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X, Malcolm 1925-1965

Malcolm X 1925-1965

Human rights activist

At a Glance

Trouble With the Law

Discovered Islam

Began Ministry

Differences With Rev. King

Became Disillusioned With Nation of Islam

Returned to U.S.

Selected writings

Sources

When I talk about my father, said Attallah Shabazz to Rolling Stone. I do my best to make Malcolm human. I dont want these kids to keep him on the pedestal, I dont want them to feel his goals are unattainable. Ill remind them that at their age he was doing time. The powerful messages of Malcolm X, his dramatic life, and his tragic assassination conspire to make him an unreachable hero. Events in the 1960s provided four hero-martyrs of this kind for Americans: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. These idealistic men believed in the possibilities for social change, the necessity of that change, and the truth of his vision of change.

Of the four, Malcolm came from the humblest roots, was the most radical, most outspoken, and angriestAll Negroes are angry, and I am the angriest of all, he often would say. The powerful speaker gathered huge crowds around him when he was associated with Elijah Muhammads Lost-Found Nation of Islam movement, and afterwards with Malcolm Xs own organization. Many Americans, white and black, were afraid of the violent side of Malcolm Xs rhetoricunlike Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.s, doctrine of non-violent resistance, Malcolm X believed in self-defense.

But Malcolm X cannot be summed up in a few convenient phrases, because during his life he went through distinct changes in his philosophies and convictions. He had three names: Malcolm Little, Malcolm X, and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Each name has its own history and illuminates a different facet of the man who remains one of the most compelling Americans of the 20th century.

Malcolm Xs father was a Baptist minister and a member of the United Negro Improvement Association. Founded by Marcus Garvey, the group believed that there could be no peace for blacks in America, and that each black person should return to their African nation to lead a natural and serene life. In a parallel belief, Nation of Islam supporters in Malcolm Xs time held that a section of the United States secede and become a nation onto itself for disenfranchised blacks. It seems possible that Malcolm X was predisposed to the separatist ideas of the Nation of Islam partly because of this early exposure to Marcus Garvey.

At a Glance

Born Malcolm Little, May 19, 1925, in Omaha, NE; died of gunshot wounds, February 21, 1965, in Harlem, NY; son of Reverend Earl (a Baptist minister), and Louise Little; married wife, Betty (a student nurse), 1958; children: six daughters. Religion: Muslim.

Activist. Worker in Lost-Found Nation of Islam (Black Muslim) religious sect, 1952-64, began as assistant minister of mosque in Detroit, Ml, then organized mosque in Philadelphia, PA, became national minister, 1963; established Muslim Mosque, Inc., founded Organization of Afro-American Unity in New York City, 1964; lecturer and writer.

Malcolm X described in his autobiography (written with Alex Haley) the harassment of his father, including terrifying visits from the Ku Klux Klan; one of Malcolm Xs first memories is of his home in Omaha burning down. The family moved to Lansing, Michigan, in 1929 and there Malcolm Xs memories were of his fathers rousing sermons and the beatings the minister gave his wife and children. Malcolm X believed his father to be a victim of brainwashing by white people, who infected blacks with self-hatredtherefore he would pass down a form of the abuse he received as a black man.

The minister was killed in 1931, his body almost severed in two by a streetcar and the side of his head smashed. In the autobiography, Malcolm X elaborated, saying that there were many rumors in Lansing that his father had been killed by the Klan or its ilk because of his preachings, and that he had been laid on the streetcar tracks to make his death appear accidental. After his father was killed, the state welfare representatives began to frequent the house, and it seemed to Malcolm X that they were harassing his mother. Terribly stricken by her husbands death and buckling under the demands of raising many children, Louise Little became psychologically unstable and was institutionalized until 1963.

Trouble With the Law

After his mother was committed, Malcolm X began what was to be one of the most publicized phases of his life. His brothers and sisters were separated, and while living with several foster families, Malcolm began to learn to steal. In his autobiography, he used his own young adulthood to illustrate larger ideas about the racist climate in the United States. In high school, Malcolm began to fight what would be a lifelong battle of personal ambition versus general racist preconception. An English teacher discouraged Malcolm Xs desire to become a lawyer, telling him to be realistic, and that he should think about working with his hands.

Lansing did not hold many opportunities of any kind for a young black man then, so without a particular plan, Malcolm X went to live with his half-sister, Ella, in Boston. Ella encouraged him to look around the city and get a feel for it before trying to land a job. Malcolm X looked, and almost immediately found trouble. He fell in with a group of gamblers and thieves, and began shining shoes at the Roseland State Ballroom. There he learned the trades that would eventually take him to jaildealing in bootleg liquor and illegal drugs. Malcolm X characterized his life then as one completely lacking in self-respect. Although his methods grew more sophisticated over time, it was only a matter of four years or so before he was imprisoned in 1946, sentenced to ten years on burglary charges.

Many journalists would emphasize Malcolm Xs shady past when describing the older man, his clean-cut lifestyle, and the aims of the Nation of Islam. In some cases, these references were an attempt to damage Malcolm Xs credibility, but economically disadvantaged people have found his early years to be a point of commonality, and Malcolm X himself was proud of how far he had come. He spared no detail of his youth in his autobiography, and used his Nation of Islam (sometimes called Black Islam) ideas to interpret them. Dancing, drinking, and even his hair style were represented by Malcolm X to be marks of shame and self-hatred.

Relaxed hair in particular was an anathema to Malcolm X for the rest of his life; he described his first conk in the autobiography this way: This was my first really big step toward self-degredation: when I endured all of that pain [of the hair-straightening chemicals], literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white mans hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are inferiorand white people superiorthat they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look pretty by white standards. It makes you wonder if the Negro has completely lost his sense of identity, lost touch with himself.

Discovered Islam

It was while Malcolm X was in prison that he was introduced to the ideas of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Fundamentally, the group believes in the racial superiority of blacks, a belief supported by a complex genesis fable, which includes an envious, evil white scientist who put a curse on blacks. The faith became a focus for Malcolm Xs fury about his treatment (and his familys) at the hands of whites, about the lack of opportunity he had as a young black man, and the psychological damage of systematic anti-black racismthat is, the damage of self-hatred.

Malcolm X read everything he could get his hands on in the prison library. He interpreted history books with the newly-learned tenets of Elijah Muhammad, and told of his realizations in a Playboy interview with Alex Haley. I found out that the history-whitening process either had left out great things that black men had done, or the great black men had gotten whitened. He improved his penmanship by copying out a dictionary, and participated in debates in jail, preaching independently to the prisoners about the Nation of Islams theories about the white devil. The group also emphasizes scrupulous personal habits, including cleanliness and perfect grooming, and forbids smoking, drinking, and the eating of pork, as well as other traditional Muslim dietary restrictions.

