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Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. Malcolm X’s father died—killed by white supremacists, it was rumored—when he was young, and at least one of his uncles was lynched. After his mother was placed in a mental hospital when he was 13, he lived in a series of foster homes. In 1946, at age 20, he went to prison for breaking and entering. While in prison Malcolm X became a member of the Nation of Islam, and after his parole in 1952 quickly rose to become one of its leaders.
For a dozen years he was the public face of the controversial group; in keeping with the Nation’s teachings he espoused black supremacy, advocated the separation of black and white Americans and scoffed at the civil rights movement’s emphasis on integration. By March 1964 Malcolm X had grown disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its head Elijah Muhammad, and ultimately repudiated the Nation and its teachings. He embraced Sunni Islam and, after a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, returned to the United States to found Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Though continuing to emphasize Pan-Africanism, black self-determination, and black self-defense, he disavowed racism, saying, “I did many things as a Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then… pointed in a certain direction and told to march”. Malcolm X later said that violence by whites killed three of his father’s brothers, including one who was lynched. Because of Ku Klux Klan threats—Earl Little’s UNIA activities were “spreading trouble”—the family relocated in 1926 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and shortly thereafter to Lansing, Michigan. In Lansing the family was frequently harassed by the Black Legion, a white supremacist group; when the family home burned in 1929, Earl Little accused the Black Legion. When Little was six, his father was killed by a streetcar.
Though police said the dying man declared he had slipped, at the funeral someone told one of the children their father had been pushed onto the tracks; some blacks suspected the Black Legion. After a dispute with creditors, a life insurance benefit was paid to Louise Little in payments of $18 per month; the issuer of another, larger policy refused to pay, claiming suicide. To make ends meet Louise Little rented out part of her garden, and her sons hunted game. In 1937 a man Louise Little had been dating—marriage had seemed a possibility—vanished from her life when she became pregnant with his child. In late 1938 she had a nervous breakdown and was committed to Kalamazoo State Hospital, where she remained until Malcolm and his siblings secured her release 24 years later.
The children were separated and sent to various foster homes. Malcolm Little excelled in junior high school but dropped out after a white teacher told him that practicing law, his aspiration at the time, was “no realistic goal for a nigger”. It made Malcolm feel that the white world offered no place for a career-oriented black man, regardless of his talent. After a short time in Flint, Michigan, Little moved to Harlem, New York, in 1943, where he engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping; according to recent biographies, he also occasionally had sex with other men, usually for money. He was called “Detroit Red” because of the reddish hair he inherited from his Scottish maternal grandfather. Little was declared “mentally disqualified for military service” after he told draft board officials he was eager to “steal us some guns, and kill us crackers”.
In late 1945, Little returned to Boston, where he and four accomplices committed a series of burglaries targeting wealthy white families. In 1946, he was arrested while picking up a stolen watch he had left at a shop for repairs, and in February began serving an eight- to ten-year sentence at Charlestown State Prison. There he met John Bembry, a self-educated man he would later describe as “the first man I had ever seen command total respect … with words”; under Bembry’s influence, Little developed a voracious appetite for reading.
Nation of Islam
During Little’s imprisonment several of his siblings wrote to him about the Nation of Islam, a relatively new religious movement preaching black self-reliance and, ultimately, the reunification of the African diaspora with Africa, free from white American and European domination. He showed scant interest at first, but after his brother Reginald wrote in 1948, “Malcolm, don’t eat any more pork and don’t smoke any more cigarettes. I’ll show you how to get out of prison,” he quit smoking and began to refuse pork.
After a visit in which Reginald described the group’s teachings, including the belief that white people are devils, Little came to the conclusion that every relationship he’d had with whites had been tainted by dishonesty, injustice, greed, and hatred. Little, whose hostility to religion had earned him the prison nickname “Satan”, began to reconsider his dismissal of all religion and he became receptive to the message of the Nation of Islam. In late 1948, Little wrote to the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, who advised him to renounce his past, humbly bow in prayer to Allah, and promise never to engage in destructive behavior again.
