Malcolm X Biography

Malcolm X Biography


Malcolm X Biography
Civil Rights Activist, Minister (1925–1965) African-American leader and prominent figure
in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X articulated concepts of race pride and black nationalism
in the 1950s and ’60s. Who Was Malcolm X?
Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 to February 21, 1965) was a minister, human rights activist and
prominent black nationalist leader who served as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam during
the 1950s and 1960s. Due largely to his efforts, the Nation of Islam grew from a mere 400 members
at the time he was released from prison in 1952 to 40,000 members by 1960. Articulate,
passionate and a naturally gifted and inspirational orator, Malcolm X exhorted blacks to cast
off the shackles of racism “by any means necessary,” including violence. The fiery civil rights
leader broke with the group shortly before his assassination on February 21, 1965, at
the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, where he had been preparing to deliver a speech.
Malcolm X Birthday Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha,
Nebraska. Family and Early Life
Malcolm was the fourth of eight children born to Louise, a homemaker, and Earl Little, a
preacher who was also an active member of the local chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement
Association and avid supporter of black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Due to Earl Little’s
civil rights activism, the family was subjected to frequent harassment from white supremacist
groups including the Ku Klux Klan and one of its splinter factions, the Black Legion.
In fact, Malcolm X had his first encounter with racism before he was even born. “When my mother was pregnant with me, she
told me later, ‘a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home,'” Malcolm
later remembered. “Brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to
come out.” The harassment continued when Malcolm X was four years old, and local Klan members
smashed all of the family’s windows. To protect his family, Earl Little moved them from Omaha
to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1926 and then to Lansing, Michigan, in 1928. However, the racism the family encountered
in Lansing proved even greater than in Omaha. Shortly after the Littles moved in, a racist
mob set their house on fire in 1929, and the town’s all-white emergency responders refused
to do anything. “The white police and firemen came and stood around watching as the house
burned to the ground,” Malcolm X later remembered. Earl Little moved the family to East Lansing
where he built a new home. Two years later, in 1931, Earl Little’s dead
body was discovered lying across the municipal streetcar tracks. Although Malcolm X’s family
believed his father was murdered by white supremacists from whom he had received frequent
death threats, the police officially ruled Earl Little’s death a streetcar accident,
thereby voiding the large life insurance policy he had purchased in order to provide for his
family in the event of his death. Malcolm X’s mother never recovered from the
shock and grief over her husband’s death. In 1937, she was committed to a mental institution
where she remained for the next 26 years. Malcolm and his siblings were separated and
placed in foster homes. Education
In 1938, Malcolm X was kicked out of school and sent to a juvenile detention home in Mason,
Michigan. The white couple who ran the home treated him well, but he wrote in his autobiography
that he was treated more like a “pink poodle” or a “pet canary” than a human being. He attended
Mason High School where he was one of only a few black students. He excelled academically
and was well liked by his classmates, who elected him class president. A turning point in Malcolm X’s childhood came
in 1939, when his English teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he
answered that he wanted to be a lawyer. His teacher responded, “One of life’s first needs
is for us to be realistic. . .you need to think of something you can be. . .why don’t
you plan on carpentry?” Having thus been told in no uncertain terms that there was no point
in a black child pursuing education, Malcolm X dropped out of school the following year,
at the age of 15. After quitting school, Malcolm X moved to
Boston to live with his older half-sister, Ella, about whom he later recalled, “She was
the first really proud black woman I had ever seen in my life. She was plainly proud of
her very dark skin. This was unheard of among Negroes in those days.” Ella landed Malcolm
a job shining shoes at the Roseland Ballroom. However, out on his own on the streets of
Boston, Malcolm X became acquainted with the city’s criminal underground and soon turning
to selling drugs. He got another job as kitchen help on the Yankee Clipper train between New
York and Boston and fell further into a life of drugs and crime. Sporting flamboyant pinstriped
zoot suits, he frequented nightclubs and dance halls and turned more fully to crime to finance
his lavish lifestyle. Time in Jail
