Malcolm X essay
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- Word count: 2172
- Category: Malcolm X
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Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – Feb. 21, 1965), black leader, was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Earl Little, a Baptist minister and organizer for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, and Louise Little. When his mother was pregnant with him, Ku Klux Klan riders, brandishing shotguns and rifles, galloped up to the family home looking for his father. In 1929 the family moved to East Lansing, Mich. , where the Reverend Little was subjected to threats from a local white group known as the Black Legion, who objected to his desire to start a store and to the Garvey philosophy that he advocated.
In 1929 local racists burned down the Little home, forcing the family to move to the outskirts of town. Two years later Malcolm’s father was found murdered. Several years later the state welfare agency, over the opposition of Louise Little, placed her children in state institutions and boarding homes because of the family’s destitution. She subsequently suffered a mental breakdown, and the court placed her in the state mental hospital at Kalamazoo, where she remained for the next twenty-six years. The mistreatment of his parents, especially his mother, became a source to Malcolm Little.
Louise Little and her children were casualties of a welfare system that made meager efforts to keep black families together. Malcolm was placed in a foster home and then in a detention home in Mason, Michigan, for having placed a tack on his teacher’s chair. While at the detention home he made an excellent record at the Mason Junior High School and was elected seventh-grade class president. But his accomplishment only temporarily obscured the racism of this relatively environment.
The husband and wife team that ran the detention home often referred to blacks as “niggers. Malcolm’s history teacher taught a stereotypic American history replete with happy, ignorant, and lazy slaves and freedmen. His English teacher advised him to take up carpentry, although he was an outstanding student and wished to become a lawyer. Malcolm grew withdrawn, and following placement in another foster home his official custody was transferred to Boston, where he lived with his half sister after dropping out of the eighth grade. He obtained jobs with a dining-car crew on trains traveling to New York City and as a waiter in a Harlem nightclub.
In New York City, Little began selling and using narcotics, gambling, and steering whites looking for sex in Harlem to the correct locales. During World War II he parlayed his zoot-suit, street-hustler image and the fears of the white psychiatrist at the induction center into a draft exemption. In 1946, after returning to Boston, he was arrested for burglary and sentenced to ten years in prison. In prison, Little began a process of self-education that enabled him to more than hold his own in intellectual debate with those of far more formal education.
Through letters and visits from family members he was introduced into the Lost-Found Nation of Islam (popularly known as the Black Muslims). His eventual conversion to the Nation of Islam resulted in his renunciation of his life-style. The Nation of Islam held, through its spiritual leader, Elijah Muhammad, that the black race was the first creation of God, or Allah. To the Muslims, whites were the physical and spiritual descendants of the devilish Yacub, a black scientist in rebellion against Allah. This explained the worldwide exploitation of non-whites and their devotion to non-Islamic religions.
Whites, to the Muslims, were “devils” whose evil was manifested in their immorality and racial oppression. The origins of the Muslims can be traced to the early years of the Great Depression, but the movement reached its peak in the mid-1930’s, after a schism developed that forced Elijah Muhammad to move to Chicago’s Temple Number Two. From Chicago the Nation of Islam grew into a significant movement that eventually established schools, apartment houses, grocery stores, restaurants, and farms for the benefit of American blacks.
Released from prison in 1952, Little quickly entered the Muslim fold and became an effective recruiter. He replaced his family name with an X, as was the custom of the Nation of Islam, which considered last names to be those of white slaveholders. In the summer of 1953, Malcolm X was appointed assistant minister of Detroit’s Temple Number One. His effectiveness as an organizer of temples in Boston and Philadelphia and his oratorical skill led to his appointment as minister of Harlem’s important Temple Number Seven in June 1954. On January 14, 1958, Little married Betty X Shabazz.
They had six children. The emerging civil rights movement provided a forum for blacks of varying persuasions. The basic philosophical and tactical differences between integrationist groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), on the one hand, and nationalistic Muslims, on the other, were quickly manifested. Malcolm X asserted that whites acted devilishly toward blacks because that was their nature. Therefore, it was to believe that racial equality and integration could be achieved.
Even more foolish he insisted was the tactic of nonviolent confrontation, which often resulted in violence directed at civil rights demonstrators who rejected violence or self-defense. Since there was little difference between white liberals and conservatives on the race issue the only solutions were the return to Africa or the division of the United States into black and white nations. On December 1, 1963 Malcolm X referred to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost.
The hate directed at blacks, he maintained, had spread to the point where it had struck down the president. The white media, which had portrayed Malcolm X as a violent racist fanatic played up the statement. Elijah Muhammad disassociated the Muslims from the statement and prohibited Malcolm X from speaking publicly for the next ninety days. As early as 1961, Malcolm had heard rumors that officials surrounding Muhammad were highly critical of him claiming that he was taking credit for Muhammad’s work and trying to take over the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm X privately had grown dissatisfied with the Muslim policy of “general nonengagement” from active involvement in confronting racism. Rumors of Elijah Muhammad’s sexual involvement with his secretaries. On Mar. 12, 1964, he announced that “internal differences within the Nation of Islam” forced him to leave the movement. He still, however, believed that Elijah Muhammad’s nationalistic analysis of the racial problem was the “most realistic” one. After this break with Muhammad, Malcolm sought to internationalize the Afro-American freedom struggle.