Though he later recalled his inner struggle to bend his knees in prayer, he soon became a member of the Nation of Islam, He later reflected on the time he spent in prison after his conversion: “Between Mr. Muhammad’s teachings, my correspondence, my visitors—usually Ella and Reginald—and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I had never been so truly free in my life.” In 1950 Little began signing his name “Malcolm X”, explaining in his autobiography, “The Muslim’s ‘X’ symbolized the true African family name that he never could know. For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slavemaster name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.” Early ministry
After being paroled in August 1952, Malcolm X visited Elijah Muhammad in Chicago, and in June 1953 was named assistant minister of the Nation’s Temple Number One in Detroit. Later that year he established Boston’s Temple Number 11; in March 1954, he expanded Temple Number 12 in Philadelphia; and two months later he was selected to lead Temple Number 7 in Harlem, where he rapidly expanded membership. The FBI had opened a file on Malcolm X in 1950 after he wrote a letter to President Truman expressing opposition to the Korean War and declaring himself a communist. The FBI began surveillance of him in 1953, and turning its attention from Malcolm X’s possible Communist association to his rapid ascent in the Nation of Islam. During 1955, Malcolm X continued his successful recruitment efforts on behalf of the organization. He established temples in Springfield, Massachusetts ; Hartford, Connecticut ; and Atlanta, Georgia .
Hundreds of African Americans were joining the Nation of Islam every month. Beside his skill as a speaker, Malcolm X had an impressive physical presence. He stood tall and weighed about . One writer described him as “powerfully built”, and another as “mesmerizingly handsome … and always spotlessly well-groomed”. One-on-one dates were contrary to the Nation’s teachings, so the couple courted at social events with dozens or hundreds of others, and Malcolm X made a point of inviting Betty X on the frequent group visits he led to New York’s museums and libraries. Although they had never discussed marriage, Malcolm X proposed on a telephone call from Detroit in January 1958, and they married two days later. They had six daughters:
Gamilah Lumumba ;
and twins Malikah and Malaak .
Malcolm X first came to general public attention after the police beating of Nation of Islam member Johnson Hinton. On April 26, 1957, two police officers were beating an African-American man with nightsticks when Hinton and two other passersby—all Nation of Islam members—attempted to intervene, after which, at Malcolm X’s insistence, an ambulance took Hinton to Harlem Hospital. Hinton was treated and returned to the police station,
Within a month Malcolm X was under surveillance by the New York City Police Department, which also made inquiries with authorities in cities in which he had lived and prisons in which he had served. In October, after a grand jury declined to indict the officers who beat Hinton, Malcolm X wrote an angry telegram to the police commissioner; soon undercover officers were assigned to infiltrate the Nation of Islam. By the late 1950s, Malcolm X began to use a new name, Malcolm Shabazz or Malik el-Shabazz, although he was still widely referred to as Malcolm X.
His comments on issues and events were reported in print, on radio, and on television with increasing frequency, and he was prominently featured in a 1959 New York City television broadcast about the Nation of Islam, The Hate That Hate Produced. who was impressed sufficiently with Malcolm X to suggest a private meeting; at the end of two hours Castro invited Malcolm X to visit Cuba. During the General Assembly session Malcolm X was invited to official functions of several African nations, meeting such African leaders as Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea, and Kenneth Kaunda of the Zambian African National Congress. Advocacy and teachings while with Nation
From his adoption of the Nation of Islam in 1952 until he broke with it in 1964, Malcolm X promoted the Nation’s teachings, including that black people are the original people of the world, that white people are “devils”, that blacks are superior to whites, and that the demise of the white race is imminent. While the civil rights movement fought against racial segregation, Malcolm X advocated the complete separation of African Americans from whites, proposing establishment of a separate country for black people in America as an interim measure until African Americans could return to Africa. He also rejected the civil rights movement’s strategy of nonviolence, advocating that black people use any necessary means of self-defense. His speeches had a powerful effect on his audiences, generally African Americans in Northern and Western cities, many of whom—tired of being told to wait for freedom, justice, equality and respect—felt that he articulated their complaints better than did the civil rights movement.
