Malcolm X (/ˈmælkəm ˈɛks/; May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965), born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Arabic: الحاجّ مالك الشباز), was an American Muslim minister and a 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 was effectively orphaned early in life. His father was killed when he was six and his mother was placed in a mental hospital when he was thirteen, after which he lived in a series of foster homes. In 1946, at age 20, he went to prison for larceny and 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 the organization's most influential leaders, serving as the public face of the controversial group for a dozen years. In his autobiography, Malcolm X wrote proudly of some of the social achievements the Nation made while he was a member, particularly its free drug rehabilitation program. In keeping with the Nation's teachings, he promoted black supremacy, advocated the separation of black and white Americans, and rejected the civil rights movement's emphasis on integration.
By March 1964, Malcolm X had grown disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad. Expressing many regrets about his time with them, which he had come to regard as largely wasted, he embraced Sunni Islam. After a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East which included completing the Hajj, he repudiated the Nation, disavowed racism and founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He continued to emphasize Pan-Africanism, black self-determination, and black self-defense.
In February 1965, shortly after repudiating the Nation of Islam and its teachings, he was assassinated by three of its members. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published shortly after his death, is considered one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.
Malcolm Little was born May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, the fourth of seven children of Grenada-born Louise Helen Little (née Norton) and Georgia-born Earl Little. Earl was an outspoken Baptist lay speaker, admirer of Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey, and local leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) who inculcated self-reliance and black pride in his children. Malcolm X later said that violence by whites killed three of his father's brothers.
Because of Ku Klux Klan threats—Earl's UNIA activities were "spreading trouble"—the family relocated in 1926 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and shortly thereafter to Lansing, Michigan, where the family was frequently harassed by the Black Legion, a white racist group. When the family home burned in 1929, Earl accused the Black Legion.
When Little was six his father was killed in what was officially ruled a streetcar accident, though Louise believed Earl had been murdered by the Black Legion. Rumors that white racists were responsible for his father's death were widely circulated, and were very disturbing to Malcolm X as a child. As an adult, he expressed conflicting beliefs on the question. After a dispute with creditors, a life insurance benefit (nominally $1,000—about $16,000 in 2014 dollars) was paid to Louise in payments of $18 per month; the issuer of another, larger policy refused to pay, claiming suicide. To make ends meet Louise rented out part of her garden, and her sons hunted game.
In 1937 a man Louise 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. The children were separated and sent to foster homes. Malcolm and his siblings secured her release 24 years later.
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". Later Malcolm X recalled feeling that the white world offered no place for a career-oriented black man, regardless of talent.
From age 14 to 21 Little held a variety of jobs while living with his half-sister Ella Little-Collins in Roxbury, a largely African-American neighborhood of Boston. Then after a short time in Flint, Michigan, he moved to New York City's Harlem neighborhood 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 wanted to be sent down south to "organize them nigger soldiers ... steal us some guns, and kill us [some] 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 for larceny and breaking and entering.
Nation of Islam period
During Little's imprisonment he met fellow convict 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.
At this time, several of his siblings wrote to him about the Nation of Islam, a relatively new religious movement preaching black self-reliance and, ultimately, the return of the African diaspora to Africa, where they would be 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", now became receptive to the message of the Nation of Islam.
In late 1948, Little wrote to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad advised him to renounce his past, humbly bow in prayer to Allah, and promise to never engage in destructive behavior again. Though he later recalled the inner struggle he experienced in bending his knees to pray, he soon became a member of the Nation of Islam. "Between Mr. Muhammad's teachings, my correspondence, my visitors—usually Ella and Reginald—and my reading of books", he later wrote, "months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I had never been so truly free in my life." From that time, he maintained a regular correspondence with Muhammad.
In 1950, the FBI opened a file on him after he wrote a letter from prison to President Truman expressing opposition to the Korean War and declaring himself a Communist. That year, Little also began signing his name "Malcolm X". He explained in his autobiography that the Muslim's "X" symbolized the true African family name that he could never 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."
