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Many civil rights leaders fought for the equality of all African-American citizens in the United States, and one man who is still today regarded as one of the most influential African-Americans in history. Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was a Muslim minister, a human rights activist and a prominent black nationalist leader. He was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, the fourth of the seven children born from parents Louise and Earl Little. His mother, Louis was a stay at home mom with her job placement in taking care of the eight children she is raising. His father, Earl, was an outspoken minister in Baptist religion and supported Black Nationalist Leader, Marcus Garvey.
In his early years, his father’s civil rights activism lead Malcolm and his family to be the subject of harassment from white supremacist groups, which y included the infamous white supremacist groups the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Legion. Malcolm even first encountered racism before he was even born. His mother once told him when she was pregnant with him, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to her home. Brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out. Because of all the harassment and death threats his family received when he was young, Earl, Malcolm’s father, was forced to relocate his family twice before Malcolm reached his fourth birthday. Earl moved them from Omaha, Nebraska, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1926 and then to Lansing, Michigan in 1928.
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When they moved to Lansing, however, the racism the family encountered was even greater than it was in Omaha. Their home was even set on fire by a racist mob in 1929, and the town’s all-white emergency responders refused to do anything about it. His family was forced to watch as their house burned to the ground as the white police and firemen that came stood around and watched it go up in flames and turn into rubble. Earl then moved the family again in East Lansing and built his family a new home there. Two years later, in 1931, Earl was found dead lying across the municipal streetcar tracks. Malcolm’s family believed that their father was murdered by the white supremacist groups that sent them constant death threats, but the police officially ruled Earl’s death a streetcar accident. Malcolm’s mother, Louise, never recovered from her husband’s death and suffered an emotional breakdown several years after he died. She was then sent to a mental institution where she remained from the next 26 years. Malcolm and his sibling were separated and placed in foster homes.
In 1938, Malcolm was kicked out of school and sent to a juvenile detention home. The foster home Malcolm was sent to was in Mason, Michigan. They were a white couple who treated him well, but treated him more mike a “pink poodle” or a “per canary” than a regular human being. He attended Mason High School where he was one of the only black students attending there. He did very well academically in school and was liked by classmates so much, that they even elected him as class president. One day in class in 1939, his English teacher asked him what he wanted to when he grew up and he exclaimed that he wanted to be a lawyer. The teacher told him to think of a more “realistic” goal like to plan on being into carpentry. Malcolm dropped out of school the following year at 15 due to being told that there was no point in a child pursing in education. Eventually, he met up with long-time friend, Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis and they moved to Boston, Massachusetts.
After moving to Boston in 1946, Malcolm and Shorty were arrested and convicted on burglary charges. They were sentenced to 10 years in prison, but Malcolm was granted parole after serving seven years. To pass the time during his time incarcerated, he would read constantly, picking out many books from the prison library in an attempt to make up for the years of education he missed out on by dropping out of high school. his brother Reginald and several other siblings came to visit him while he was in prison. His siblings had joined the Nation of Islam, a small sect of black Muslims who embraced the ideology of black nationalism. It was an idea that in order to secure freedom, justice, and equality, black Americans needed to establish their own state entirely spate from white Americans. Malcolm was intrigued by the ideas of the Nation of Islam; in 1952, he converted to the Nation of Islam while still in prison, and soon had ta new surname “X” due to the fact that he considered “Little” as a slave name and chose “X” to signify his lost tribal name.
Now living as a free man, Malcolm traveled to Detroit, Michigan, and worked with the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X was then appointed as a minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple No. 11 in Boston. He was also appointed as a national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He even stated a national newspaper in 1960 called ‘Muhammad Speaks” in order to further promote the message of the Nation of Islam. His charisma, drive, and conviction attracted a growing number of new members. He was largely credited with the increasing membership, which the group went from about 500 members in 1952 to about 30,000 members in 1963. Malcolm X had strictly adhered to the teaching of Muhammad, which also included remaining celibate, i.e., a person who abstains from marriage and sexual relations until he married a woman named Betty Shabazz in 1958.
He became a media magnet due to the controversy surrounding Malcolm throughout his life and career. Being the intelligent and charismatic public speaker that he is, Malcolm X expressed the bitterness of African American during the major phase of the civil rights movement from 1955 to the time of his death. In 1959, he was featured in a weeklong television special with Mike Wallace called “The Hate That He Produced.” On the program, they discussed the fundamentals of the Nation of Islam and tracked Malcom X as one of its most important leaders. After the special, however, Malcolm was faced with uncomfortable reality that his fame and attention he was receiving overshadowed his mentor Elijah Muhammad.