Malcolm X has been widely considered the second most influential leader of the Nation of Islam after Elijah Muhammad. He was largely credited with the group’s dramatic increase in membership between the early 1950s and early 1960s . He inspired the boxer Cassius Clay to join the Nation of Islam. . Many white people, and even some blacks, were alarmed by Malcolm X and the things he said. He and the Nation of Islam were described as hatemongers, black supremacists, racists, violence-seekers, segregationists, and a threat to improved race relations.
Civil rights organizations denounced Malcolm X and the Nation as irresponsible extremists whose views were not representative of African Americans. Malcolm X was accused of being antisemitic. Malcolm X was equally critical of the civil rights movement. He described its leaders as “stooges” for the white establishment, and he once described Martin Luther King, Jr. as a “chump”. He criticized the 1963 March on Washington, which he called “the farce on Washington”. He said he did not know why so many black people were excited about a demonstration “run by whites in front of a statue of a president who has been dead for a hundred years and who didn’t like us when he was alive”.
Leaving the Nation
On December 1, 1963, when he was asked for a comment about the assassination of President Kennedy, Malcolm X said that it was a case of “chickens coming home to roost”. He added that “chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.” The New York Times wrote, “in further criticism of Mr. Kennedy, the Muslim leader cited the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Congo leader, of Medgar Evers, civil rights leader, and of the Negro girls bombed earlier this year in a Birmingham church. These, he said, were instances of other ‘chickens coming home to roost’.” Although Malcolm X retained his post and rank as minister, he was prohibited from public speaking for 90 days. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X publicly announced his break from the Nation of Islam. He said that he was still a Muslim, but he felt the Nation of Islam had “gone as far as it can” because of its rigid religious teachings. Malcolm X said he was going to organize a black nationalist organization that would try to “heighten the political consciousness” of African Americans.
He also expressed his desire to work with other civil rights leaders and said that Elijah Muhammad had prevented him from doing so in the past. One reason for the separation was growing tension between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad because of Malcolm X’s dismay about rumors of Muhammad’s extramarital affairs with young secretaries, actions that were against the teachings of the Nation. Although at first Malcolm X had ignored the rumors, after speaking with Muhammad’s son Wallace and the women making the accusations, he came to believe that they were true. Muhammad confirmed the rumors in 1963 but tried to justify his actions by reference to precedents set by Biblical prophets. Another reason for the separation was growing resentment by people within the Nation. As Malcolm X had become a favorite of the media, many in the Nation’s Chicago headquarters felt that he was over-shadowing Muhammad. Louis Lomax’s 1963 book about the Nation of Islam, When the Word Is Given, featured a picture of Malcolm X on its cover and included five of his speeches, but only one of Muhammad’s, which greatly upset Muhammad.
Muhammad was also envious that a publisher was interested in Malcolm X’s autobiography. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a secular group that advocated Pan-Africanism. On March 26, 1964 he met Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first and only time—and only long enough for photographs to be taken—in Washington, D.C. as both men attended the Senate’s debate on the Civil Rights bill. In April, Malcolm X made a speech titled “The Ballot or the Bullet” in which he advised African Americans to exercise their right to vote wisely. Several Sunni Muslims encouraged Malcolm X to learn about Islam. Soon he converted to Sunni Islam, and decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca .
In April 1964, Malcolm X began his Hajj
by flying to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but
he was delayed there when his US citizenship and inability to speak Arabic caused his status as a Muslim to be questioned.
