Malcolm X (1925–1965)

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MALCOLM X (1925–1965)

An extraordinary orator, a self-taught intellectual, and a deeply spiritual man, Malcolm X was one of the most prominent African American political and religious leaders of the civil rights era. After being released from prison in 1952, where he had become a follower of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm worked as a minister for the organization, most successfully in Harlem, New York. By the late 1950s, Malcolm had become Elijah Muhammad's chief representative, helping to build the movement into black America's most visible Muslim group. Famous for his fiery rhetoric, he was dubbed "America's angriest Negro" as he sought to convert blacks to Elijah Muhammad's separatist Islam. Malcolm also gained national attention as a critic of pro-integration civil rights leaders. In 1964, however, Malcolm left Elijah Muhammad's movement and made the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, an occasion during which he publicly embraced Sunni Islam and distanced himself from Elijah Muhammad's teachings. He also visited West Africa and became an advocate of pan-Africanism, the movement that called for the cultural and political unification of black persons around the world.

Until his brutal assassination in 1965, Malcolm worked as both a Sunni Muslim missionary in the United States and as founder of the Organization for Afro-American Unity, which espoused black solidarity. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), which was coauthored by Alex Haley, was published shortly after his death. Today, Muslims continue to debate the meaning of Malcolm's life, often disagreeing about whether Malcolm overemphasized the importance of racial identity in his quest for black liberation.

See alsoAmerican Culture and Islam ; Conversion ; Farrakhan, Louis ; Muhammad, Elijah ; Nation of Islam .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

DeCaro, Louis A., Jr. On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Haley, Alex, and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Reprint. New York: Ballantine, 1987.

Edward E. Curtis IV