Began Ministry

When Malcolm X left prison in 1952, he went to work for Elijah Muhammad, and within a year was named assistant minister to Muslim Temple Number One in Detroit, Michigan. It was then that he took the surname X and dropped his slave name of Littlethe X stands for the African tribe of his origin that he could never know. The Nation of Islams leadership was so impressed by his tireless efforts and his fiery speeches that they sent him to start a new temple in Boston, which he did, then repeated his success in Philadelphia by 1954.

Malcolm Xs faith was inextricably linked to his worship of Elijah Muhammad. Everything Malcolm X accomplished (he said) was accomplished through Elijah Muhammad. In his autobiography, he recalled a speech which described his devotion: I have sat at our Messengers feet, hearing the truth from his own mouth, I have pledged on my knees to Allah to tell the white man about his crimes and the black man the true teachings of our Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I dont care if it costs my life. His devotion would be sorely tested, then destroyed within nine years.

Differences With Rev. King

During those nine years, Malcolm X was made a national ministerhe became the voice of the Nation of Islam. He was a speechwriter, an inspired speaker, a pundit often quoted in the news, and he became a philosopher. Malcolm used the teachings of the Nation of Islam to inform blacks about the cultures that had been stripped from them and the self-hatred that whites had inspired, then he would point the way toward a better life. While Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was teaching blacks to fight racism with love, Malcolm X was telling blacks to understand their exploitation, to fight back when attacked, and to seize self-determination by any means necessary. Malcolm spoke publicly of his lack of respect for King, who would, through a white mans religion, tell blacks to not fight back.

In his later years, though, Malcolm X thought that he and King perhaps did have the same goals and that a truce was possible. While Malcolm X was in the process of questioning the Nation of Islams ideals, his beliefs were in a creative flux. He began to visualize a new Islamic group which would embrace all faiths of black men, and it would carry into practice what the Nation of Islam had only preached. His new visions laid the groundwork for a break from the Black Muslims.

In 1963 a conflict between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad made headlines. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm said that it was a case of chickens coming home to roost. Rolling Stone reported that many people believed Malcolm X had declared the president deserving of his fate, when he really meant the countrys climate of hate had killed the president. Muhammad suspended Malcolm X for ninety days so that Muslims everywhere can be disassociated from the blunder, according to the autobiography.

Became Disillusioned With Nation of Islam

Muhammad had been the judge and jury for the Nation of Islam, and had sentenced many other Black Muslims to terms of silence, or excommunication, for adultery or other infractions of their religious code. Malcolm X discovered that Muhammad himself was guilty of adultery, and was appalled by his idols hypocrisy. It widened the gulf between them. Other ministers were vying for the kind of power and attention that Malcolm X had, and some speculate that these men filled Elijah Muhammads ears with ungenerous speculations about Malcolm Xs ambitions. I hadnt hustled in the streets for years for nothing. I knew when I was being set up, Malcolm X said of that difficult time. He believed that he would be indefinitely silenced and that a Nation of Islam member would be convinced to assassinate him. Before that would come to pass, Malcolm X underwent another period of transformation, during which he would take on his third name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

A hajj is a pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad; Malik was similar to Malcolm, and Shabazz, a family name. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X had announced that he was leaving the Nation of Islam to form his own groups, Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. In an effort to express his dedication to Islam, and thereby establish a more educated religious underpinning for his new organization, Malcolm X declared he would make a hajj. His travels were enlarged to include a tour of Middle Eastern and African countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Ghana.

These expeditions would expand Malcolm X in ways that would have seemed incredible to him earlier. He encountered fellow Muslims who were caucasian and embraced him as a brother, he was accepted into the traditional Islamic religion, and he was lauded as a fighter for the rights of American blacks. Packed in the plane [to Jedda] were white, black, brown, red, and yellow people, blue eyes and blond hair, and my kinky red hairall together, brothers! All honoring the same God Allah, all in turn giving equal honor to the other. As a result of his experiences, Malcolm X gained a burgeoning understanding of a global unity and sympathy that stood behind Americas blacksless isolated and more reinforced, he revised his formerly separatist notions.

Returned to U.S.

Still full of resolve, Malcolm X returned to the States with a new message. He felt that American blacks should go to the United Nations and demand their rights, not beg for them. When faced with a bevy of reporters upon his return, he told them, The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks. His new international awareness was evident in statements such as: The white mans racism toward the black man here in America has got him in such trouble all over the world, with other nonwhite peoples.

This new message, full of renewed vigor and an enlarged vision, plus the fact that the media was still listening to Malcolm X, was not well-received by the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X was aware that he was being followed by Black Muslims, and regularly received death threats. His home was firebombed on February 14, 1965his wife and four daughters were unharmed, but the house was destroyed, and the family had not been insured against fire. It was believed that the attack came from the Nation of Islam. A week later, Malcolm X, his wife (pregnant with twin girls), and four daughters went to the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York, where he would speak for the last time. A few minutes into his message, three men stood and fired sixteen shots into Malcolm X, who died before medical help could arrive. The three were arrested immediately, and were later identified as members of the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm X gave African-Americans something no one else ever hada sense that the race has a right to feel anger and express the power of it, to challenge white domination, and to actively demand change. Politically sophisticated, Malcolm X told everyone who would listen about the tenacious and pervasive restraints that centuries of racism had imposed on American blacks. His intelligence and humility was such that he was not afraid to revise his ideas, and he held up the example of his transformations for all to see and learn from.

Although Malcolm Xs own organizations were unsteady at the time of his death, the posthumous publication of his autobiography insures that his new and old philosophies will never be forgotten. In 1990, twenty-five years after his assassination, Malcolm X and his ideas were still a huge component in the ongoing debate about race relations. Plays and movies focus on him, new biographies are written, and several colleges and societies survive him. Malcolms maxims on self-respect, self-reliance and economic empowerment seem acutely prescient, said Newsweek in 1990. The words of Malcolm X and the example of his life still urge Americans to fight racism in all of its forms.

Selected writings

(With Alex Haley) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, introduction by M.S. Handler, epilogue by Ossie Daivs, Ballantine Books, 1964.

Malcolm Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements, edited with prefatory notes by George Breitman, Merit Publishers, 1965.

The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard, edited and with an introductory essay by Archie Epps, Owen, 1969.

Malcolm X Talks to Young People, Young Socialist Alliance, 1969.

Malcolm X and the Negro Revolution: The Speeches of Malcolm X, edited and with an introductory essay by Archie Epps, Owen, 1969.

Two Speeches by Malcolm X, Merit Publishers, 1969.

By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews, and a Letter by Malcolm X, edited by George Breitman, Pathfinder Press, 1970.

The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches, edited and with an introduction by Benjamin Goodman, Merlin House, 1971.