In 1946, Malcolm X was arrested on charges of larceny and sentenced to 10 years in jail.
To pass the time during his incarceration, he read constantly, devouring books from the
prison library in an attempt make up for the years of education he had missed by dropping
out of high school. Also while in prison, Malcolm X was visited
by several siblings who had joined the Nation of Islam, a small sect of black Muslims who
embraced the ideology of black nationalism — the idea that in order to secure freedom,
justice and equality, black Americans needed to establish their own state entirely separate
from white Americans. He converted to the Nation of Islam before his release from prison
in 1952. Nation of Islam
Now a free man, Malcolm X traveled to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked with the leader
of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, to expand the movement’s following among black
Americans nationwide. Malcolm X became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple
No. 11 in Boston, while also founding new temples in Hartford and Philadelphia. In 1960,
he established a national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, in order to further promote the message
of the Nation of Islam. Articulate, passionate and a naturally gifted
and inspirational orator, Malcolm X exhorted blacks to cast off the shackles of racism
“by any means necessary,” including violence. “You don’t have a peaceful revolution. You
don’t have a turn-the-cheek revolution,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent
revolution.” His militant proposals — a violent revolution to establish an independent
black nation — won Malcolm X large numbers of followers as well as many fierce critics.
Due primarily to the efforts of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam grew from a mere 400 members
at the time he was released from prison in 1952, to 40,000 members by 1960. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
By the early 1960s, Malcolm X had emerged as a leading voice of a radicalized wing of
the Civil Rights Movement, presenting a philosophical alternative to Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision
of a racially-integrated society achieved by peaceful means. Dr. King was highly critical
of what he viewed as Malcolm X’s destructive demagoguery. “I feel that Malcolm has done
himself and our people a great disservice,” King once said. Becoming a Mainstream Sunni Muslim
A rupture with Elijah Muhammad proved much more traumatic. In 1963, Malcolm X became
deeply disillusioned when he learned that his hero and mentor had violated many of his
own teachings, most flagrantly by carrying on many extramarital affairs; Muhammad had,
in fact, fathered several children out of wedlock. Malcolm’s feelings of betrayal, combined
with Muhammad’s anger over Malcolm’s insensitive comments regarding the assassination of John
F. Kennedy, led Malcolm X to leave the Nation of Islam in 1964. That same year, Malcolm X embarked on an extended
trip through North Africa and the Middle East. The journey proved to be both a political
and spiritual turning point in his life. He learned to place the American Civil Rights
Movement within the context of a global anti-colonial struggle, embracing socialism and pan-Africanism.
Malcolm X also made the Hajj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia,
during which he converted to traditional Islam and again changed his name, this time to El-Hajj
Malik El-Shabazz. After his epiphany at Mecca, Malcolm X returned
to the United States less angry and more optimistic about the prospects for peaceful resolution
to America’s race problems. “The true brotherhood I had seen had influenced me to recognize
that anger can blind human vision,” he said. “America is the first country … that can
actually have a bloodless revolution.” Assassination
Tragically, just as Malcolm X appeared to be embarking on an ideological transformation
with the potential to dramatically alter the course of the Civil Rights Movement, he was
assassinated. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X took the stage
for a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in northern Manhattan. He had just begun addressing the
room when multiple men rushed the stage and began firing guns. Struck numerous times at
close range, Malcolm X was declared dead after arriving at a nearby hospital shortly afterward. Three members of the Nation of Islam were
tried and sentenced to life in prison for murdering the activist. Legacy
In the immediate aftermath of Malcolm X’s death, commentators largely ignored his recent
spiritual and political transformation and criticized him as a violent rabble-rouser.
But especially after the publication of his autobiography, Malcolm X will be remembered
for his contribution to society of underscoring the value of a truly free populace by demonstrating
the great lengths to which human beings will go to secure their freedom. “Power in defense
of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression,” he said. “Because
power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

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