Malcolm X was initially known as Malcolm Little at birth in Omaha Nebraska, on 19th May 1925. However, he changed the slave name ‘Little’ and adopted X a representation of unknown when he joined the ‘Nation of Islam’. His father was Reverend Earl Little and was a Baptist Minister and also served as an organizer for Marcus Garvey Universal Negro Improvement, which was a black separatist association in the early 1920’s. His civil rights activism against white supremacy prompted numerous death threats forcing relocations when Malcolm was very young. However, he was later killed when Malcolm was thirteen years. After the death of their father, their mother suffered an emotional breakdown, which led her to be committed to a mental institution (Anzia 4). Therefore, Malcolm was brought up in a series of foster homes.
Irrespective of the numerous challenges surrounding his early life, Malcolm was a focused and smart student, and on finishing junior high, he was on top of his class. However, based on the history of his family, he was defiant to the authorities. Even with his superb performance at school, he dropped out when a favorite teacher told him that his dream of becoming a lawyer was not realistic since he was black. On dropping out of school, he spent part of his life in Boston Massachusetts working on odd jobs until when he moved to Harlem New York (Anzia 3). He was involved in the coordination of various narcotics, gambling and prostitution and was reported to have committed various petty crimes. However, after he returned to Boston with his friend in 1946, they were arrested having been involved in a series of burglary and were sentenced for ten years.
Malcolm X and Nation of Islam
When in prison, he underwent significant changes having been influenced by various figures such as Bimbi, who was a self educated man. He was able to convince Malcolm X that education was important since after the eighth grade he had forgotten how to read and write. However under his tutelage he started studying and even started taking correspondence courses. The history of Malcolm and Islamic movement is dated back 1948, when he was visited by his brother in prison (Karim para 9). His brother was plotting how he could get him out of the prison but never revealed how he could do it, but advised him not to eat pork.
Based on faith, he followed his brother Reginald’s advice, where he started believing that those were the working instances of Allah. His brother’s mission was to enlist Malcolm into the Nation of Islam, which was popularly known as Black Muslims. Founded in the 1930’s by Elijah Muhammad, the movement propagated for separations of the races expressing the white man as incarnate devil. Based on the history of his life, Malcolm X willingly believed in this tenet referring the white men as devils. Malcolm X was stimulated by the teachings of Muhammad especially on the history of black people and their relations with the whites. On cross examining and studying history teachings. He found compelling evidence that depicted the nature of the white man (Goldman 8). Therefore, he joined the Nation of Islam adopting the name that was later used when he became famous.
Malcolm was paroled in 1952, and went to Detroit where he lived with his brother Wilfred who was also a member of the Nation of Islam. While working at an automobile factory where he had obtained employment, he started studying all information about the Nation of Islam. His interest in the movement led him to quit his job and move to Chicago to meet Muhammad whom he considered a savior of the black people. For example, in the black revolution speech he stated “as a follower and minister of the honorable Elijah Muhammad, who is the messenger of Allah to the so-called Negro”. However, he returned to Boston in the late 1953, where he established a Black Muslim temple and later established another one in Philadelphia (Anzia 4). Muhammad was pleased with his diligence and speed in the organization of the temples he had established and appointed him as a minister of temple seven in Harlem, New York.
While serving as the minister of temple seven in Harlem, he also organized various other temples in different states becoming a close confidant and an adviser of Muhammad. He later married Betty X in early 1958, still a member of the congregation. During the period from 1953 and 1963 the Nation of Islam grew exponentially from a small number of storefront temples to a well defined, organized and vocal association. Their ideology was based on separation of races where Malcolm X was the most renowned and volatile spokesperson. By 1959, the Black Muslims movement had attracted the publicity of the whole country making headlines in television documentaries (Haley and MalcomX para 10). This also led to violent confrontations with the police, which worked positively for Malcolm X burgeoning him to prominence as the spokesperson of the angry black people.
For example, in his speech on June 1963 in speech renowned as the Black Revolution he posed and asked “.. Will the exploited and oppressed black seek integration with their white exploiters or white oppressors or will these awakened black masses truly revolt and separate themselves completely from this race that has enslaved us?”. His hatred filled speeches exposed the white man as evil or devil through the use of various parables in the bible. For example, he explained that the American condition fits well with the symbolic picture of the lost sheep in the Bible (Goldman 438). He termed the white American people as wolves and the black Americans as the sheep and questioned how the sheep and the wolves could be integrated.