Work represented in anthologies, including 100 and More Ouotes by Garvey, Lumumba, and Malcolm X, compiled by Shawna Maglangbayan, Third World Press, 1975.

Sources

Books

(With Alex Haley) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, introduction by M.S. Handler, epilogue by Ossie Daivs, Ballantine Books, 1964.

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Biography, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973.

Political Profiles: The Johnson Years, edited by Nelson Lichtenstein, Facts on File, 1976.

Political Profiles: The Kennedy Years, edited by Lichtenstein, Facts on File, 1976.

Periodicals

Newsweek, February 26, 1990.

Playboy, January 1989.

Rolling Stone, November 30, 1989.

Christine Ferran

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Malcolm X

MALCOLM X

Malcolm X was a nation of islam minister and a black nationalist leader in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. Since his assassination in 1965, his status as a political figure has grown considerably, and he has now become an internationally recognized political and cultural icon. The changes in Malcolm X's personal beliefs can be followed somewhat by the changes in his name, from Malcolm Little when he was a young man to Malcolm X when he was a member of the Nation of Islam to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz-Al-Sabann after he returned to the United States from a spiritual pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964. He was a ward of the state, a shoe shine boy in Boston, a street hustler and pimp in New York, and a convicted felon at the age of 20. After embracing Islam in prison and directing his grassroots leadership and speaking skills to recruit members to the Nation of Islam, he ultimately became an influential black nationalist during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The fifth child in a family of eight children, Malcolm was born May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl Little, was a Baptist minister and a local organizer for the Universal Negro Improvement Association, a black nationalist organization founded by Marcus M. Garvey in the early twentieth century. His mother, Louise Little, was of West Indian heritage. Malcom's father was killed under suspicious circumstances in 1931 and his mother had a breakdown in 1937.

After his father's death and his mother's commitment to a mental hospital, Malcolm was

first placed with family friends, but the state welfare agency ultimately situated him in a juvenile home in Mason, Michigan, where he did well. Malcolm was an excellent student in junior high school, earning high grades as well as praise from his teachers. Despite his obvious talent, his status as an African American in the 1930s prompted his English teacher to discourage Malcolm from pursuing a professional career. The teacher instead encouraged him to work with his hands, perhaps as a carpenter.

In 1941, shortly after finishing eighth grade, Malcolm moved to Roxbury, a predominantly African American neighborhood in Boston. From 1941 to 1943, he lived in Roxbury with his half-sister ella lee little-collins. He worked at several jobs, including one as the shoe shine boy at the Roseland State Ballroom. He became what he later described as a Roxbury hipster, wearing outrageous zoot suits and dancing at local ballrooms.

Malcolm moved to Harlem in 1943, at the age of 18. Here, he earned the nickname Detroit Red, because of his Michigan background and the reddish hue to his skin and hair. In his early Harlem experience, Malcolm was a hustler, dope dealer, gambler, pimp, and numbers runner for mobsters.

In 1945, when his life was threatened by a Harlem mob figure named West Indian Archie, Malcolm returned to Boston, where he became involved in a burglary ring with an old Roxbury acquaintance. In 1946 he was caught attempting to reclaim a stolen watch he had left for repairs, and the police raided his apartment and arrested him and his accomplices, including two white women. He was charged with larceny and breaking and entering, to which he pleaded guilty at trial. On February 27, 1946, he entered Charlestown State Prison to begin an eight- to ten-year sentence; he was 20 years old.

Malcolm was transferred in 1948 to an experimental and progressive prison program in Norfolk, Massachusetts. The Norfolk Prison Colony gave greater freedom to its inmates. It also had an excellent library, and Malcolm began to read voraciously. Prompted by his brother, Reginald Little, Malcolm converted to Islam while in prison and became a follower of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam, founded by Wallace D. Fard in the 1930s, advocated racial separatism and enforced a strict moral code for its followers, all of whom were African American.

Malcolm was paroled from prison in 1952. He immediately moved to Detroit, where he worked in a furniture store and attended the Nation of Islam Detroit temple. Malcolm soon abandoned the surname Little in favor of X, which represented the African surname he had never known. With his oratory skill, Malcolm X quickly became a national minister for the Nation of Islam. As a devout follower of Elijah Muhammad, he helped to establish numerous temples across the United States. He became the minister for temples in Boston and Philadelphia, and in 1954, he became minister of the New York temple. In 1958 he married Sister Betty X, who had earlier joined the Nation of Islam as Betty Sanders. Together, they had six children, including twins who were born after Malcolm's assassination.

During his early years with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm's primary role was as spokesman for Elijah Muhammad. He was a highly effective grassroots activist and successfully recruited thousands of urban blacks to join the organization. In 1959 a television program entitled The Hate That Hate Produced resulted in a focused public scrutiny of the Nation of Islam and its followers, who became known to many U.S. citizens as Black Muslims. Increasingly, Malcolm was seen as the national spokesman for the Black Muslims, and he was often sought out for his opinion on public issues. In vitriolic public speeches on behalf of the Nation of Islam, he described whites in the United States as devils and called for African Americans to reject any attempt to integrate them into a white racist society. As a Nation of Islam minister, he denounced Jews and criticized the more cautious mainstream civil rights leaders as traitors who had been brainwashed by a white society. He further challenged the so-called integrationist principles of recognized civil rights leaders such as martin luther king jr.

Elijah Muhammad took a somewhat less rash approach and favored a general nonengagement policy in place of more confrontational tactics. Malcolm's increasing popularity—as well as his caustic public remarks—began to create tension between him and Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm became frustrated at having to restrain his comments.

When President john f. kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Malcolm exclaimed that Kennedy "never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon." Malcolm later regretted his comment and explained that he meant that the government's involvement in and tolerance of violence against African Americans and others had created an atmosphere that contributed to the death of the president. Nevertheless, his comments and his increasing public notoriety prompted Elijah Muhammad to "silence" Malcolm and suspend him as a minister on December 1, 1963. Members of the Nation of Islam were instructed not to speak to him.

However, by 1963, Malcolm had become disillusioned by the Nation of Islam, particularly with rumors that Elijah Muhammad had been unfaithful to his wife and had fathered several illegitimate children. On March 8, 1964—while still under suspension from the Nation of Islam—Malcolm formally announced his separation from the organization. He soon announced the creation of his own organization, Moslem Mosque, Incorporated (MMI), which would be based in New York. MMI, Malcolm stated, would be a broad-based black nationalist organization intended to advance the spiritual, economic, and political interests of African Americans. On March 26, Malcolm met for the first and only time with Martin Luther King, in Washington, D.C. King at the time was scheduled to testify on the pending civil rights act of 1964.

