Malcolm X

1925-1965 Civil Rights Leader

Born in Omaha Nebraska on 19th May 1925, he was the seventh of eleven children. He was christened Malcolm Little, as a young man he was called Detroit Red; but the world would remember him as Malcolm X

Malcolm’s father Reverend Earl Little was a Baptist minister who strongly believed in the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, this taught black independence and self respect. Malcolm’s mother, Louise Little, was born in the West Indies. Her mother was black but her father was a white.

Reverend Little was a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). This and the fact that he was out-spoken got him into trouble with the Ku Klux Klan and after the family were threatened they moved first to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later to Lansing in Michigan. Reverend Little continued to make speeches in favour of UNIA and in 1929 the family house was burned down by members of the Ku Klux Klan’s (KKK) Black Legion. Not one to be bullied, the Reverend re-built another home.

In 1931 Malcolm was six when his father was found dead by a streetcar railway track. Although no one was convicted of the crime it was generally believed that the minister had been murdered by the same members of the KKK’s Black Legionnaires who had burned his house. Malcolm’s mother never recovered from her husband’s death and in 1937 was sent to the State Mental Hospital at Kalamazoo, where she stayed for the next twenty-six years.

Things were never the same again for Malcolm. He first moved to Boston, Massachusetts to live with his sister, then to Harlem, New York where he worked as a waiter after becoming addicted to cocaine he turned to crime. In 1946, at the age of 21, he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. While in prison he was converted to the Black Muslim faith and began educating himself by reading the encyclopaedia and memorising words from the dictionary.

After his release from prison in 1952 he moved to Chicago where he met Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam sect. He changed his name to X, a custom among Muhammad’s followers who considered their family names to have originated with white slaveholders.

Malcolm soon became a leading figure in the Nation of Islam. He went on several speaking tours and helped establish several new mosques. He was eventually assigned to be minister of the mosque in New York’s Harlem area. Founder and editor of Muhammad Speaks, Malcolm condemned the nonviolent approach of leaders such as Dr, Martin Luther King, saying, ‘You can’t stick a Knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress’. He also rejected integration and racial equality and instead advocated black power.

Malcolm’s success as a speaker and organiser caused jealousy and resentment. In December 1963 he was suspended from the movement by Elijah Muhammad after he made a series of extremist speeches. This included his comments that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a “case of chickens coming home to roost”.

Three months later In March 1964 Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and established his own religious organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). After a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm came back to America a changed man. He denounced his former teacher Elijah Muhammad and rejected his former separatist beliefs and advocated world brotherhood. Malcolm now blamed racism on Western culture and urged African Americans to join with sympathetic whites to bring it to an end.

On February 15th, 1965, Malcolm’s home was fire bombed – just as his father’s home had been thirty six years before. One week later on 21st February, 1965; Malcolm X was shot dead at a rally in Harlem his death came as a great shock. To thousands of black people around the world, he personified revolution. He was able to articulate the anger and frustrations felt by ordinary people. Above all, he symbolised unyielding defiance and resistance in the face of prejudice, discrimination and repression. Three Black Muslims were later convicted of his murder.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, based on interviews he had given to the journalist, Alex Haley, was published in 1965.

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