After his parole in August 1952, Malcolm X visited Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. In June 1953 he 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 its membership.
In 1953, the FBI began surveillance of him, turning its attention from Malcolm X's possible Communist associations 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 (Number 13); Hartford, Connecticut (Number 14); and Atlanta, Georgia (Number 15). 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 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall and weighed about 180 pounds (82 kg). One writer described him as "powerfully built", and another as "mesmerizingly handsome ... and always spotlessly well-groomed".
Marriage and family
In 1955, Betty Sanders met Malcolm X after one of his lectures, then again at a dinner party; soon she was regularly attending his lectures. In 1956 she joined the Nation of Islam, changing her name to Betty X. 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 her on the frequent group visits he led to New York City's museums and libraries.
Malcolm X proposed on a telephone call from Detroit in January 1958, and they married two days later. They had six daughters: Attallah (b. 1958, named after Attila the Hun); Qubilah (b. 1960, named after Kublai Khan); Ilyasah (b. 1962, named after Elijah Muhammad); Gamilah Lumumba (b. 1964, named after Patrice Lumumba); and twins Malikah and Malaak (b. 1965 after their father's death, and named after him).
Johnson Hinton incident
Malcolm X first came to the notice of the American public in 1957, after Johnson Hinton, a Nation of Islam member, was beaten by two New York City police officers. On April 26, Hinton and two other passersby—also Nation of Islam members—saw the police officers beating an African-American man with nightsticks. They attempted to intervene, shouting "You're not in Alabama...this is New York!" One of the officers turned on Hinton, beating him so severely that he suffered brain contusions and subdural hemorrhaging. All four men were then arrested.
Alerted by a witness, Malcolm X and a small group of Muslims went to the police station and demanded to see Hinton. Police initially denied that any Muslims were being held, but when the crowd grew to about five hundred they allowed Malcolm X to speak with Hinton, after which, at Malcolm X's insistence, an ambulance took Hinton to Harlem Hospital.
Hinton's injuries were treated and by the time he was returned to the police station, some four thousand people had gathered outside. Inside the station, Malcolm X and an attorney were making bail arrangements for two of the Muslims. Hinton was not bailed, and police said he could not go back to the hospital until his arraignment the following day. Considering the situation to be at an impasse, Malcolm X stepped outside the stationhouse and gave a hand signal to the crowd. Nation members silently left, after which the rest of the crowd also dispersed. One police officer told the New York Amsterdam News: "No one man should have that much power." Within a month Malcolm X was under surveillance by the New York City Police Department, which also made inquiries with authorities in other cities in which he had lived, and prisons in which he had served time.
A grand jury declined to indict the officers who beat Hinton, and in October, Malcolm X sent an angry telegram to the police commissioner. Soon undercover officers were assigned to infiltrate the Nation of Islam.
By the late 1950s, Malcolm X was using 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 now being reported in print, on radio, and on television, and he was featured in a 1959 New York City television broadcast about the Nation of Islam, The Hate That Hate Produced.
In September 1960, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Malcolm X was invited to the official functions of several African nations. He met Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea, and Kenneth Kaunda of the Zambian African National Congress. Fidel Castro also attended the Assembly, and Malcolm X met publicly with him as part of a welcoming committee of Harlem community leaders. Castro was sufficiently impressed with Malcolm X to suggest a private meeting, and after two hours of talking Castro invited Malcolm X to visit Cuba.
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. These included the beliefs:
- 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.
Many whites and some blacks were alarmed by Malcolm X and the things he said during this period. He and the Nation of Islam were described as hatemongers, black supremacists, racists, violence-seekers, segregationists, and a threat to improved race relations. He was accused of being antisemitic. One of the goals of the civil rights movement was to end disfranchisement of African Americans, but the Nation of Islam forbade its members from participating in the political process. Civil rights organizations denounced him and the Nation as irresponsible extremists whose views did not represent African Americans.