In April 1964, Malcolm made a spiritual pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy site of Islam and the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. He was profoundly moved by the pilgrimage, and said later that it was the start of a radical alteration in his outlook about race relations.

"We are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as human beings. We are fighting for … human rights."
—Malcolm X

Upon his return to the United States, Malcolm began to use the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Al-Sabann. He also exhibited a profound shift in political and social thinking. Whereas in the past he had advocated against cooperation with other civil rights leaders and organizations, his new philosophy was to work with existing organizations and individuals, including whites, so long as they were sincere in their efforts to secure basic civil rights and freedoms for African Americans. In June 1964, he founded the secular Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), which espoused a pan-Africanist approach to basic human rights, particularly the rights of African Americans. He traveled and spoke extensively in Africa to gain support for his pan-Africanist views. He pledged to bring the condition of African Americans before the General Assembly of the united nations and thereby "internationalize" the civil rights movement in the United States. He further pledged to do whatever was necessary to bring the black struggle from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights. When he advocated for the right of African Americans to use arms to defend themselves against violence, he not only laid the groundwork for a subsequent growth of the black power movement, but also led many U.S. citizens to believe that he advocated violence. However, in his autobiography, Malcolm said that he was not advocating wanton violence but calling for the right of individuals to use arms in self-defense when the law failed to protect them from violent assaults.

In 1965 Malcolm's increasing public criticism of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam prompted anonymous threats against his life. In his attempts to forge relationships with established civil rights organizations such as the student non-violent coordinating committee, Malcolm was criticized severely in the Nation of Islam's official publications. In a December 1964 article in Muhammad Speaks— the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam— Louis X (now known as Louis Farrakhan) said, "[S]uch a man as Malcolm is worthy of death, and would have met with death if it had not been for Muhammad's confidence in Allah for victory over the enemies."

On February 14, 1965, Malcolm's home in Queens, New York—which was still owned by the Nation of Islam—was firebombed while he and his family were asleep. Malcolm attributed the bombing to Nation of Islam supporters but no one was ever charged with the crime. One week later, when Malcolm stepped to the podium at the Audubon Ballroom in New York to present a speech on behalf of the OAAU, he was assassinated. The gunmen, later identified as former or current members of the Nation of Islam, were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in April 1966.

Malcolm left a complex political and social legacy. Although he was primarily a black nationalist in perspective, his changing philosophy and politics toward the end of his life demonstrate the unfinished development of an influential figure. Although some people point to his identification with the Nation of Islam and dismiss him as a racial extremist and anti-Semite, his later thinking reveals profound changes in his perspective and a more universal understanding of the problems of African Americans. In his eulogy of Malcolm, the U.S. actor Ossie Davis said,

However we may have differed with him—or with each other about him and his value as a man—let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed—which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us.

further readings

Benson, Michael. 2002. Malcolm X. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications.

Carson, Clayborne. 1991. Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf.

Estell, Kenneth. 1994. African America: Portrait of a People. Detroit: Visible Ink.

"Malcolm X Scores U.S. and Kennedy." 1963. New York Times (December 2).

Malcolm X, with Alex Haley. 1984. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books.

Myers, Walter. 1993. Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. New York: Scholastic.

Natambu, Kofi. 2002. The Life and Work of Malcolm X. Indianapolis, Ind.: Alpha.

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Malcolm X

MALCOLM X



USA, 1992


Director: Spike Lee

Production: Marvin Worth and Spike Lee for 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, in association with Largo International N.V.; 35mm; running time: 201 minutes; released 1 November 1992 by Warner Brothers. Filmed in Saudi Arabia and the USA.


Producer: Marvin Worth, Spike Lee; screenplay: Arnold Perl, Spike Lee, based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley; photography: Ernest Dickerson; editor: Barry Alexander Brown; assistant directors: Randy Fletcher, H. H. Cooper, Dale Pierce, Samir Seif, Ntshavheni Wa Luruli; production design: Wynn Thomas; art director: Tom Warren; music: Terence Blanchard; sound editor: Skip Lievsay; sound recording: Rolf Pardula; costumes: Ruth E. Parker; choreography: Otis Sallid; stunt coordination: Jeff Ward.


Cast: Denzel Washington (Malcolm X); Angela Bassett (Betty Shabazz); Albert Hall (Baines); Al Freeman Jr. (Elijah Muhammad); Spike Lee (Shorty); Delroy Lindo (West Indian Archie); Theresa Randle (Laura); Kate Vernon (Sophia); Lonette McKee (Louise Little); Tommy Hollis (Earl Little); James McDaniel (Brother Earl); Nelson Mandella (Himself); Ossie Davis (Himself).


Publications


Script:

Lee, Spike, with Ralph Wiley, By Any Means Necessary: The Trialsand Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X, including theScreenplay, New York, 1992.

Hardy, James E., Spike Lee: Filmmaker, Broomall, 1995.

Jones, K. Maurice, Spike Lee & the African American Filmmakers:A Choice of Colors, Brookfield, 1996.

Haskins, Jim, Spike Lee: By Any Means Necessary, New York, 1997.

Chapman, Ferguson, Spike Lee, Mankato, 1998.

McDaniel, Melissa, Spike Lee: On His Own Terms, Danbury, 1999.


Articles:

Hollywood Reporter, 10 November 1992.

Variety, 10 November 1992.

Newsweek, 16 November 1992.

McCarthy, T., Variety (New York), 16 November 1992.

Chicago Tribune, 18 November 1992.

Christian Science Monitor, 18 November 1992.

Los Angeles Times, 18 November 1992.

New York Times, 18 November 1992.

Washington Post, 18 November 1992.

Entertainment Weekly, 20 November 1992.

Time (New York), 23 November 1992.

Harrell, Alfred D., "Malcolm X: One Man's Legacy to the Letter," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 73, no. 11, November 1992.

Crowdus, Gary, and Dan Georgakas, "Interview with Spike Lee," in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1992/1993.

Amiel, V., and others, Positif (Paris), February 1993.

Baecque, A. de., "Docteur Spike et Mr. Lee," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1993.

Roy, A, "La nouvelle histoire," in 24 Images (Montreal), February 1993.

Alexander, K., Sight and Sound (London), March 1993.

Welsh, J. M., Films in Review (New York), March 1993.

Riley, V., Cinema Papers (Melbourne), May 1993.

"Malcolm Little's Big Sister," in New Yorker, vol. 70, no. 47, 30 January 1995.

Reid, M.A., "The Brand X of Post Negritude Frontier," in FilmCriticism (Meadville), vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1995/1996.

Bowman, James, "Spike Lee: 'Artist'," in National Review, vol. 50, no. 14, 26 July 1999.