He announced the formation of the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated. In April 1964 he left for Mecca. During the summer of 1964, Malcolm returned to Africa and was accorded observer status at the heads of states summit conference of the OAU. In his presentation to the conference he asserted that an identity of interest existed between Afro-Americans and African peoples and that each should aid the other’s struggle against colonialism and racism. The conference passed a resolution deploring racism in the United States.
After returning to the United States, Malcolm X continued to seek support for bringing the issue of American racism before the World Court and United Nations, to advocate the political and economic control of black communities by Afro-Americans, and to warn against “American dollarism” in Africa. He pointed out that the persistence of racism would lead to racial violence and the need of Afro-American self-defense. Malcolm X, who now called himself El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. To some middle-class integrationists, his pilgrimage had transformed him into one of them. Some nationalists were offended by his acceptance of interracial brotherhood.
In February 1965, Malcolm X’s home was fire-bombed. By this time, he believed that leaders of the Nation of Islam and even more powerful elements within the American government wanted him dead; a week later he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson were convicted of the killing and given life sentences. Although Butler and Johnson were Black Muslims, the trial did not reveal whether or not the assassins were a part of a conspiracy.
Some of Malcolm’s critics took the opportunity provided by his death to launch a final attack. Carl Rowan, the first black director of the U. S. Information Agency attributed his death to feuding between fanatical groups, “neither of them representative of more than a tiny minority of the Negro population of America. ” Following Earl Little’s death, Louise Little and her eight children subsisted on welfare. Eventually, however, the severe strain overwhelmed her and she succumbed to mental illness. Louise Little was then placed in a mental institution and her children were sent separately to various foster homes. Despite this continued adversity and emotional hardship, Malcolm still held aspirations of assimilation in America’s predominantly white society.
But even those hopes faded after he confided to his high school English teacher that he hoped to someday become a lawyer, whereupon the teacher urged him towards a vocation instead of a profession and told him to be realistic about being a nigger. 1946 Malcolm was arrested and charged with robbery. That February, three months before his twenty-first birthday, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. In the penitentiary Malcolm continued his reckless ways, using drugs and presenting such an unsavory demeanor that his fellow inmates referred to him as Satan.
Because of his vicious behavior he was often held in solitary confinement. But he did manage to befriend another convicted burglar, Bimbi, who introduced him to the prison’s extensive library. Through the library Malcolm broadened his education and familiarized himself with subjects ranging from philosophy to politics. He also began studying the tenets of the Black Muslims’ Lost and Found Nation of Islam, a religion that the superiority of the black race and denounced the white as evil and doomed to destruction.
The Black Muslims’ founder and leader, Elijah Muhammad proclaimed himself divine messenger of the Muslim deity Allah, and like Marcus Garvey, counseled his followers to abjure white America in favor of an autonomous black society. Elijah Muhammad’s doctrine of black pride exerted considerable appeal to Malcolm, who denounced his allegedly enslaving Christian name and adopted the name Malcolm X. Rivalry between the two men peaked in 1963 when Malcolm X violated Elijah Muhammad’s commandment of silence regarding the November 22nd assassination of
President Kennedy and termed it a case of “the chicken coming home to roost. ” Malcolm X, who later explained that his comment was meant to indicate that “the hate in white men finally had struck down the President, was reprimanded by Elijah Muhammad for the potentially incendiary remark. That was a very bad statement, Elijah Muhammad told him. The country loved this man. He ordered Malcolm X to refrain from public comment for ninety days, and Malcolm complied. Once he began operating outside the Black Muslim, Malcolm X was apparently perceived as a threat to the organization.
Now I’m out, he stated. And there’s the fear that if my image isn’t shattered, the Muslims in the movement will leave. ” He was informed that members within the organization were plotting to end his life, and in mid February he told the New York Times that he was a “marked man. ” Around that time his home was fire bombed. But he was undaunted and continued to speak on behalf of black unity and harmony. On February 21, 1965, he stepped to the podium in a Harlem ballroom and greeted the audience of four hundred that had gathered to hear him speak.
Within seconds at least three men rose from their seats and began firing at Malcolm X with shotguns and pistols. Seven shots slammed him backwards while spectators scrambled for cover. As gunfire continued more than thirty shots were reportedly heard daring witnesses attacked and subdued the assassins. Three men Talmadge Hayer and Black Muslims Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were eventually convicted of the killing, and it is widely believed the assassins intended to intimidate Malcolm X’s followers into remaining within the Black Muslim fold.
In the years since his death Malcolm X has come to be recognized as a leading figure in the black struggle for recognition and equality. The autobiography Malcolm X, published the same year as his death, is highly regarded as a moving account of his own experiences with racism, his criminal past, and his years as an activist for both the Black Muslims and his own Afro-American organization. During the remaining years of the 1960s Malcolm X’s speeches and comments were collected and published in volumes such as Malcolm X Speaks, Malcolm X on Afro-American History, and Malcolm X and the Negro Revolution.
Together with the autobiography, these books offer numerous insights into America’s social climate from the mid 1950s to the mid-1960s and articulate the concerns of a significant portion of the black community in those years. Additionally, they serve as an imposing indication of Malcolm X’s beliefs, his achievements, and his potential, which like that of President Kennedy, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. , and Senator Robert Kennedy were violently rendered unrealized.