Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska) was the son of a homemaker (Louise Norton Little) and a Baptist minister (Earl Little). His father Earl was an outspoken Baptist minister, a strong civil rights advocate, and an avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. After continual harassment and death threats from the white supremacist organization Black Legion, Earl moved his family from Nebraska to Lansing, Michigan in search of peace, but to no avail. In 1929 the Little’s home was burned to the ground and twice the family was forced to relocate from their home. In 1931 Earl was found dead, severely beaten and lying across a railroad track, where his death was ruled an “accident” by the police. Several years after Earl’s tragic death (which most believe was caused by the hands of the Black Legion), Louise had an emotional breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. Her 8 children (including Malcolm) were split up amongst various foster homes and orphanages.
Although a bright student, Malcolm dropped out of school in the 8th grade and subsequently lived a life of crime in the streets of Harlem and Boston before being arrested for burglary in 1946. He spent the next 7 years of his life in prison where he learned the ways of Islam and became a Muslim and devout follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Upon his release from prison Malcolm Little transformed from street criminal to minister within the Nation of Islam and became one of the central figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Taking the name Malcolm X, he became an avid follower of the healthful and mindful ways of Islam and was a tireless crusader for the uplift of black people through Black Nationalism, healthy and crime free living, education, and self-protection “by any means necessary”. In addition to being a strong advocate for the rights of black self-determination, Malcolm also had a strong belief that whites were evil and in many cases characterized them as “devils”, which made him as controversial to the mainstream as he was loved by his followers and supporters.
After Malcolm’s disillusionment with some of the practices of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, as well as resentment from members within the organization, Malcolm left the Nation amid controversy in 1964. His next transformation came in the form of his conversion to Sunni Islam and his subsequent pilgrimage to Mecca where he bore witness to all races of people sharing in the faith of Islam, worshiping and living together free from racial prejudice and discrimination. Upon his return to the states Malcolm founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity and began preaching a more tolerant message of black self-determination that no longer excluded and pre-judged whites or any other race or group.
Malcolm X was assassinated in The Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965. The 3 men convicted of his murder were all members of the Nation of Islam.
To truly understand Malcolm X and his life journey we recommend the following books:
To get a glimpse into his level of thinking before he was assassinated, the following excerpt was taken from a conversation with journalist Gordon Parks two days before his death.
Listening to leaders like Nasser, Ben Bella, and Nkrumah awakened me to the dangers of racism. I realized racism isn't just a black and white problem. It's brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another.
Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant—the one who wanted to help the [Black] Muslims and the whites get together—and I told her there wasn't a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then—like all [Black] Muslims—I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.
That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days—I'm glad to be free of them.”
Malcolm X is the quintessential example of a man whose life was a journey. He is an example to all of us that our ideas about self, society, race and religion can and should evolve over time. He shows us that a man who is immoral can become extremely moral. He shows us that a man who does not know religion can find God. He shows us that our beliefs about misconceptions about race can change for the better. Finally, Malcolm X shows us that we should never fear our own death, especially if we are living our life fighting for the causes that we believe in.
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