusted him. If Redd was in a fight, he could turn his back and know Malcolm was gonna be in the other side, fighting with him.“
For a while they were partners in crime stealing suits and reselling them, dealing marijuana and other petty crimes. They had a falling out as Malcolm’s criminal activities increased resulting in his 6 year incarceration which led to his rebirth as Malcolm X.
“Malcolm didn’t have the showbiz talent so he didn’t give a damn what he got into,” Redd said. “He’d take on anything to get some dough. He was a little bit more aggressive, but I’d rather be sleeping with a broad and go somewhere [to a club] and do fifteen minutes of comedy.” (Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story)
“We became good buddies in a speakeasy where later on I was a waiter; Chicago Red was the funniest dishwasher on this earth. Now he’s making his living being funny as a nationally known stage and nightclub comedian. I don’t see any reason why old Chicago Red would mind me telling that he is Redd Foxx.“ - Malcolm X (The Autobiography of Malcolm X).
After not seeing each other for several years, they were reunited in the early 1960’s as evidenced in the above photo. Foxx passed away from a heart attack at the age of 68, in 1991; while Malcolm X was brutally assassinated at age 39, in 1965.