Malcolm Little, Malcolm X, El-Haj Malek El-Shabazz, whatever name you choose to call him, he was, without a doubt, one of the most controversial, outspoken and perhaps misunderstood of all the black leaders during the 1950's and early 1960's. In fact, even today forty-seven years after his death, his name, his image, his ideology, remains as controversial as ever, if not more so.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little May 19, 1925 in Omaha Nebraska. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken minister and follower of Marcus Garvey. Garvey was a staunch advocate of black pride and self-determination and had launched a return to Africa movement. The Little family moved from Nebraska to Lansing Michigan where Malcolm's father, after being threatened by the Klan, was murdered. His mother, unable to effectively care for eight children on her own, suffered a nervous breakdown, eventually being sent to a sanitarium. Eventually the children were taken from her and placed with other families. Malcolm was sent to live with a family and then to a detention home run by a white family.
After he completed the eighth grade, Malcolm moved to Boston and then to Harlem, where he eventually became involved in criminal activity. He was eventually arrested and sent to prison at the age of 21 on burglary charges. He was sentenced to eight to ten years but was released at the age of 27.
Nation of Islam
While serving time he was introduced to the Black Muslim Movement. He converted to Islam, took the name Malcolm X, and changed his way of thinking. When he was released from prison Malcolm was full of fire. Upon his release from prison he was instrumental in bringing in many members to the Nation of Islam. He later became head of Boston's Temple #1 and later Temple #7 in Harlem.
As a charismatic leader and speaker, he was well known and loved and helped to bring many into the Nation as well as to make the country aware of, until this time, unknown group. Eventually jealousy within the Nation toward Malcolm made him an insider in the group he had helped to make so popular. Malcolm also became aware of the leader of the Muslims, Elijah Muhammad, infidelities. This caused great pain for Malcolm, yet he continued on with his quest: to instill black pride in his people and to build up black communities and businesses.
Leaving the Nation and Pilgrimage to Mecca
Following the death of President Kennedy in 1963 , Malcolm, against the orders of Elijah Muhammad made a statement about the president saying that it was a case of "chicken's coming home to roost" He was silenced by the group and finally split with them in March 1964.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X meet before a press conference.
Following a trip to Mecca, he converted to true Islam and took the name El-Haj Malek El-Shabazz. He learned the true Islamic ideals of brotherhood and teaching and learned that Elijah Muhammad had changed Islamic teachings to suit himself. He also learned that all whites were not devils as the nation taught.
Upon his return to the US he established the Muslim Mosque Incorporated and Organization of African American Unity. He also denounced Elijah Muhammad as a racist and religious faker. Shortly thereafter in the nation's paper, Muhammad Speaks it was stated that Malcolm was "worthy of death" .
Malcolm had great plans for his organization and how to better elevate the black race. Unfortunately his dreams were never realized. On Feb. 21, 1965, while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X was assassinated in a hale of gunfire by four members of the Nation of Islam. Three were sent to prison, the fourth was never found. Two served twenty years; the third is still incarcerated.
To this day, who gave the orders to kill Malcolm is still a mystery. Some have surmised it was Elijah Muhammad himself, although he denied it vehemently. Louis Farrakhan, current leader of the Nation was also considered by some to be instrumental in Malcolm's demise, although he also denied any allegations that he was involved. Equally sad is the governments possible role in not stopping the assassination. It has been well documented that there were undercover FBI agents and informants in the nation as well as in Malcolm's camp. Knowledge that something was going to "go down" is highly probable. In addition, Malcolm was routinely followed by agents from the FBI, CIA and others.
Alex Haley's book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped to tell Malcolm's story and is still widely read today. Renewed interest in Malcolm was also spurred by Spike Lee's movie. His ideals of black pride, self determination and community empowerment is stronger than ever.
"The greatest crime committed against blacks was that they were taught to hate themselves." Malcolm X
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- Malcolm X: Short Biography of the Late Black Leader - April 22, 2012