* * *

Malcolm X is the first film about an African American to be given a blockbuster budget by a Hollywood studio. That the film was made at all, much less as an epic, is primarily due to writer/director Spike Lee's history of producing controversial films that make money. Not surprisingly, Malcolm X was surrounded by racially-based tensions from the onset. Lee used racial considerations to wrest control of the project from white directors only to find himself maligned by some African American intellectuals who felt he was not qualified to take on so weighty a subject. Yet another racial nuance arose when Warner Brothers refused to approve completion funding after Lee went over budget. The director had to obtain millions in gifts from prominent African American entertainers and athletes to continue the film while Warner Brothers feuded with a bond company.

Despite this considerable pre-release sound and fury, including numerous predictions in the press that the film would surely inflame white and/or black audiences to violence, when Malcolm X finally appeared, public reaction was remarkably subdued. Rather than provoking his audiences with a film about social and racial conflict, Lee had opted for a hagiographic script stressing the theme of personal redemption. The three main sections of the film might easily have been subtitled "Malcolm the Criminal," "Malcolm the Prophet," and "Malcolm the Martyr."

After sensationalistic opening credits in which an X becomes a burning American flag and contemporary conflicts between African Americans and police are referenced, the film opens with Malcolm in his zoot suit period. An elaborate dance hall sequence has Malcolm hurrying home a respectable black woman in order to return for a tryst with Sophia, a white woman who will become his consort. He soon becomes part of Harlem's crime scene and is shown at bars handling gambling transactions but not pimping or selling drugs, other facets of his criminal years. After a fallout with West Indian Archie, the mob boss, Malcolm and his sidekick Shorty flee to Boston where they become house robbers until caught and sent to prison. The housebreaking is mainly played for laughs as are Malcolm's repeated hair straightening shampoos, painful procedures used in his autobiography to symbolize self-hatred and wanting to be white.

The prison sequences dramatize Malcolm's conversion to the Nation of Islam by a fellow inmate who will later grow jealous of his pupil's fame. This is one of many departures from the autobiography Lee vehemently insists was his final guide in shaping the script. In reality Malcolm's conversion was mainly the work of his immediate family and daily correspondence from Elijah Muhammad, the sect's leader.

Following his release from prison, Malcolm is shown having a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Nation until he is second in importance only to Elijah Muhammad. Viewers unfamiliar with the movement are likely to get the impression that it was much larger than it was (a few thousand at most), but Malcolm's pivotal role in its growth and public image is on target. His anti-white speeches and virulent attacks on civil rights leaders are mainly kept off screen while his equally strong views on personal and community self-help are spotlighted. His personal life, particularly his marriage, is projected as exemplary. In that regard, Denzel Washington who does a superb job conveying the zeal, body language, and speaking style of the public Malcolm renders a private Malcolm who is rather saccharine and humorless.

The least convincing aspects of the film chronicle Malcolm's pilgrimage to Mecca where he discovers the Nation is regarded as heretical because of its teachings that all white people are devils. Upon his return to America, Malcolm breaks with the Nation to form rival religious and secular organizations. From what is projected on the screen Malcolm's motivation appears to be disillusionment with Elijah Muhammad's spiritual authority compounded by knowledge of Elijah's sexual infidelities. What robs these crucial moments in Malcolm's life of their dynamism is the complete omission of Malcolm's subsequent trips to Africa and the Middle East.

During those journeys Malcolm met many heads of state, the majority of whom considered themselves socialists and revolutionaries. They urged him to join the civil rights movement for an integrated America and to internationalize the African American struggle by making it an issue at the United Nations. Malcolm X followed that advice by taking steps to mend the feud he had instigated with Martin Luther King and to align his new secular organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, with the mainstream civil rights movement. Omission of this trajectory distorts the account of his final year.

Lee takes great pains to show us CIA agents photographing Malcolm in Egypt and FBI agents bugging his phone and premises in New York. Given the context Lee has set up, this seems simple racist paranoia rather than a concern about Malcolm's international contacts and his ideological drift to the political left. Rather than probe this aspect of Malcolm's final days, the film takes the easier course of presenting the mechanics of the assassination in great detail. What amounts to an epiphany has been signalled from the start by various devices, including Malcolm's repeated visual recall of his father's persecution by klansmen. His own assassins are shown as Muslims solely motivated by religious fanaticism.

Ossie Davis's funeral oration is used to segue to a montage sequence in which Malcolm's name and image become the symbols of integrity and rebellion for black America. Black children chant, "I am Malcolm," and Nelson Mandella appears as a school teacher imploring us all to study Malcolm's life. The film concludes with engaging documentary footage of the real Malcolm. These few moments offer images of a man far more vital and complex than the staid icon depicted in the fictional portions of the film.

Both the strengths and weaknesses of Malcolm X stem from the decision to make it an inspirational biopic. The hero's worst behavior, his most controversial ideas, and his changing political views have all been muted. What is projected is the story of how a young black man caught in the racism and crime of the big city completely remade his life and finally even shed off racism only to be gunned down by former compatriots whose vision could not grow as full as his own.

Lee's response to criticism that his film is too superficial is that he did not intend it to be the last word on Malcolm X but a stimulus for further study, particularly by young people. Using that standard as a measure, Lee more than met his goal. The baseball caps with X on them that he used to promote the film became omnipresent in black communities. The film also sent sales of books by and about Malcolm into the millions of copies. Despite a running time of 201 minutes, the film turned a modest profit while garnering its share of awards at various national and international film events.

—Dan Georgakas

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Born: May 19, 1925
Omaha, Nebraska
Died: February 21, 1965
New York, New York

African American civil rights leader

African American civil rights leader Malcolm X was a major twentieth-century spokesman for black nationalism. Unlike many other African American leaders of this time, who supported nonviolent methods, Malcolm X believed in using more aggressive measures in the fight for civil rights.

As a boy

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, a Baptist minister, was an outspoken follower of Marcus Garvey (18871940), the black nationalist leader. (A nationalist is a person who promotes one nation's culture and interests over all others.) Garvey supported a "back-to-Africa" movement for African Americans. During Malcolm's early years, his family moved several times because of racism (dislike and poor treatment of people based on their race). They moved from Omaha, Nebraska, after being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan, a group that believes that white people are superior to all other races. While living in an all-white neighborhood in Michigan their house was burned. When Malcolm was six years old, his father was mysteriously murdered. The black community was convinced that white people had committed the crime. Three of Malcolm's four uncles were also murdered by white people.

By the 1930s the nation had fallen into the Great Depression, a decade-long period of great economic hardship. Work was scarce, and Malcolm's family struggled. For a time his mother and her eight children lived on public welfare. When his mother became mentally ill, Malcolm was sent to a foster home. His mother remained in a mental institution for about twenty-six years. The children were divided among several families, and Malcolm lived in various state institutions and boardinghouses. At thirteen Malcolm was charged with delinquency (behaving in a way that is against the law) and was sent to a juvenile detention home (a place where young people are held in custody). He dropped out of school at the age of fifteen.