He contacted Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam, whose The Eternal Message of Muhammad he had received with his visa approval. Azzam’s son not only arranged for Malcolm X’s release but also lent Malcolm X his personal hotel suite. The next morning Malcolm X learned that Prince Faisal had designated him a state guest, and after completing the Hajj rituals several days later, Malcolm X had an audience with the prince. Malcolm X later said that seeing Muslims of “all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans”, interacting as equals led him to see Islam as a means by which racial problems could be overcome. Africa
Malcolm X had visited the United Arab Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana in 1959 to make arrangements for a tour by Elijah Muhammad. After Mecca he visited Africa a second time, returned to the United States in late May, then flew to Africa again in July. During these visits he met officials, gave interviews, and spoke on television and radio in Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanganyika, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, Liberia, Algeria, and Morocco. In Cairo, he attended the second meeting of the Organization of African Unity as a representative of the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria invited Malcolm X to serve in their governments. Following a speech at the University of Ibadan, the Nigerian Muslim Students Association bestowed on him the honorary Yoruba name Omowale ; he later called this his most treasured honor.
By the time he returned to the US in November, Malcolm X had met with every prominent African leader. A week later, on November 30, Malcolm X flew to the United Kingdom, and on December 3 participated in a debate at the Oxford Union. The topic of the debate was “Extremism in the Defense of Liberty is No Vice; Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice is No Virtue”, and Malcolm X argued the affirmative. Interest in the debate was so high that it was televised nationally by the BBC. On February 5, 1965, Malcolm X went to Europe again. On February 8, he spoke in London, before the first meeting of the Council of African Organizations. The next day, Malcolm X tried to go to France, but he was refused entry. On February 12, he visited Smethwick, near Birmingham, which had become a byword for racial division after the 1964 general election, when the Conservative Party won the parliamentary seat after rumors that their candidate’s supporters had used the slogan “If you want a nigger for your neighbour, vote Labour.” Return to United States
After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X spoke before a wide variety of audiences in the United States. He spoke at regular meetings of Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He was one of the most sought-after speakers on college campuses, and one of his top aides later wrote that he “welcomed every opportunity to speak to college students.” Malcolm X also spoke before political groups such as the Militant Labor Forum. Tensions increased between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. As early as February 1964, a leader of Temple Number Seven ordered a member of the Fruit of Islam to wire explosives to Malcolm X’s car. In September 1964, Ebony published a photograph of Malcolm X holding an M1 Carbine and peering out a window.
The photo was intended to illustrate his determination to defend himself and his family against the death threats he was receiving. The Nation of Islam and its leaders began making both public and private threats against Malcolm X. On March 23, 1964, Elijah Muhammad told Boston minister Louis X that “hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off.” The April 10 edition of Muhammad Speaks featured a cartoon in which his severed head was shown bouncing. On July 9, John Ali, a top aide to Muhammad, answered a question about Malcolm X by saying that “anyone who opposes the Honorable Elijah Muhammad puts their life in jeopardy.” The December 4 issue of Muhammad Speaks included an article by Louis X that railed against Malcolm X, saying “such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death.”
Some threats were made anonymously. During the month of June 1964, FBI surveillance recorded two such threats. On June 8, a man called Malcolm X’s home and told Betty Shabazz to “tell him he’s as good as dead.” On June 12, an FBI informant reported getting an anonymous telephone call from somebody who said “Malcolm X is going to be bumped off.” In June 1964, the Nation of Islam sued to reclaim Malcolm X’s residence in Queens, New York, which they claimed to own. The suit was successful, and Malcolm X was ordered to vacate. On February 14, 1965, the night before a scheduled hearing to postpone the eviction date, the house burned to the ground. Malcolm X and his family survived. No one was charged with any crime. Assassination
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom when someone in the 400-person audience yelled “Nigger! Get your hand outta my pocket!”
