Malcolm X was a voice for the voiceless, power for the powerless and an icon for African Americans and Black Muslims. Malcolm X fought for the rights of African Americans who at the time had no hope living in a dominant racist and xenophobic white society. Malcolm’s vision and way of addressing the problems relating to African American struggle differed from other Civil Rights leaders but his purpose and message were the same.
Malcolm X’s purpose was to improve the daily lives of African Americans and living equality during a time where equality barely existed.Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, a predominantly white city in 1925. Malcolm’s family were victims of racial threats from the Black Legion, a white supremacy group and his father being a Baptist minister and an organizer for the militant Universal Negro Improvement Association, a black nationalist group led by Marcus Garvey made it no better. Which resulted in their family having to move twice before his fourth birthday. “Earl’s civil rights activism prompted death threats from the white supremacist organization Black Legion, forcing the family to relocate twice before Malcolm’s fourth birthday.” (Malcolm X.com Staff).
The family relocated to Lansing, Michigan but shortly after their house was burned to the ground. In 1931 Earl Little, Malcolm’s father was killed by a streetcar which was ultimately ruled an accident as well as their Lansing home burning down “…their Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground..
.two years later, Earl’s body was found lying across the towns trolley tracks…ruled incident as an accident, but the Littles were certain that… the Black Legion were responsible” (Malcolm X.com Staff). The death of Malcolm’s father took an emotional and financial toll on the family, the lack of money resulted in his mother having to cook up scrapes and live in poverty.
“…nation had fallen into the Great Depression, a decade-long period of great economic hardship. Work was scarce, and Malcolm’s family struggled. For a time his mother and her eight children lived on public welfare” (Notablebiographies.com Staff). This pain eventually caught up to Louise Little and she was placed in a mental institution.
“Louise his mother suffered emotional break down several years later after the death of her husband and was committed to a mental institution” (Malcolm X.com Staff). This caused Malcolm’s family to separate and resulted in him and his siblings to be placed in various foster homes.
“Louise’s children…were split up among.
..various foster homes and orphanages” (Malcolm X.com Staff). The frustration of his mother missing and the lack of a father figure resulted in Malcolm going down the wrong path which ultimately began his life of crime. Which was surprising considering the fact that Malcolm excelled in grade school, he eventually left school after an unfortunate interaction with a teacher. “Malcolm excelled in school, but after one of his eighth-grade teachers told him that he should be a carpenter instead of a lawyer, he lost interest and soon ended his formal education” (Britannica.com Mamiya).
The fast life Malcolm was living eventually caught up to him and he was sent to prison in 1946, under burglary charges but there was a silver lining when Malcolm began learning about the Islamic religion which would impact and shape his future in a way that would change history. “When twenty-one, he was sentenced to prison for burglary and there encountered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, popularly known as the Black Muslims.” (History.com Staff). While in prison he was visited by his siblings who had also already joined the Nation of Islam which swayed his decision to also join. Malcolm was a fully converted Muslim by his releasement in 1952. This new way of life promoted Malcolm to change his last name from “Little” and opted for the last name which was less European and didn’t carry such a strong slave background and which “X” was born. “Following Nation tradition, he replaced his surname, “Little,” with an “X,” a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their family names to have originated with white slaveholders.
” ( Britannica.com Mamiya).The teaching of Nation of Islam taught that the white man and white people, in general, were a certain evil.
“The teachings stressed that the best course for black people is to separate themselves from Western, white civilization—culturally, politically, physically, and psychologically.” (Notablebiographies.com Staff). While in prison Malcolm out of boredom began citing and copying words from the dictionary which would help his public speaking skills later on in his activist career.
Malcolm was released from prison in 1952 and his first mission was to meet the Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm was then accepted to the movement where he received his official last name of “X”. Malcolm than began his activism. Malcolm soon began to criticize those African Americans who used nonviolent methods in order to achieve civil rights for African Americans. Malcolm X called for self-defense in the face of white violence and white people. Malcolm also advocated that African Americans leave the Christian religion, in which he believed was a western and white religion in addition to this he also urged them not to participate in elections.
The Nation of Islam became quickly popular and by 1960 they had over one thousand members. In 1959 Malcolm sparked controversy after the death of President John F. Kennedy which then he was given a three month no speaking at public events or speaking politically by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm left the Nation of Islam in 1965 and he began his own two organizations the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
“On December 1, 1963, Malcolm X stated that he saw President John F. Kennedy’s assassination as a case of ‘The chickens coming home to roost.’ Soon afterward Elijah Muhammad suspended him and ordered him not to speak for the movement for ninety days.
” (Notablebiographies.com Staff). Malcolm X had many achievements, he was a large contributor to increasing the Muslim population in America from 500 in 1952 to over 30,000 by 1963. In 1954 Malcolm became a leader of a mosque in Chicago, only two years after being released from prison in addition to this, Malcolm founded the newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, which was established in 1957. The paper was very popular for the Nation of Islam and is still published today, though is now called Muslim Journal, renamed after Elijah Muhammad’s death.Malcolm X is cited as to be one of the causes of the growth in the Black Muslim population in America and African Americans converting from Christianity to the Islamic religion. Malcolm believed in which is still true to this day in a sense, that African Americans will never achieve equality in a white-dominated society.
Even after his death, his teachings lived on in the rhetoric of other Black Power organizations including the Black Panther Party. Malcolm was a significant figure in advancing civil rights in America because of his eloquence. The speech for which he is perhaps best known – “God’s Judgement of White America”.
Malcolm also became known around the world his message spread across the world into places such as, South Africa who were experiencing the same problem and his message was much needed. Malcolm’s importance in advancing civil rights remained constant and growing throughout his life, only to increase yet further after his untimely death. In 1963, the New York Times reported that Malcolm X was the second most sought-after speaker in the United States. Malcolm also participated in many debates and forums on radio stations in Los Angeles, New York, Washington. He was also invited to universities, such as Harvard Law School, Howard University, Columbia University.
Malcolm helped and encouraged to charge America for violating human rights. Something at the time no one ever thought of doing or dared to do, which he actually managed to do. In 1963 Malcolm lead the Unity Rally in Harlem. It was one of the nation’s largest civil rights events. “On June 29, 1963 Malcolm X led one of the largest civil rights events known as the Unity Rally in Harlem. He concentrated on Harlem because of Harlem massive black population.” (Faculty.
wagner.edu Osuji). Malcolm’s message is still very much so relevant to this day considering the fact that racism is still very present and equality for African Americans is long ways away until we can actually say there are equal rights for African Americans.
Malcolm took on America for his people by speaking openly and truthfully about how we felt. Getting up to speak publicly is one thing, but saying controversial things that’ll put a target on your back is another level, a level in which Malcolm was willing to take if that meant equality for the oppressed. He showed people around the world what can be achieved from a starting in prison which is where he started his journey of change and the journey of change for African Americans which would take a while to achieve but eventually change. Not that African Americans are still mentally equal which is going to take a lot of change and years but a start.