A criminal life

Living with his sister in Boston, Massachusetts, Malcolm worked as a shoeshine boy, a busboy, and a waiter. In Boston Malcolm began visiting the black ghetto (an area of a city where a minority lives) of Roxbury. There, he was drawn to the neighborhood's street life. He began wearing flashy clothing and jumped into a criminal life that included gambling, selling drugs, and burglary.

In 1942 Malcolm moved to New York City's Harlem neighborhood where he continued his unlawful lifestyle. He adapted well to the New York City street life and rose quickly in the criminal world. Malcolm became known as Detroit Red, for his red shock of hair. When the police uncovered his criminal activities, Malcolm returned to Boston.

Reformed in prison

In 1946, at the age of twenty, Malcolm was sentenced to ten years in prison for burglary. While in prison he began to transform his life. He began reading books on history, philosophy, and religion. In prison his brother Reginald visited him and told Malcolm about the Black Muslims. The Black Muslims were an Islamic religious organization whose official name was the Lost-Found Nation of Islam. The leader of the group was Elijah Muhammad (18971975).

Malcolm began to study Muhammad's teachings and to practice the religion faithfully. These teachings taught that the white man is evil and doomed by Allah to destruction. Also, the teachings stressed that the best course for black people is to separate themselves from Western, white civilizationculturally, politically, physically, and psychologically. The Black Muslim teachings also prohibited personal habits such as smoking, drinking, and the eating of pork. In addition to finding his new religion while in prison, Malcolm began copying words from the dictionary and developed the vocabulary that would help him become a passionate and effective public speaker.

In 1952 Malcolm was released from prison, and he went to Chicago, Illinois, to meet Elijah Muhammad. There he was accepted into the movement and given the name of Malcolm X. Malcolm believed the "X" represented his "slave" name that was forever lost after being raised in a mainly white nation. Malcolm X became assistant minister of the Detroit Mosque, or Muslim house of worship. The following year he returned to Chicago to study personally under Muhammad, and shortly thereafter was sent to organize a mosque in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1954 he went to lead the mosque in Harlem.

The message of Malcolm X

Malcolm X soon became the most visible national spokesman for the Black Muslims. As the voice of the organization he was a speech-writer, a philosopher, and an inspiring speaker who was often quoted by the media. His debating talents against white and black opponents helped spread the movement's message.

At this time in the United States there was a major movement for racial integration, or bringing the races together in peace. However, Malcolm X and the Black Muslims were calling for racial separation. He believed that the civil rights gains made in America amounted to almost nothing. He criticized those African Americans who used nonviolent methods in order to achieve integration. Malcolm X called for self-defense in the face of white violence.

Malcolm X urged black people to give up the Christian religion. He preached that the high crime rate in black communities was basically a result of African Americans following the lifestyle of Western, white society. During this period Malcolm X, following Elijah Muhammad, urged black people not to participate in elections. These elections, the movement believed, meant supporting the immoral (against the ideas of right and wrong held by most people) political system of the United States.

In 1957 Malcolm X met a young student nurse, Betty Jean Sanders (19361997), in New York. She soon became a member of the Black Muslims. They were married in 1958, and she became Betty Shabazz. The couple eventually had six daughters.

Losing momentum

By 1959 the Black Muslim movement had moved into the national spotlight. Racial tensions were reaching a boiling point, and white Americans grew fearful of Malcolm X and his message of black supremacy (the belief that the black race is better than all others). By 1960 Black Muslim membership had grown to more than one hundred thousand.

As the movement reached its peak, some observers felt that there were elements within the Black Muslim movement that wanted to oust Malcolm X, or force him from office. There were rumors that he was planning to take over leadership from Elijah Muhammad and that he wanted to make the organization political. Others felt that the personal jealousy of some Black Muslim leaders was a factor.

On December 1, 1963, Malcolm X stated that he saw President John F. Kennedy's assassination as a case of "The chickens coming home to roost." Soon afterward Elijah Muhammad suspended him and ordered him not to speak for the movement for ninety days. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X publicly announced that he was leaving the Nation of Islam. He said he was starting two new organizations: the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He remained a believer in the Islamic religion.

An international focus

During the next months Malcolm X made several trips to Africa and Europe and one to Mecca, a city in Saudia Arabia that is the holiest city of the Islamic religion. Based on these trips, he wrote that he no longer believed that all white people were evil and that he had found the true meaning of the Islamic religion. He changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

Malcolm X announced that he planned to take the black struggle to an international audience by putting black people's complaints against the United States before the United Nations (UN). For this purpose he sought aid from several African countries through the Organization of Afro-American Unity. At the same time he stated that his organizations were willing to work with other black organizations and with progressive white groups in the United States. Together, these organizations would work on voter registration, on black control of community public institutions such as schools and the police, and on other civil and political rights for black people.

Malcolm X began holding meetings in Harlem at which he discussed the policies and programs of his new organizations. Then, on a Sunday afternoon, February 21, 1965, as he began to address one such meeting, Malcolm X was assassinated.

Since his death Malcolm X's influence on the political and social thinking of African Americans has been enormous, and the literature about him has only grown. Alex Haley's 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, was written from several interviews conducted with Malcolm X before he died. It is now considered a classic in African American literature. Malcolm X Community College in Chicago, Malcolm X Liberation University in Durham, North Carolina, and the Malcolm X Society are all named for him.

For More Information

Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary. New York: Merit Publishers, 1967.

Lomax, Louis. To Kill a Black Man. Los Angeles, CA: Holloway House Publishing Company, 1968.

Lomax, Louis. When the Word Is Given: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and the Black Muslim World. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Company, 1963.

Myers, Walter Dean. Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. New York: Scholastic, 1993.

Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1965. Reprint, New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X 1925-1965

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Malcolm X, a Muslim minister and Black Nationalist leader, was the most formidable race critic in American history. More effectively than anyone before or since, he exposed the moral and legal hypocrisy of American democracy and the ethical contradictions of white Christianity.

Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to a Baptist preacher and a West Indian immigrant, both of whom were followers of Marcus Garvey (18871940), an early proponent of Black Nationalism. Malcolms first introduction to white supremacy came in infancy, when the Ku Klux Klan drove his family out of town. The harassment continued in Lansing, Michigan, where the Little home was destroyed by arson, and where Malcolms father was allegedly murdered by another white hate group. His mother had a nervous breakdown and had to be institutionalized, and her six children became wards of the state. After stints in various foster homes, Malcolm dropped out of school and landed in a juvenile detention facility. In his teens, he made his way first to Boston and then to New York, where as Detroit Red he became a fixture of the underworld. He dabbled in drugs, prostitution, numbers running, and armed robbery, and was arrested and convicted of the latter a few months shy of his twenty-first birthday.

