Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Malcolm X was one of the most influential and controversial leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He epitomised the Black Power philosophy - the idea that African Americans should become the instrument of their own liberation. Originally a member of the Nation of Islam, in 1964 Malcolm formed his own Islamic organisation that pioneered civil rights. He was assassinated on 21 February 1965.

Malcolm’s ideas on separatism developed at an early age. Born Malcolm Little on 19 May 1925, he grew up with the influence of his father, a Baptist minister who had been influenced by the pro-separatist Marcus Garvey. Malcolm’s family felly apart following his father’s death at the hand of White nationalists. His mother was committed to a mental institution and his siblings were sent to foster homes and orphanages.

In 1941, Malcolm dropped out of school and moved to Boston’s ghetto where he worked odd jobs to survive. After moving to Harlem in 1942, he made a living from burglary, drug dealing and pimping. In 1946, Malcolm X received a 10-year jail sentence for his crimes.

Malcolm used his time in prison to educate himself. He read the teachings of the Nation of Islam and became a member. When he was released on parole in 1952, he took on the name Malcolm X to signify that his surname was a slave name.

He worked within the Nation of Islam movement, quickly rising through the ranks. As Minister of Temple Number 7 in Harlem, he gathered around him a number of devoted followers from the ghetto.

However, members within the Nation of Islam criticised him for exploiting the organisation for his own benefits. Malcolm’s influence led the FBI to infiltrate the organisation to monitor its activities.

Malcolm X was punished by the NOI for refusing to obey instructions not to comment on the death of JFK in 1963. His infamous “chickens coming home to roost” comment caused national outrage and resulted in Elijah Muhammad banning him from public speaking for 90 days.

In March 1964, Malcolm ended his official relations with the Nation of Islam and founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc, followed by the Organisation of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). However, he had made enemies within the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm X had tempered his beliefs over time and by the time of his death he had turned to orthodox Islam. This made him more tolerant of other religions and he began to develop more cordial relations with other white Muslims. While some supporters see this as a sign of his religious beliefs, others argue it was a way of attracting more popularity.

However, Malcolm X became increasingly concerned that members within the Nation of Islam were plotting to kill him. On February 19 1965, he told an interviewer that the Nation of Islam was actively trying to kill him.

Malcolm X was assassinated on 21 February 1965 in Manhattan. Talmadge Hayer, Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson were arrested and convicted of his murder - all three were members of the Nation of Islam.

What did Malcolm X achieve?

Many advocates of nonviolent protest were critical of Malcolm X. In particular, Thurgood Marshall claimed that NOI was “run by a bunch of thugs”. They argued that his preachings inspired the violent militancy of the Black Power movement, including the Black Panthers.

However, Malcolm X’s influence continued long his death. The ideas he preached lived on in the Black Power Movement, as well as the Black Arts Movement. Moreover, through his eloquent and passionate speeches he highlighted the importance of Black pride in the battle for civil rights.

See also: Black Power

MLA Citation/Reference

"Malcolm X". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Malcolm X
Birth Date: 19 May 1925, Omaha, Nebraska
Death: 21 February 1965
Occupation: Minister, activist
Known for: Encouraged black pride and separatism; member of Nation of Islam; laid foundations of Black Power movement