Malcolm X was an influential and controversial figure in the American civil rights movements of the 1960s. He preached a radical philosophy of racial equality.
“Let the government know that if they don’t stop the Klan, we’ll stop it ourselves.. by any means necessary… Now.. the press calls us racist and people who are violent in reverse… Well, if a criminal comes around your house with his gun, brother.. it doesn’t make you a robber because you grab your gun and run him out.”
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska, May 19, 1925. His father was a Baptist preacher and staunch supporter of Marcus Garvey – a radical exponent of black rights. Later, Malcolm’s father was murdered by locals.
As a youngster he was shocked when he told his teacher he wished to become a lawyer. His teacher responded.
“Lawyer, that’s no realistic goal for a nigger… Why don’t you plan on carpentry?”
Malcolm says after that his attitude to the white establishment soured.
As a teenager, Malcolm became heavily involved in selling drugs in Harlem’s criminal world. He was often on the run from the police and at age 21 he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years at Charlestown State prison. He gained a nickname ‘Satan’ for his anti-religious attitude. However, during his time in prison he become increasingly receptive to the message of Islam brought to him by his brother Reginald.
On release from prison he become closely involved with the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad. Possessing great skills of oratory and persuasion, Malcolm X was made ministry of the Nation of Islam’s New York Temple.
The Nation of Islam became an important faction in the civil rights movement. They were more militant than the non-violent civil rights movement and were often criticised for being unpatriotic.
Malcolm X said On being American.
“Sitting at the table [with nothing to eat] doesn’t make you a diner. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American”
In 1963, Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam after revelations of the leader Elijah Muhammad having fathered children with former secretaries. His split created great animosity and he received many threats in the next few years.
“It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negroes as simply a racial conflict of black against white.. Rather we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploited…”
- Malcolm X
He made a pilgrimage to Mecca and travelled around the world becoming an international celebrity. He was struck by the evidence of greater interracial harmony in the rest of the world.
On February, 21, 1965 he was assassinated in New York, by rival Black Muslims though there remains controversy over who his real killer was.
Malcolm X, undoubtedly had a powerful impact on influencing American society and attitudes to race. He was instrumental in forging the movement of black power and radicalism that departed from the more non-violent approach of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X briefly meet in 1964 before going to listen to a Senate debate about civil rights in Washington. (image Wikicommons)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X