As Malcolm X and his bodyguards attempted to quiet the disturbance, a man seated in the front row rushed forward and shot him once in the chest with a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun. Two other men charged the stage and fired semi-automatic handguns, hitting Malcolm X several times. One gunman, Nation of Islam member Talmadge Hayer was seized and beaten by the crowd before the police arrived minutes later; witnesses identified the others as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, also Nation members. Hayer confessed at trial to being one of the assailants, but refused to identify the others except to assert that they were not Butler and Johnson. All three were convicted. Butler, now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz, was paroled in 1985 and became the head of the Nation’s Harlem mosque in 1998. He continues to maintain his innocence. Johnson, who changed his name to Khalil Islam, rejected the Nation’s teachings while in prison and converted to Sunni Islam. Released in 1987, he maintained his innocence until his death in August 2009. Hayer, now known as Mujahid Halim, was paroled in 2010.
Funeral A public viewing was held at Harlem’s Unity Funeral Home from February 23 through February 26, and it was estimated that between 14,000 and 30,000 mourners attended. The funeral was held on February 27 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Harlem. The church was filled to capacity with more than 1,000 people. Loudspeakers were set up outside the Temple so the overflowing crowd could listen and a local television station broadcast the funeral live. Among the civil rights leaders attending were John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, James Forman, James Farmer, Jesse Gray, and Andrew Young. Actor and activist Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy, describing Malcolm X as “our shining black prince”. There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times.
Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him. Malcolm X was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Actor and activist Ruby Dee and Juanita Poitier established the Committee of Concerned Mothers to raise funds to buy a house and pay educational expenses for Malcolm X’s family.
Reactions to assassination
Reactions to Malcolm X’s assassination were varied. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a telegram to Betty Shabazz, expressing his sadness over “the shocking and tragic assassination of your husband.” While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race. Elijah Muhammad told the annual Savior’s Day convention on February 26, “Malcolm X got just what he preached”, while denying any involvement with the murder. “We didn’t want to kill Malcolm and didn’t try to kill him”, Muhammad said. “We know such ignorant, foolish teachings would bring him to his own end.” The New York Times wrote that Malcolm X was “an extraordinary and twisted man” who “turn many true gifts to evil purpose” and that his life was “strangely and pitifully wasted”. The New York Post wrote that “even his sharpest critics recognized his brilliance—often wild, unpredictable and eccentric, but nevertheless possessing promise that must now remain unrealized.”
The international press, particularly that of Africa, was sympathetic. The Daily Times of Nigeria wrote that Malcolm X “will have a place in the palace of martyrs.” The Ghanaian Times likened him to John Brown and Patrice Lumumba among “a host of Africans and Americans who were martyred in freedom’s cause”. Guangming Daily, published in Beijing, stated that “Malcolm was murdered because he fought for freedom and equal rights”, while in Cuba, El Mundo described the assassination as “another racist crime to eradicate by violence the struggle against discrimination”. Others accused the NYPD, the FBI, or the CIA, citing the lack of police protection, the ease with which the assassins entered the Audubon Ballroom, and the failure of the police to preserve the crime scene. In the 1970s, the public learned about COINTELPRO and other secret FBI programs directed towards infiltrating and disrupting civil rights organizations during the 1950s and 1960s. John Ali, national secretary of the Nation of Islam, was identified as an FBI undercover agent. Malcolm X had confided in a reporter that Ali exacerbated tensions between him and Elijah Muhammad.
He considered Ali his “archenemy” within the Nation of Islam leadership. In 1977 and 1978, Talmadge Hayer submitted two sworn affidavits re-asserting his claim that Butler and Johnson were not involved in the assassination. In his affidavits Hayer named four men, all members of the Nation of Islam’s Newark Temple Number 25, as having participated with him in the crime. Hayer asserted that a man, later identified as Wilbur McKinley, was the one who shouted and threw a smoke bomb to create a diversion. Hayer said that another man, later identified as William Bradley, had a shotgun and was the first to fire on Malcolm X after the diversion. Hayer asserted that he and a man later identified as Leon Davis, both armed with pistols, fired on Malcolm X immediately after the shotgun blast.