Malcolm X was equally critical of the civil rights movement. He labeled Martin Luther King Jr. a "chump" and other civil rights leaders "stooges" of the white establishment. He called the 1963 March on Washington "the farce on Washington", and 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".
While the civil rights movement fought against racial segregation, Malcolm X advocated the complete separation of African Americans from whites. He proposed that African Americans should return to Africa, and that a separate country for black people in America should be created as an interim measure. He also rejected the civil rights movement's strategy of nonviolence, expressing the opinion that black people should defend and advance themselves "by any means necessary". His speeches had a powerful effect on his audiences, who were generally African Americans in northern and western cities. Many of them—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.
Impact on Nation membership
Malcolm X is widely regarded as the second most influential leader the Nation of Islam has had, after Elijah Muhammad. He was largely credited with the group's dramatic increase in membership between the early 1950s and early 1960s (from 500 to 25,000 by one estimate; from 1,200 to 50,000 or 75,000 by another).
He inspired the boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) to join the Nation. Malcolm X and Clay soon formed a very close friendship, which Clay's cornerman Ferdie Pacheco later described by saying the two "were like very close brothers". When Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam, he tried to convince Clay to join him in converting to Sunni Islam. Clay declined and refused to speak to him again; he later wrote "[t]urning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life." (Ali later left the group to become a Sunni Muslim.)
Malcolm X mentored and guided Louis Farrakhan, the current leader of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan was originally called Louis X within the Nation, but changed his name after Malcolm X recommended him to the position of Minister of the Nation's Muslim Mosque in Boston. When Malcolm X left the nation, Farrakhan immediately branded him a traitor, and demanded his death. In 1995, after Malcolm X's daughter Qubilah was charged for allegedly attempting to hire a hitman to assassinate Farrakhan, he reconciled with Malcolm X's family and helped her get the charges dropped. He later expressed remorse about his statements condemning Malcolm X. Malcolm X also served as a mentor to Elijah Muhammad's son, Warith Deen Muhammad. He was a confidant to Warith Deen, and the latter expressed to Malcolm X his skepticism of his father's "unorthodox approach" to Islam. Warith Deen was eventually "charged with trying to influence Malcolm's theological thinking" and subsequently excommunicated from the Nation of Islam, although he was eventually readmitted. After Malcolm X converted to Sunni Islam, W.D. Muhammad took inspiration from him and guided the Nation of Islam into orthodox Sunni Islam, wheareas Louis Farrakhan restarted the Nation of Islam as originally envisioned by founder Wallace Fard Muhammad. Through Malcolm X's example, W.D. Muhammad was able to influence Muhammad Ali to convert to Sunni Islam in 1975, despite Malcolm X being unable to convert Ali directly himself.
Leaving the Nation of Islam
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'." The remarks prompted a widespread public outcry. The Nation of Islam, which had sent a message of condolence to the Kennedy family and ordered its ministers not to comment on the assassination, publicly censured their former shining star. Although Malcolm X retained his post and rank as minister, he was prohibited from public speaking for 90 days.
Another source of tension had appeared between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. There were rumors that Muhammad was conducting extramarital affairs with young Nation secretaries—which would constitute a serious violation of Nation teachings. After first discounting the rumors, Malcolm X came to believe them after he spoke with Muhammad's son Wallace and with the women making the accusations. Muhammad confirmed the rumors in 1963, attempting to justify his behavior by referring to precedents set by Biblical prophets.
Malcolm X had by now become a media favorite, and some Nation members were seeing him as a threat to Muhammad's leadership. Publishers had shown interest in Malcolm X's autobiography, and when Louis Lomax wrote his 1963 book about the Nation, When the Word Is Given, he used a photograph of Malcolm X on the cover and reproduced five of his speeches, but featured only one of Muhammad's—all of which greatly upset Muhammad and made him envious.
