Side note: According to Alex Haley, who wrote Malcolm's biography, Malcolm wouldn't talk to anybody who wasn't wearing a watch. He thought if you didn't care what time it was, you were too irresponsible to be taken seriously.

a.k.a Malcolm Little, later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (1925-1965).

Malcolm X is probably second only to Martin Luther King Jr. as the most influencial leader in the African American struggle for Civil Rights.

Malcolm's early experiences with racism shaped his thinking over his lifetime. As a child growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm was witness to the near lynching of his father and the burning of his family home by Klansmen. Later his father was killed under mysterious circumstances and his mother was committed to a mental health asylum. Malcolm and his siblings were split up by child welfare advocates and for awhile he was forced to live in a group home run by a racist white couple.

Malcolm moved to Boston in his early teens and soon found himself in trouble with the law. In 1946 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary. It was in prision that Malcolm educated himself. Malcolm quickly became a gifted orator and his charisma was evident by everyone around him. He organized a prision debate team which beat MIT's debate society arguing the morality of capital punishment. He also became involved with the Lost-Found Nation of Islam (NOI) which was then led by Elijah Muhammad.

After his release from prison, Malcolm quickly rose within the ranks of NOI. He served as minister to temples in Harlem, Detroit and Philadelphia. Through frequent speaking engagements and establishing the NOI's only paper Muhammed Speaks!, Malcolm gained national noteriety for the NOI movement. He criticized other Black civil rights leaders for advocating integration instead of self-reliance and self-defense from racist attacks. He once said, "It is not integration that Negroes in America want, it is human dignity." He was often called a racist and hate-monger in the media as well as an advocate of violence.

As time went on and Malcolm's fame increased, he began to question some teaching of Elijah Muhammed that he believed contradicted the Holy Koran. He seemed uncomfortable with EM's notion that white people were made by the devil. He was careful to preface his sermons, "The honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches. . . ." in order to distance himself from EM words. Malcolm also disagreed with the NOI anti-political stance and thought that Black Americans needed to have a voice in American politics to effect change.

According to, "In 1962, before he split with the NOI, Malcolm shared the podium with black, white, and Puerto Rican labor organizers in the left-wing, multiracial hospital workers' union in New York." Malcolm also began to show an interest in international issues such as Vietnam.

Tensions arose between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammed. EM was bothered by Malcolm's popularity and Malcolm became disenchanted with his once mentor when he found that EM had fathered several children with various young women. After the assasination of JFK Jr., Malcolm made his infamous comment about "chickens coming home to roost"--referring to the racial violence of the American public suddenly turning inward and attacking their own. EM officially "silenced" Malcolm and secretly plotted to have him murdered. Malcolm found out about the assasination order and on March 8, 1964, he reisgned from the NOI.

After his resignation, Malcolm made a haaj or pilgramage to Mecca and became a Sunni Muslim. Seeing people of all races worshipping together in peace made Malcom reconsider his racist beliefs. Upon his return to the US he publicly acknowledged that whites were not devils and espoused the "True Brotherhood of Man." He remained a Black Nationalist and a strong believer in black self-determination and self-organization.

Malcolm organized the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1965 and planned to speak at the United Nations about the treatment of African Americans in the United State. During a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in New York, Malcolm was assasinated by gunmen associated with the NOI. He left behind an incomplete legacy , a wife Betty Shabazz and six daughters.

The assasination of Malcom, coupled with the murder of MLK changed the tone of the Black struggle for civil right. Many groups such as SNCC and the Black Panthers were no longer content to wait for peaceful measures to take their toll and relied instead on stronger self-defense and exclusionary tactics to achieve their goals.

Malcom's story was immortalized in the posthumous release of The Autobiography of Malcom X and the eponymous Spike Lee film.

When Malcolm X established his own Muslim sect in Harlem in March 1964, he stated that its purpose would be to "find a common approach, a common solution, to a common problem." The problem was racism, and he had devoted his whole being to struggling with it as a minister of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam-also know as the Black Muslims. A fringe religion that advocatted the creation of a seprate black nation, it taught that whites were oppressors who would ultimately reap apocalyptic fruits for their evil ways. Malcolm Little, as he was born in 1925, had embraced the faith during a prison term, taking the name Malcolm X. The "X", he said, "Replaces the white slave-master name imposed upon my paternal forebears by some blue-eyed devil." For 12 years the charismatic and bitingly articulate Malcolm led recruitment afforts for the movement, encouraging black Americans to be proud of their African heritage and to lead respectable lives. He also preached that whites were to be resisted "by any means necessary"- including violence. A persuasive speaker, Malcolm attracted hundreds of new members but eventually earned the disfavor of the movement's leader, Elijah Muhammad, after accusing him of financial and sexual corruption. During a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, Malcolm found himself sharing Islamic fellowship with people of all colors-including white. True Islam, he came to believe, precludes racism, "because people...who accept its religious principles...accept each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of differences in complexion." Returning home as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, he founded the Organisation of Afro-American Unity. But his goal of uniting blacks throughout the world would go unrealized. On February 21, 1965, at a Harlem rally, he was gunned down be three men, two of them Black Muslims.

