On this day, we celebrate the life of one of the most revolutionary civil rights leaders in American history, Malcolm X. He was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, as Malcolm Little. His mother was Louise Norton Little, a homemaker, and his father was named Earl Little, an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Malcolm was one of eight children.
Many Americans did not approve of Malcolm’s beliefs, a tendency which remains several decades after his passing. He has often been referred to as a white man hater and a violent, angry black man. However, many of those people did not quite understand the difficulties he experienced as a child.
Malcolm grew up during a time when racism and discrimination against blacks were extremely prevalent. As a young boy, he experienced many atrocities, such as his home being firebombed, his father’s murder, the lynching of his uncles, his mother was thrown into a mental institution, and his brothers and sisters were scattered in various foster homes and orphanages. So, in a sense, Malcolm’s anger was justified at the time. He hated the people who did this to the only family he knew, as any young person would. He was a young boy trying to understand the world, yet being forced to accept the hatred and ways of white America.
By 1946, Malcolm was living a life of crime. He was jailed at the age of 20 on burglary and gun charges as part of a crime ring. During this time, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Two of the white women involved in the crime ring had their sentences suspended, but Malcolm’s white girlfriend received seven months in jail. Yes, at this time in his life, he had a white girlfriend.
While in jail, Malcolm began to change his life around. He became an avid reader and took a great interest in the horrors of slavery. In 1948, he was introduced to the Nation of Islam, headed by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm was soon led to believe that the white man was the “devil,” by Muhammad’s teachings.
In 1952, Malcolm was granted parole and left his “slave owner” surname behind. He replaced it with the letter X, which was a symbol of his lost tribal name. Intrigued with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X began to study it more in depth and began to spread the teachings of the faith through radio, television, and newspapers.
He was named as minister of the Nation of Islam’s Boston mosque and later, the Philadelphia mosque as well. After giving a television appearance in 1959 with Mike Wallace, Malcolm gained national fame and was recognized as one of the top public speakers in America. During this time, he was also known to refer to mainstream civil rights leaders as “Uncle Toms.”
However, members of the Nation of Islam became upset and felt he was receiving too much attention. In 1963, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and founded the religious-based Muslim Mosque. It was during this time that people began to notice a change in Malcolm X and his views. He stopped calling white people the devil, but he never accepted their devilish ways. He promoted Black unity, but no longer promoted separatism. He also made the Hajj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during which he converted to traditional Islam and changed his name once again, this time to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
Malcolm X was constantly under fire because he was passionate about his beliefs pertaining to using violence. The speech he gave in Selma during which he spoke against the beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is probably one of his most remembered speeches. However, what most people do not know is that after the speech, Malcolm X took Dr. King’s wife to the side to tell her he thought he could help Dr. King more if he attacked him instead of praising him. Those were the words given by Dr. King later in an interview.
As there were repeated attempts on Malcolm X’s life, traveling without a bodyguard was not an option. But on February 21, 1965, bodyguards could not protect him. At a speaking engagement in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, three gunmen rushed on stage and shot Malcolm 15 times at close range. He was later pronounced dead on arrival at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He was 39, only a few months away from his 40th birthday.
Malcolm X was by far one of the greatest Black men to ever walk upon this earth. He was a proud black man who was not afraid to speak out about against the hatred and racism against black people–his people. So, today we remember Malcolm X for the better life he wanted for his people, and for the efforts he put forth in trying to bring about that change.