While incarcerated, he experienced two major conversions. The first was intellectual: realizing that lack of education was a major contributing factor to black oppression, he set himself to read everything he could get his hands on. The second was religious: he became a follower of Elijah Muhammads (18971975) Nation of Islam, a sui generis American religious sect that embraces the trappings of orthodox Islam while propagating a mythology and inverting white supremacist ideology to proclaim black supremacy instead. The Nation of Islam flourishes in prisons in particular, where its strict code of personal discipline helps many former substance abusers to become clean. It was at this time that Malcolm, in keeping with the Nations custom, dropped his last name, bequeathed him by slave owners, and took an X in its place, to mark his lost African ancestry. Upon Malcolms release in 1952, his brilliance, dedication, and charisma, along with the debating skills he had honed in prison, brought him to the highest ranks of the Nations leadership. He became its national spokesperson, second only to Elijah Muhammad himself, and was appointed ministerin-charge of the prestigious Temple Number Seven in Harlem.

Malcolm X quickly distinguished himself as the most feared, controversial, and articulate race critic in the United States. Since the overt racist violence of southern conservatives was obvious, and was effectively exposed in the media by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (19291968) and the civil rights movement, Malcolm focused his critique on the covert racist violence of northern liberals. His attack on these liberals was brutal and persistent. He exposed the responsibility they bore for the creation of the black ghetto, with its poverty, drugs, crime, unemployment, bad schools, and bad housing. While King praised white liberals for their support of the civil rights movement, Malcolm castigated them for their hypocrisy in opposing legal segregation in the South while maintaining de facto segregation in the North.

Although he was often accused of preaching hate and violence, Malcolm simply exposed what was already there. White America had always been hateful and violent toward blacks: 244 years of slavery had been followed by 100 years of segregation. Black America had tried and failed to overcome using the principles of love and nonviolence. Now it was time for righteous anger and nonnonviolence. In other words, blacks needed to start defending themselves and their freedom, just as whites had always done. Only in this way could they affirm their humanity. Malcolm is often contrasted with King, and the latter, a frequent target of Malcolms sharp tongue, kept a wary distance from him, but by the end of their lives each was moving closer to the others position. King had become much more radical, and Malcolm much more universal in outlook.

In 1964 Malcolm X broke with Elijah Muhammad and converted to Sunni Islam, taking many of his followers with him. The year that followed marked the first time in Malcolms career that he was free to think and speak for himself. It was a period of intense change and creativity, during which he abandoned the racist ideology of the Nation of Islam and tentatively began to reach out to whites and to the mainstream civil rights movement. After a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, he took the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and founded the Muslim Mosque Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unitya religious and a political organization, respectively. He traveled widely, visiting countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, explaining the black struggle for justice in the United States and linking it with other liberation struggles throughout the world. He also collaborated with the writer Alex Haley (19211992) on an autobiography. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, in front of a large crowd that included his wife and children. Three men connected with the Nation of Islam were convicted of the crime; it was widely suspected, though never proven, that Elijah Muhammad himself ordered the assassination.

There are many questions that arise out of Malcolm Xs account of his life as told to Haley, especially the circumstances of his fathers death, the timing of his conversion to Sunni Islam, who set fire to Malcolms home, and Malcolms sexual orientation. No one has raised these questions as sharply and as controversially as Bruce Perry in Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America (1991). Though his biography received much attention when published, it had little impact on the thinking about Malcolm X among most scholars, largely because Perrys sources have proven difficult to check.

In 1992 the Spike Lee film Malcolm X made The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) a best seller, and sparked a renewal of interest in Malcolm. In the early twenty-first century, he was more popular than ever in the African American community, especially among the young. His name, words, and face adorn T-shirts, buttons, and the covers of rap albums. His writings, books about him, and tapes of his speeches are sold by street vendors, at cultural festivals, and in bookstores. His two most significant speeches, Message to the Grass Roots and The Ballot or the Bullet, were delivered in the last year of his lifeone immediately before his break with the Nation of Islam, and the other soon after. In both of these speeches, he pushed the basic theme that he had sounded from the beginning of his career: black pride. It was by far his most influential notion, yielding Black Power, Black Theology, African American studies, and much else. This cultural philosophy was his lasting bequest to his people, whom he loved so deeply and for whom he died.

SEE ALSO Black Power; Civil Rights; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Nation of Islam

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Breitman, George, ed. 1970. By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews, and a Letter. New York: Pathfinder Press.

Cone, James H. 1991. Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare? Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Goldman, Peter. 1979. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. 2nd ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Malcolm X. [1965] 1990. Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements. Ed. George Breitman. New York: Grove.

Malcolm X, with Alex Haley. [1965] 1973. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine.

Perry, Bruce. 1991. Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. New York: Talman.

James H. Cone

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Malcolm X (1925-1965), African American civil rights leader, was a major 20th-century spokesman for black nationalism.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebr. His father, a Baptist minister, was an outspoken follower of Marcus Garvey, the black nationalist leader in the 1920s who advocated a "back-to-Africa" movement for African Americans. During Malcolm's early years his family moved several times because they were threatened by Ku Klux Klansmen in Omaha; their home was burned in Michigan; and when Malcolm was 6 years old, his father was murdered. For a time his mother and her eight children lived on public welfare. When his mother became mentally ill, Malcolm was sent to a foster home. His mother remained in a mental institution for about 26 years. The children were divided among several families, and Malcolm lived in various state institutions and boarding-houses. He dropped out of school at the age of 15.

Living with his sister in Boston, Malcolm worked as a shoeshine boy, soda jerk, busboy, waiter, and railroad dining car waiter. At this point he began a criminal life that included gambling, selling drugs, burglary, and hustling.

In 1946 Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years for burglary. In prison he began to transform his life. His family visited and wrote to him about the Black Muslim religious movement. (The Black Muslims' official name was the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, and the spiritual leader was Elijah Muhammad, with national headquarters in Chicago.) Malcolm began to study Muhammad's teachings and to practice the religion faithfully. In addition, he enlarged his vocabulary by copying words from the dictionary, beginning with "A" and going through to "Z." He began to assimilate the racial teachings of his new religion; that the white man is evil, doomed by Allah to destruction, and that the best course for black people is to separate themselves from Western, white civilization—culturally, politically, physically, psychologically.

In 1952 Malcolm was released from prison and went to Chicago to meet Elijah Muhammad. Accepted into the movement and given the name of Malcolm X, he became assistant minister of the Detroit Mosque. The following year he returned to Chicago to study personally under Muhammad and shortly thereafter was sent to organize a mosque in Philadelphia. In 1954 he went to lead the mosque in Harlem.