On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X publicly announced his break from the Nation of Islam. He was still a Muslim, he said, but felt that the Nation had "gone as far as it can" because of its rigid teachings. He planned to organize a black nationalist organization to "heighten the political consciousness" of African Americans; he also expressed a desire to work with other civil rights leaders, saying that Elijah Muhammad had prevented him from doing so in the past.
Organizations founded and views expressed
After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., a religious organization, 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 gave a speech titled "The Ballot or the Bullet", in which he advised African Americans to exercise their right to vote wisely but cautioned that if the government continued to prevent African Americans from attaining full equality, it might be necessary for them to take up arms.
Becoming a Sunni Muslim
At this time, several Sunni Muslims encouraged Malcolm X to learn about their faith, and soon he became a convert to Sunni Islam.
Pilgrimage to Mecca
In April 1964, with financial help from his half-sister Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm X flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as the start of his Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca obligatory for every Muslim who is able to do so. However, he was delayed in Jeddah when his U.S. citizenship and inability to speak Arabic caused his status as a Muslim to be questioned. He had received Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam's book The Eternal Message of Muhammad with his visa approval, and now he contacted the author. Azzam's son arranged for his release and lent him his personal hotel suite. The next morning he learned that Prince Faisal had designated him a state guest, and several days later, after completing the Hajj rituals, 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.
Malcolm X had already visited the United Arab Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana in 1959 to make arrangements for a tour of Africa by Elijah Muhammad, and after his journey to Mecca, in 1964, he visited Africa a second time. He returned to the United States in late May and flew to Africa again in July. During these visits he met officials, gave interviews, and spoke on radio and television 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. By the end of this third visit he had met with essentially all of Africa's prominent leaders, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria had all invited Malcolm X to serve in their governments. After he spoke at the University of Ibadan, the Nigerian Muslim Students Association bestowed on him the honorary Yoruba name Omowale ("the son who has come home"). He later called this his most treasured honor.
France and the United Kingdom
On November 23, 1964, on his way home from Africa, Malcolm X stopped in Paris, where he spoke at the Salle de la Mutualité. A week later, on November 30, Malcolm X flew to the United Kingdom, and on December 3 took part in a debate at the Oxford Union Society. The motion was: "Extremism in the Defense of Liberty is No Vice; Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice is No Virtue". Malcolm X argued for the affirmative, and interest in the debate was so high that it was televised nationally by the BBC.
On February 5, 1965, Malcolm X flew to Britain again, and on February 8 he addressed the first meeting of the Council of African Organizations in London. The next day he tried to travel to France, but was refused entry.
On February 12, he visited Smethwick, near Birmingham, where the Conservative Party had won the parliamentary seat in the 1964 general election. The town had become a byword for racial division after Conservative supporters used the slogan "If you want a nigger for your neighbour, vote Labour." In Smethwick he compared the treatment of colored residents with the treatment of Jews under Hitler, saying: "I would not wait for the fascist element in Smethwick to erect gas ovens."
Return to United States
After leaving the Nation of Islam and traveling internationally, Malcolm X addressed a wide variety of audiences in the United States. He spoke regularly at meetings held by Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, and was one of the most sought-after speakers on college campuses. One of his top aides later wrote that he "welcomed every opportunity to speak to college students." He also addressed public meetings of the Socialist Workers Party, speaking at their Militant Labor Forum. As well, he spoke about his opinions on segregation and the Nation of Islam in an interview with Robert Penn Warren for Warren's 1965 book Who Speaks for the Negro?
Death threats and intimidation from Nation of Islam
Throughout 1964, as conflict with the Nation of Islam intensified, Malcolm X was repeatedly threatened.
In February a leader of Temple Number Seven ordered the bombing of Malcolm X's car. In March, Muhammad told Boston minister Louis X (later known as Louis Farrakhan) that "hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off"; the April 10 edition of Muhammad Speaks featured a cartoon depicting Malcolm X's bouncing, severed head.
