Signed in as:
Signed in as:
“A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, more commonly known as Malcolm X, not only changed the image and determination of Black Americans forever, but he was a global phenomenon, touching people wherever he traveled. Even more astonishing is that his lasting influence on the world’s perception of race, justice, humanity, and equality was accomplished at a very young age and in just a few short years.
On February 21, 1965, he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom as he spoke at a meeting of his newly formed Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). On February 27th, at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, hundreds of mourners attended his funeral. Thousands more gathered outside as he was eulogized by Ossie Davis. Ahmed Osman counselled the family on Muslim funeral customs that called for the body to be wrapped in white linen. Mr. Osman also performed Islamic funeral rites. Malcolm’s pregnant widow, Betty Shabazz, was cloaked in grief.
Malcolm’s presence can still be felt in Harlem, where he sang the praises of Africa and her descendants. His courageous words still resound in the community, where he rallied and organized against oppression. His example of how to lead a righteous, loving, and purposeful life still resides within the hearts of all who were motivated, lifted up, and inspired by his greatness.
Malcolm X moved to Harlem in June of 1954. He was barely twenty-nine years old, but he was on the verge of becoming one of the nation’s most powerful human rights trailblazers. Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam (NOI), recognized the young man’s leadership talents and sent him to New York to be the chief minister of Harlem’s Temple No. 7. At that time, it was the second highest ranking position within the NOI. Malcolm took on the responsibility with determination, strategic thinking, and tireless recruiting: Within the next five years, membership within the NOI grew from 400 to 40,000, supporting forty-nine temples. The charismatic minister believed that Islam could provide African Americans the spiritual strength to demand a just society. Malcolm X, himself, had experienced many injustices and tragedies in his young life.
Malcolm was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska to Earl and Louise Little. Earl, a Baptist minister, served as Omaha chapter president of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. Louise, born in Grenada (her grandparents were taken from Nigeria), was the division secretary. The Littles’ organizing efforts had taken them to different cities in North America, where they had sometimes been the victims of violence at the hands of white supremist groups. They, eventually, settled in Lansing, Michigan, where their home was burned to the ground, an act of arson traced to a white hate group. The fire department never arrived. The Littles then moved to East Lansing and when Malcolm was only six years old, his father died in what was ruled a streetcar accident, but the Black community determined that he was murdered because Rev. Little had received death threats from the KKK. As the tragedies mounted, Mrs. Little succumbed to grief and stress and was committed to the Kalamazoo State Mental Hospital. Her children were forced into the foster care system. A quarter century later, her children were finally able to get her released.
Despite the turmoil, instability, and the loss of family, Malcolm thrived in school and aspired to become a lawyer. He was an honor student and seemed destined to achieve his goals. But when a middle school teacher attacked his dreams by declaring that Black people could not become lawyers, he dropped out of school and relocated to his sister’s home in Boston, Massachusetts. Over the next few years, he worked a variety of jobs until he began to commit petty crimes in Boston, Detroit, and New York, eventually ending up in a Massachusetts prison, serving a six-year term.
Malcolm turned the defeat of a prison sentence into an education. He read constantly, mostly history and philosophy from around the world, and learned the majestic history of African peoples along with the truth of enslavement and other atrocities. He came to the realization that he, like most Americans, had been lied to his entire life. From the dictionary to Mahatma Ghandhi to W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm devoured book after book, often reading through the night by the dim light outside his cell. He joined the prison debate team and discovered he had extraordinary oratorical skills that eventually would make him the second most requested speaker in the country.
Malcolm was introduced to the teachings of the Nation of Islam while imprisoned and began communicating regularly with Elijah Muhammad. When he was paroled in 1952, he moved to Detroit, joining family members who had converted to Islam. He changed his last name from Little to X. The X symbolizes his stolen African name. It was customary for NOI members to take on X as their last name. Malcolm’s efforts tripled the membership at the Detroit temple and the NOI sent him to spread the word in several Eastern cities.
In Harlem, Malcolm met and married his wife, Betty Shabazz, also an NOI member. The couple moved to Corona, Queens and had six daughters, including twins born after his assassination. A devoted family man, he continued to advocate for human rights and to strategize how African Americans could develop a power base. Taking on issues like police brutality, Malcolm, at one time, mobilized thousands to surround a New York City precinct to protest the arrest of an NOI member, who was unmercifully beaten for intervening when he saw a Black citizen being assaulted by the police. Due to that show of force, on Malcolm’s part, the police released the man, who was then taken straight to the hospital for his severe injuries.
The FBI and the New York Police Department recognized that Malcolm X was powerful and revered by the community. He was under surveillance from different government entities, but in spite of the constant threats from various sources, brutal attacks on his home, and often being misquoted and misrepresented, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz remained steadfast in his beliefs and courageously toiled to create an equitable and safe resolution to racism and oppression. Malcolm also addressed the internalized racism of Black people that was essential to overcome for true liberation. Indeed, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz is memorialized as a cultural revolutionary because he sought to heal Black people’s negative self-image and to alter the oppressive nature of societies the world over.