Hayer also said that a fifth man, later identified as Benjamin Thomas, was involved in the conspiracy. Hayer’s statements failed to convince authorities to reopen their investigation of the murder. Some, including the Shabazz family, have accused Louis Farrakhan of involvement in Malcolm X’s assassination and in a 1993 speech Farrakhan seemed to acknowledge the possibility that the Nation of Islam was responsible: Was Malcolm your traitor or ours? And if we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours?
A nation has to be able to deal with traitors and cutthroats and turncoats. In a 60 Minutes interview that aired during May 2000, Farrakhan stated that some of the things he said may have led to the assassination of Malcolm X. “I may have been complicit in words that I spoke”, he said. “I acknowledge that and regret that any word that I have said caused the loss of life of a human being.” A few days later Farrakhan denied that he “ordered the assassination” of Malcolm X, although he again acknowledged that he “created the atmosphere that ultimately led to Malcolm X’s assassination.” No consensus on who was responsible has been reached.
Except for his autobiography, Malcolm X left no published writings. His philosophy is known almost entirely from the myriad speeches and interviews he gave from 1952 until his death in 1965. Many of those speeches, especially from the last year of his life, were recorded and have been published.
Beliefs of the Nation of Islam
Before he left the Nation of Islam in 1964, Malcolm X taught its beliefs in his speeches. His speeches were peppered with the phrase “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us that…”. It is virtually impossible to discern whether Malcolm X’s beliefs diverged from the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X once compared himself to a ventriloquist’s dummy who could only say what Elijah Muhammad told him. He enumerated some of the historical reasons that, he felt, supported his argument: “Anybody who rapes, and plunders, and enslaves, and steals, and drops hell bombs on people… anybody who does these things is nothing but a devil.” Malcolm X said that Islam was the “true religion of black mankind” and that Christianity was “the white man’s religion” that had been imposed upon African Americans by their slave-masters.
He said that the Nation of Islam followed Islam as it was practiced around the world, but the Nation’s teachings varied from those of other Muslims because they were adapted to the “uniquely pitiful” condition of black people in America. He taught that Wallace Fard Muhammad, the founder of the Nation, was Allah incarnate, and that Elijah Muhammad was his Messenger, or prophet. While the civil rights movement fought against racial segregation, Malcolm X advocated the complete separation of African Americans from white people. The Nation of Islam proposed the establishment of a separate country for black people in the Southern as an interim measure until African Americans could return to Africa.
He also rejected the civil rights movement’s strategy of nonviolence and instead advocated that black people should protect themselves by any necessary means. Malcolm X declared that he and the other members of the Organization of Afro-American Unity were determined to defend themselves from aggressors, and to secure freedom, justice and equality “by whatever means necessary”, arguing that if the government was unwilling or unable to protect black people, they should protect themselves. Malcolm X stressed the global perspective he gained from his international travels. He emphasized the “direct connection” between the domestic struggle of African Americans for equal rights with the liberation struggles of Third World nations. He said that African Americans were wrong when they thought of themselves as a minority; in a global context, black people were a majority, not a minority.
In his speeches at the Militant Labor Forum, which was sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party, Malcolm X criticized capitalism. Malcolm X still was concerned primarily with the freedom struggle of African Americans. When a reporter asked him what he thought about socialism, Malcolm X asked whether it was good for black people. When the reporter told him it seemed to be, Malcolm X told him, “Then I’m for it.” Although he no longer called for the separation of black people from white people, Malcolm X continued to advocate black nationalism, which he defined as self-determination for the African-American community.