On June 8, FBI surveillance recorded a telephone call in which Betty Shabazz was told that her husband was "as good as dead." Four days later, an FBI informant received a tip that "Malcolm X is going to be bumped off." (That same month the Nation sued to reclaim Malcolm X's residence in Queens, New York. His family was ordered to vacate but on February 14, 1965—the night before a hearing on postponing the eviction—the house was destroyed by fire.)
On July 9 Muhammad aide John Ali (later exposed as an undercover FBI agent) referred to Malcolm X by saying, "Anyone who opposes the Honorable Elijah Muhammad puts their life in jeopardy." In the December 4 issue of Muhammad Speaks, Louis X wrote that "such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death."
The September 1964 issue of Ebony dramatized Malcolm X's defiance of these threats by publishing a photograph of him holding a rifle while peering out a window.
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 tried to quell the disturbance, a man rushed forward and shot him once in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun and two other men charged the stage firing semi-automatic handguns. Malcolm X was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm, shortly after arriving at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. The autopsy identified 21 gunshot wounds to the chest, left shoulder, arms and legs, including ten buckshot wounds from the initial shotgun blast.
One gunman, Nation of Islam member Talmadge Hayer (also known as Thomas Hagan) was beaten by the crowd before police arrived; witnesses identified the others as Nation members Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson. All three were convicted in March 1966 and sentenced to life in prison. (At trial Hayer confessed, but refused to identify the other assailants except to assert that they were not Butler and Johnson; in 1977 and 1978 he reasserted their innocence and named four other Nation members as participants in the murder or its planning.)
Butler, today known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz, was paroled in 1985 and became the head of the Nation's Harlem mosque in 1998; he maintains his innocence. In prison Johnson, who changed his name to Khalil Islam, rejected the Nation's teachings and converted to Sunni Islam; released in 1987, he maintained his innocence until his death in August 2009. Hayer, today known as Mujahid Halim, was paroled in 2010.
The public viewing, February 23–26 at Unity Funeral Home in Harlem, was attended by some 14,000 to 30,000 mourners. For the funeral on February 27, loudspeakers were set up for the overflow crowd outside Harlem's thousand-seat Faith Temple of the Church of God in Christ, and a local television station carried the service 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. Friends used the gravediggers' shovels to complete the burial themselves.
Actor and activist Ruby Dee and Juanita Poitier (wife of Sidney Poitier) established the Committee of Concerned Mothers to raise money toward a home for the family and for the children's educations.
Reactions to assassination
Reactions to Malcolm X's assassination were varied.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s telegram to Betty Shabazz expressed his sadness at "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", but denied 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."
Writer James Baldwin, who had been a friend of Malcolm X's, was in London when he heard the news of the assassination. He responded with indignation towards the reporters interviewing him, shouting, "You did it! It is because of you—the men that created this white supremacy—that this man is dead. You are not guilty, but you did it.... Your mills, your cities, your rape of a continent started all this."
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 New York Times wrote that Malcolm X was "an extraordinary and twisted man" who "turn[ed] many true gifts to evil purpose" and that his life was "strangely and pitifully wasted". TIME called him "an unashamed demagogue" whose "creed was violence."
Outside of the U.S., and particularly in Africa, the press 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, and counted him 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".
Allegations of conspiracy
Within days, the question of who bore ultimate responsibility for the assassination was being publicly debated. On February 23, James Farmer, the leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, announced at a news conference that local drug dealers, and not the Nation of Islam, were to blame. 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 established to infiltrate and disrupt 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 to a reporter that Ali exacerbated tensions between him and Elijah Muhammad, and that he considered Ali his "archenemy" within the Nation of Islam leadership. Ali had a meeting with Talmadge Hayer, one of the men convicted of killing Malcolm X, the night before the assassination.
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 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. In August 2014, an online petition was started using the White House online petition mechanism to call on the government to release without alteration any files they still held relating to the murder of Malcolm X. The petition failed to attract enough signatures to mandate a White House response.