Malcolm X became the most prominent national spokesman for the Black Muslims. He was widely sought as a speaker, and his debating talents against white and black opponents helped spread the movement's message. At this time in the United States there was a major thrust for racial integration; however, Malcolm X and the Black Muslims were calling for racial separation. He believed that the civil rights gains made in America were only tokenism. He castigated those African Americans who used the tactic of nonviolence in order to achieve integration and advocated self-defense in the face of white violence. He urged black people to give up the Christian religion, reject integration, and understand that the high crime rate in black communities was essentially a result of African Americans following the decadent mores of Western, white society. During this period Malcolm X, following Elijah Muhammad, urged black people not to participate in elections because to do so meant to sanction the immoral political system of the United States.

In 1957 Malcolm X met a young student nurse in New York; she shortly became a member of the Black Muslims, and they were married in 1958; they had six daughters.

For at least two years before 1963, some observers felt that there were elements within the Black Muslim movement that wanted to oust Malcolm X. There were rumors that he was building a personal power base to succeed Elijah Muhammad and that he wanted to make the organization political. Others felt that the personal jealousy of some Black Muslim leaders was a factor.

On Dec. 1, 1963, Malcolm X stated that he saw President John F. Kennedy's assassination as a case of "The chickens coming home to roost." Soon afterward Elijah Muhammad suspended him and ordered him not to speak for the movement for 90 days. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X publicly announced that he was leaving the Nation of Islam and starting two new organizations: the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He remained a believer in the Islamic religion.

During the next months Malcolm X made several trips to Africa and Europe and one to Mecca. Based on these, he wrote that he no longer believed that all white people were evil and that he had found the true meaning of the Islamic religion. He changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He announced that he planned to internationalize the black struggle by taking black people's complaints against the United States before the United Nations. For this purpose he sought aid from several African countries through the Organization of Afro-American Unity. At the same time he stated that his organizations were willing to work with other black organizations and with progressive white groups in the United States on voter registration, on black control of community public institutions such as schools and the police, and on other civil and political rights for black people. He began holding meetings in Harlem at which he enunciated the policies and programs of his new organizations. On a Sunday afternoon, Feb. 21, 1965, as he began to address one such meeting, Malcolm X was assassinated.

Since his death Malcolm X's influence on the political and social thinking of African Americans has been enormous, and the literature about him has proliferated. Malcolm X Community College in Chicago, Malcolm X Liberation University in Durham, N.C., and the Malcolm X Society are named for him.

Further Reading

Malcolm X's own words are gathered in several publications: Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements (1965) and By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews and a Letter by Malcolm X (1970), both edited by George Breitman; and The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard, edited by Archie Epps (1968). Malcolm X on Afro-American History (1967) is valuable for its autobiographical qualities rather than for its historical insights. Malcolm X's responses to an interview with Kenneth B. Clark are recorded in The Negro Protest: James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Talk with Kenneth B. Clark (1963). His own account of his life, written with the assistance of Alex Haley, is The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).

Although there is no definitive biography of Malcolm X, there are a number of books on various aspects of his life and work, among them Louis Lomax, When the Word Is Given: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and the Black Muslim World (1963); George Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary (1967); Louis Lomax, To Kill a Black Man (1968), a discussion of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; and John Henrik Clarke, ed., Malcolm X: The Man and His Times (1969), which contains a good bibliography of readings on Malcolm X. A brief biographical sketch of him is in Russell L. Adams, Great Negroes: Past and Present (1969). El Hajj Malik, a play written by N. R. Davidson, Jr., based on Malcolm's life, is in Ed Bullins, ed., New Plays from the Black Theatre (1969). See also Dudley Randall and Margaret G. Burroughs, eds., For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X (1967).

Useful background works include Louis Lomax, The Negro Revolt (1962); Michael Dorman, We Shall Overcome (1964); Anthony Lewis, Portrait of a Decade: The Second American Revolution (1964); and M. H. Boulware, The Oratory of Negro Leaders, 1900-1968 (1969). □

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X, 1925–65, militant black leader in the United States, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, b. Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb. A petty criminal in Boston and Harlem, he was convicted of burglary (1946) and sent to prison, where he read widely and was introduced to the Black Muslims, joining the group and becoming a Muslim minister upon his release in 1952. A charismatic and eloquent spokesman for the doctrines of black nationalism and black separatism, he quickly became very prominent, establishing many new temples in the North, Midwest, and California, and acquiring a following perhaps equaling that of the movement's leader, Elijah Muhammad. In 1963 Malcolm was suspended by Muhammad after a speech in which Malcolm suggested that President Kennedy's assassination was a matter of the "chickens coming home to roost." He then formed a rival organization of his own, the Muslim Mosque, Inc. In 1964, after a pilgrimage to Mecca, he announced his conversion to orthodox Sunni Islam and his new belief that there could be brotherhood between black and white. In his Organization of Afro-American Unity, formed after his return, the tone was still that of militant black nationalism but no longer of separation. In Feb., 1965, he was shot and killed in a public auditorium in New York City. His assassins were vaguely identified as Black Muslims, but this remains a matter of controversy.

See his autobiography (as told to A. Haley, 1964) and selected speeches, Malcolm X Speaks (1965); biographies by P. Goldman (1973, repr. 2013), B. Perry (1992), and M. Marable (2011); study by M. E. Dyson (1994); J. H. Clarke, ed., Malcolm X (1969); J. L. Conyers et al., ed., Malcolm X: An Historical Reader (2008); R. E. Terrill, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Malcolm X (2010).

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X (1925–65). Leading figure in the Nation of Islam (see ELIJAH MUHAMMAD) and civil rights activist in the USA. He was born in Nebraska as Malcolm Little, and after an early life of petty crime (somewhat exaggerated later), he was converted through the Nation of Islam programme. His appearance on the TV programme, ‘The Hate that Produced Hate’, projected him into national prominence, leading to a rift with Elijah Muhammad. He opposed civil rights movements, looking for direct action, and he contrasted ‘true’ with ‘compromise’ Islam. He left the movement, and, while on pilgrimage (ḥajj) to Mecca, he was converted to Sunni Islam. He took the new name of el-Hajji Malik el-Shab(b)az(z). He failed to establish himself as an independent leader, and was assassinated by black Muslim loyalists in 1965. A popularizing film led to a revival of his influence in the 1990s.

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X (1925–65) African-American nationalist leader, b. Malcolm Little. While in prison, Malcolm joined the Black Muslims and, after his release (1953), became their leading spokesman. Following an ideological split with its leader, Elijah Muhammad, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca, became an orthodox Muslim, and formed a rival group. His assassination may have been authorized by the Black Muslims.

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X, Malcolm

Malcolm X: see Malcolm X.

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