In the last months of his life, however, Malcolm X began to reconsider his support of black nationalism after meeting northern African revolutionaries who, to all appearances, were white. After his Hajj, Malcolm X articulated a view of white people and racism that represented a deep change from the philosophy he had supported as a minister of the Nation of Islam. In a famous letter from Mecca, he wrote that his experiences with white people during his pilgrimage convinced him to “rearrange” his thinking about race and “toss aside some of previous conclusions”. In a 1965 conversation with Gordon Parks, two days before his assassination, Malcolm said:
Malcolm X has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. He is credited with raising the self-esteem of black Americans and reconnecting them with their African heritage. He is largely responsible for the spread of Islam in the black community in the United States. Many African Americans, especially those who lived in cities in the Northern and Western United States, felt that Malcolm X articulated their complaints concerning inequality better than the mainstream civil rights movement did. In the late 1960s, as black activists became more radical, Malcolm X and his teachings were part of the foundation on which they built their movements.
The Black Power movement, the Black Arts Movement, and the widespread adoption of the slogan “Black is beautiful” can all trace their roots to Malcolm X. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a resurgence of interest in Malcolm X among young people, fueled in part by use of him as an icon by hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy. His image was on display in hundreds of thousands of homes, offices, and schools, as well as on T-shirts and jackets. This wave peaked in 1992 with the release of the film Malcolm X, an adaptation of the The Autobiography of Malcolm X which Malcolm X began in 1963 in collaboration with Alex Haley. In 1998 Time named The Autobiography of Malcolm X one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. Portrayals in film and on stage
Denzel Washington played the title role in Malcolm X—named one of the ten best films of the 1990s by both critic Roger Ebert and director Martin Scorsese. Washington had previously played the part of Malcolm X in the 1981 Off-Broadway play When the Chickens Came Home to Roost. Other portrayals include: James Earl Jones, in the 1977 film The Greatest.
Dick Anthony Williams, in the 1978 television miniseries King and the 1989 American Playhouse production of the Jeff Stetson play The Meeting. Al Freeman, Jr., in the 1979 television miniseries Roots: The Next Generations. Morgan Freeman, in the 1981 television movie Death of a Prophet. Ben Holt, in the 1986 opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X at the New York City Opera. Gary Dourdan, in the 2000 television movie King of the World. Joe Morton, in the 2000 television movie Ali: An American Hero. Mario Van Peebles, in the 2001 film Ali.
Lindsay Owen Pierre, in the 2013 television movie Betty and Coretta.
Memorials and tributes
The Malcolm X House Site, at 3448 Pinkney Street in North Omaha, Nebraska, marks the place where Malcolm Little first lived with his family. The house where the Little family lived was torn down in 1965 by owners who did not know of its connection with Malcolm X. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and a historic marker identifies the site because of the importance of Malcolm X to American history and national culture. In 1987 the site was added to the Nebraska register of historic sites and marked with a state plaque. Lansing, Michigan, where Malcolm Little spent his early, formative years, is home to a Michigan Historical Marker erected in 1975 marking his homesite. The city is also home to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy, a public charter school with an Afrocentric focus. The Academy is located in the building where Little attended elementary school.
In cities around the world, Malcolm X’s birthday is commemorated as Malcolm X Day. The first known celebration of Malcolm X Day took place in Washington, D.C., in 1971. The city of Berkeley, California, has recognized Malcolm X’s birthday as a citywide holiday since 1979. Many cities have renamed streets after Malcolm X; in 1987, New York mayor Ed Koch proclaimed Lenox Avenue in Harlem to be Malcolm X Boulevard. The name of Reid Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, was changed to Malcolm X Boulevard in 1985. In 1997, Oakland Avenue in Dallas, Texas, was renamed Malcolm X Boulevard. Main Street in Lansing, Michigan, was renamed Malcolm X Street in 2010.
There have been dozens of schools named after Malcolm X, including Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark, New Jersey, Malcolm Shabazz City High School in Madison, Wisconsin, and Malcolm X College in Chicago, Illinois. Meanwhile, the Malcolm X Library and Performing Arts Center of the San Diego Public Library system opened in 1996. It is the first library named after Malcolm X. The U.S. Postal Service issued a Malcolm X postage stamp in 1999. In 2005, Columbia University announced the opening of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. The memorial is located in the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated. Collections of Malcolm X’s papers are deposited at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Robert W. Woodruff Library.