Except for his autobiography, Malcolm X left no published writings. His philosophy is known almost entirely from the many speeches and interviews he gave from 1952 until his death. 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. His speeches were peppered with the phrase "The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us that...". It is virtually impossible to discern whether Malcolm X's personal beliefs at the time diverged from the teachings of the Nation of Islam. He later compared himself to a ventriloquist's dummy who could only say what Elijah Muhammad told him.
Malcolm X taught that black people were the original people of the world, and that white people were a race of devils who were created by an evil scientist named Yakub. The Nation of Islam believed that black people were superior to white people, and that the demise of the white race was imminent. When questioned concerning his statements that white people were devils, Malcolm X said: "history proves the white man is a devil." "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 blacks from whites. The Nation of Islam proposed the establishment of a separate country for African Americans in the southern or southwestern United States as an interim measure until African Americans could return to Africa. Malcolm X suggested the United States government owed reparations to black people for the unpaid labor of their ancestors. He also rejected the civil rights movement's strategy of nonviolence, instead advocating that black people should defend themselves.
After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X announced his willingness to work with leaders of the civil rights movement, though he advocated some changes to their policies. He felt that calling the movement a struggle for civil rights would keep the issue within the United States, while changing the focus to human rights would make it an international concern. The movement could then bring its complaints before the United Nations, where Malcolm X said the emerging nations of the world would add their support.
Malcolm X argued that if the government was unwilling or unable to protect black people, they should protect themselves, and said 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".
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 independence struggles of Third World nations. He said that African Americans were wrong when they thought of themselves as a minority; globally, black people were the majority.
In his speeches at the Militant Labor Forum, which was sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party, Malcolm X criticized capitalism. After one such speech, when he was asked what political and economic system he wanted, he said he didn't know, but that it was no coincidence the newly independent countries in the Third World were turning toward socialism. 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 for 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 [his] previous conclusions". In a conversation with Gordon Parks, two days before his assassination, Malcolm said:
[L]istening to leaders like Nasser, Ben Bella, and Nkrumah awakened me to the dangers of racism. I realized racism isn't just a black and white problem. It's brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another.
Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant—the one who wanted to help the [Black] Muslims and the whites get together—and I told her there wasn't a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then—like all [Black] Muslims—I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.
That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days—I'm glad to be free of them.
Up until one week before his death, Malcolm X continued to publicly advocate that black people should achieve advancement "by any means necessary".
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. One biographer says that by giving expression to their frustration, Malcolm X "made clear the price that white America would have to pay if it did not accede to black America's legitimate demands."
In the late 1960s, increasingly radical black activists based their movements largely on Malcolm X and his teachings. 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.
In 1963 Malcolm X began a collaboration with Alex Haley on his life story, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He told Haley, "If I'm alive when this book comes out, it will be a miracle", and indeed, Haley completed and published it some months after the assassination.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a resurgence of interest in his life among young people. Hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy adopted Malcolm X as an icon, and his image was displayed 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 Autobiography of Malcolm X.
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.
- Nigel Thatch, in the 2014 film Selma.
Memorials and tributes
The house that once stood at 3448 Pinkney Street in North Omaha, Nebraska, was the first home of Malcolm Little with his birth family. The house 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 is now identified by a historic marker. In 1987 the site was added to the Nebraska register of historic sites and marked with a state plaque.
In Lansing, Michigan, where Malcolm Little spent his early, formative years, a Michigan Historical Marker was erected in 1975 to mark his homesite. The city is also home to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy, a public charter school with an Afrocentric focus. The school is located in the building where Little attended elementary school.
In cities around the world, Malcolm X's birthday (May 19) 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.
Dozens of schools have been 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. Malcolm X Liberation University, based on the Pan-Africanist ideas of Malcolm X, was founded in 1969 in North Carolina.
In 1996, the first library named after Malcolm X was opened, the Malcolm X Branch Library and Performing Arts Center of the San Diego Public Library system.
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 held by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Robert W. Woodruff Library.
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