The Nation of Islam spread its influence growing substantially providing hope to many black Americans in prisons, alcoholics, addicts and communities, which had been beaten down by the ravages of racism. The association developed schools, defended the community and provided employment opportunities for the segregated African American community. Through the Nation of Islam Malcolm X supported radical ideologies and claims of black superiority and adoption of violent confrontation in fighting white supremacy. This led to his rise to become a national figure and presentation as the de-facto leader of the Nation of Islam, which did not augur well with its leader Muhammad (Hales para 3). The majority of the white community started fearing that his indoctrination would incite the black masses against the white. However, although Malcolm X was well known, he was not liked by all black people. Some were concerned that his ideology of violence would destroy the effectiveness of non-violent ideologies adopted in the mainstream civil rights movements.
The Nation of Islam was a religious organization and a movement that provoked controversy in the promotion of black pride and self-reliance and self-defense. Malcolm X was supporting the use of violence by African Americans in self defense. For example, he stated “If you live in a societyand it does not enforce its own law because of the color of a man’s skin..then ..People are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice”. Although Malcolm X grew in popularity inspiring many black people, his relationship with the movement was deteriorating fast (Karim para 4). There were growing perceptions among the members of the members of the movement that he was using his status in the movement to increase his own popularity. The leader of the movement also perceived him as a threat to his leadership due to his growing influence.
The sudden notoriety and increasing influence of Malcolm X led to an unexpected withdrawal of support from his leader Elijah Muhammad. There were rumors that Elijah Muhammad was violating the basic practices and beliefs of the movement by committing adultery. Therefore, there was a growing rift between the two leaders, which led to his silencing and his eventual suspension from the movement. The meteoric rise of Malcolm X in the Black Muslims movement and his new celebrity status led to division within the association (Hales para 7). There was growing jealous among the ministers in the movement with some insinuating that he was using his position to grow and overtake Elijah Muhammad. Although he was bothered by the envy and jealousy of the ministers, he tried to put them out of his mind.
When Malcolm X realized that the rumors about Elijah Muhammad improprieties were true, he was devastated since he had aided him escape his bad habits such as drug addiction. When JF Kennedy was assassinated, members of the Nation of Islam were told to make no comments about the death. However, he did not obey the direction and made an unsympathetic speech famously known as “Chickens Coming Home to Roost”. He explained that the hate in America was so great that it spilled over between blacks and the whites causing the assassination of the president. However, the comments were interpreted as support for the death of the president. Since Muhammad had urged all the ministers of the movement not to comment about the death, he was angered by the negative publicity leading to the suspension of Malcolm X for ninety days (Haley and MalcomX para 6). However, he discovered that it was a plot by Muhammad to push him out of the Black Muslims.
As the internal and external pressures increased Malcolm renounced his association with the Nation of Islam and established Muslim Mosque Inc. The ideology behind the organization was the propagation of separation ideologies and political-oriented activism. He acknowledged the importance of integrating the black people of all faiths in his new organization hence he did not emphasize on religious bias. At the time, he was also heavily influenced by orthodox Islam from the Middle East where he had taken a pilgrimage to Mecca the holy city of Islam. Therefore, Malcolm started supporting the doctrine of integration after the pilgrimage. His new doctrine was not widely accepted among the black Americans (Goldman 63). He was assassinated on 21st February in 1965 in Harlem where he was supposed to address an organization of Afro-American Unity Organization meeting.
Anzia, Irma Wildani. The Images of Islam and American in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X". Illinois: ProQuest, 2008.
Goldman, Peter Louis. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1979.
Hales, Larry. "Islam, Malcolm X and the right to self-determination." 10 August 2006. 16 October 2013 <http://www.workers.org/2006/us/malcolm-x-0817/>.
Haley, Alex and MalcomX. "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." 2013. Cliffsnotes. 16 October 2013 <http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/a/the-autobiography-of-malcolm-x/malcolm-x-biography>.
Karim, Benjamin. "The Black Revolution." 2013. Malcom-X Org. 16 October 2013 <http://www.malcolm-x.org/speeches/spc_06__63.htm>.