1960's project

Malcolm X (1925-1965) was a man with a limitless future. He was a man who played a crucial role in the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing forth a strong feeling of oppression among African-Americans which others would later bring to a crescendo. He died too young, still full of a huge promise that the last year of his life showed clearly to the world.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little, in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. He was the fourth child of the Reverend Earl Little, a Baptist minister. His father was also a believer in the teachings of Marcus Garvey, a well-known speaker at the time who advocated black pride and the idea that all African-Americans should leave the United States and return to Africa. Little promoted this view publicly until 1931, where he was murdered under mysterious circumstances in East Lansing, Michigan, where the family had moved. Malcolm Little grew up without a father from the age of six.

His mother, Louise, was a strict disciplinarian who beat Malcolm frequently; she eventually had a mental breakdown and was declared insane. Even through all this, though, Malcolm still kept his head on straight, earning good grades in school, being elected class president, and playing basketball. When he was 14, his successes had encouraged him to confide in his favorite teacher that he dreamed of becoming a lawyer. The white teacher responded to him, "That's no realistic goal for a ni__er," and told Malcolm that he should do some sort of work with his hands.

Malcolm's ego was crushed, and it largely changed his perspective on life. He moved to Boston with his sister and started working odd jobs. When he moved to New York City in the early 1940s, these odd jobs turned into hustling, dealing drugs, and robbery. In 1946, at the age of 20, he was the head of a interracial burglary ring that included two young white women. He was caught with the group and in possession of some stolen goods, a crime that normally receives two years. However, the judge sentenced Malcolm to eight to ten years, telling the already-angry young man that "this will teach you to stay away from white girls."

In prison, Malcolm took up reading as a result of having a lot of time to spare. He would read up to fifteen hours a day, trying to search for answers to the questions that were filling his mind, questions of purpose in life and questions of race relations. He found the answer in the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. This sect believed that God had come to earth in Detroit in 1930 in the form of a man named Wallace D. Fard, whose teachings Muhammad eventually took up. Among the beliefs of this sect were the ideas that God created humankind 66 trillion years ago, that all humans were originally black, that a great black civilization ruled the earth for most of those trillions of years, that black scientists created animals and the moon, that a dissident black scientist named Yacub manufactured the white race 6000 years ago, that whites are a race of devils created specifically to torment blacks, that God granted to the whites control of the world for a limited period, and that God would deliver blacks from their bondage and destroy the white devils, perhaps in the year 1984. In essence, these teachings rely heavily on the concept of black superiority, a message that young Malcolm, with his mixed-up youth and anger towards white people, dived into.

He became a believer in this theology in 1947 and indoctrinated himself into the faith through thinking and reading for the rest of his prison term. When he was released in 1952, he renamed himself Malcolm X in keeping with Elijah Muhammad's belief that American blacks should give up their "slave names." A year later he was named an assistant minister at a Nation of Islam temple in Detroit, and a year after that he was sent to preach to the largest black community in the United States, that of Harlem in New York City.

The civil rights movement was just beginning to stir in the American south in the mid 1950s as Malcolm X went to Harlem. He was a tall, thin, charismatic man with a commanding speaking presence, and he spoke directly to the urban black community. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr., he wasn't polite about what he believed; he spoke with a deep anger about the broken promises of integration and Christianity and the need for blacks to get organized, get land, and feel pride in the fact that they were black. He preached that white people were devils who only held blacks down. Many people believe that Malcolm X taught messages of hate; that is a misunderstanding, he only stirred up the hatred that was already there by speaking directly to it with the things he believed in.

By the early 1960s, he was viewed as a leader of the black community, but he was also learning that the messages he had been preaching for the last ten years weren't exactly entirely true. He had met many white people that he found were not altogether evil, and his hardline stances on race relations were somewhat softening. He was also discovering that the leadership of the Nation of Islam wasn't particularly great, either; the leadership often dismissed their own teachings and encouraged jealousy and intrigue to fester within the group, something Malcolm didn't like at all. In 1964, he took a major stance and broke off from the Nation of Islam, announcing that he was forming a "black nationalist party" to represent blacks in national politics. Shocked at the loss of their most famous member, the Nation of Islam plotted revenge; one of their most well-known members, Louis Farrakhan, said publicly that Malcolm was worthy of death.

Malcolm spent the last year of his life changing his views a bit in the public arena and giving the world a glimpse of what might have been. He still felt deep anger toward white America; whites in the U.S. were still the enemy of blacks, he said, until their behavior proved otherwise. At the same time, however, he began to talk less about rage and more about the peaceful elements of what Islam had to offer to race relations in America through Islamic teachings. He became an accredited minister of Sunni Islam and he began using a new name: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He also quickly wrote an autobiography with the help of Alex Haley.

In December of 1964, he was asked what he would be doing next with his life and his politics. He responded simply, "I have no idea," giving the idea that for the first time in his life since he was fourteen, the possibilities were wide open for him.

Two months later, as Malcolm spoke to 400 blacks at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, he was shot to death by several assassins in the audience. Three Black Muslims were convicted for his murder and received life sentences. To this day it is believed that there was a conspiracy of many people and groups planning to take him out that night.

It's hard to say what might have been, but his legacy is clear. He gave African-Americans a new self-respect and helped them to think about themselves in a new way. In many ways, he helped to bulldoze the path of the civil rights movement as much as anyone else, but he did it through ideas more than actions.

In 1990, Spike Lee produced a magnificent biographical film about Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington. This film, and Malcolm X's autobiography, are both well worth exploring to gain a greater understanding of the history of race relations in the United States and the story of one intriguing and influential man.

Note: This was moved here from another node, so pardon any conflicts with other writeups in the node.

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