While Muhammad shunned politics from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X was becoming more political. Elijah Mahammad, who was becoming aware of the growing politicization of the movement that was having effected the Nation of Islam, took measures into his own hands to reassert his control. There was a police attack in Los Angeles in 1962 that drove home the bankruptcy of the Nation of Islam’s politics. In April of that year, a Black Muslim was killed by the Los Angeles police department. Malcolm immediately flew out to L.A. to direct the organization’s response. The nation preached self-defense, and the police murder seemingly called for retaliatory action, but Elijah Muhammad prevented his followers from organizing a sustained self-defense campaign.
Malcolm X expressed a lot of anger, frustration, and bitterness of African Americans during the major phase of the civil rights movement from 1955 to 1965. He became a formidable critic to the American society and even criticized the mainstream civil rights movement. This power lead him to criticize and challenge Martin Luther King, Jr.’s central notions of integration and nonviolent approach of activism. He argued that there was more at stake than the civil right to sit in a restaurant or even to vote and the most important issues were black identity, integrity, and independence. Malcolm has a different strategy in contrast from King’s nonviolent approach and urged his followers to defend themselves from those who attack their protest “by any means necessary.” Through the influence of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X helped change the terms used to refer to African Americans from “Negro” and “coloured” to mostly being referred to as “black” and sometimes “Afro-American.”
Malcolm’s faith in the Nation of Islam was dealt with a crushing blow at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963. He learned that his mentor and leader, Elijah Muhammad, secretly had carried on many extramarital affairs with at least six women within the Nation of Islam organization. He also found out that some of those relationships had resulted in several children. Malcolm felt betrayed from his own mentor carrying out these affairs with women as they broke the sanctions of the organization and even considered him a living prophet. Shortly after this discovery, Malcolm received a variety of backlash over his insensitive comment regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Malcolm later terminated his relationship with the Nation of Islam in March of 1964 due to not being able to look past Muhammad’s fraud and devious acts. He soon founded his own religious organization called the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
The same year he left the Nation of Islam, he embarked on an extended trip through North Africa and the Middle to East. This journey became a big political and spiritual turning point in his life. He shared his thoughts and beliefs with different cultures during the American Civil Rights Movement on the subjects of a global anti-colonial struggle, embracing socialism and Pan-Africanism, which was the principle of the political union of all the indigenous inhabitants of Africa. He also drew the conclusion that he did in fact needed to separate politics and religion, saying that we need to become involved with anybody anywhere at any time and in any manner that’s designed to eliminate the evils, such as the political, economic and social evils that are afflicting the people in our community. When Malcolm returned from his trip, he met blond-haired blued-eyed men that he would even call his own brothers.
After he returned from his visit from Africa, he had a wide variety of different approaches regarding African struggles. be began to argue that the black struggle in the United States was part of an international struggle; he connected this struggle against capitalism and imperialism. He also began in favor of socialism, referring to the African states, he believed all the countries that are emerging at this time from under the shackles of colonialism are turning towards socialist ways. Another approach he was leaning towards was that the struggle for black liberation was not defined as a racial conflict. On this new approach, he said, “We are living in an era of revolution, and the revolt of the American Negro is part of the rebellion against the oppression and colonialism….” He argued that it is incorrect to classify the revolution of the Negros as simply as a racial conflict of black against white, or as just an American problem, but see it a more of a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor. He soon later no longer saw the whites as enemies, as they can help the revolution of the Negros, buy couldn’t join them. As he saw that there couldn’t be a black-white unity until there is first some black unity.
Malcolm’s decision on leaving the Nation of Islam really affected his family in a major way later on during the high rise of his movement. FBI informants working undercover in the organization Malcolm once associated with warned officials that Malcolm X had been marked for assassination-one undercover officer had ever been ordered to help plant a bomb into his own car. After all these attempts on his life, Malcolm didn’t travel a lot anywhere anymore without bodyguards by his side. One day on February 14, 1965, Malcolm’s home where his wife and their four daughters lived at in East Elmhurst, New York, was firebombed, but luckily he and his family were able to escape without any physical injury. One week after the incident, however, his enemies were successful in their ruthless attempts on his life. At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, three gunman rushed to Malcolm onstage and shot him 15 times at close range. He was latter pronounced dead on arrival at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital at the age of 39, the same age Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, but King’s death would occur 3 years after Malcolm’s.
Malcolm’s funeral had 1500 people attend in Harlem on February 27, 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ. Later that same year, his wife, Betty, gave birth to their twin daughters. The assassins, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson were convicted of first-degree murder in march of 1966. It was later confirmed that these three men were members of the Nation of Islam, the organization Malcolm originally associated with before leaving a year before his death. His legacy has moved through generations in numerous documentaries, books, and movies about his life and successes. His martyrdom, ideas, and speeches contributed in the development of black nationalist ideology and the Black Power movement which helped to popularize the values of autonomy and independence among African-Americans in the 1960s and 70s. His legacy will always live on though his powerful words of wisdom, the changes he wanted to make in lives of African men, and the influence he had on Civil Rights activists because of how he influenced them to follow on along his path and continue to spread unity and equality of all those of men and women of different color.Works Cited
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