A brief summary on the life of Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925.
At the age of six Malcolm’s father, a Baptist minister, died in mysterious circumstances, possibly at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Eight years later, his mother was committed to an asylum, and Malcolm and his siblings were farmed out to various foster parents and homes.
Called “Detroit Red” for the reddish hint in his hair, Malcolm fell into a life of petty crime and in 1946 was jailed for seven years for his part in a robbery. Whilst incarcerated he converted to Islam and became a member of the Nation of Islam, or the Black Muslims. Founded by Elijah Muhammad, the Black Muslims rejected Christianity as a white man’s religion and preached separation of the races.
On his release Malcolm founded the Nation’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, which espoused racially controversial views about the natural superiority of blacks. Malcolm, having shed his “slave name”, advocated black separatism and the use of violence, if necessary, to achieve it. His preaching drew new converts and his charismatic style appealed to much of the American black youth.
Elijah Muhammad, impressed by Malcolm’s undoubted abilities, named him his second-in-command. However, the two men argued over the direction of the organisation, and in 1964 Malcolm split from the Black Muslims, reputably ousted for saying that the assassination of President Kennedy was a case of “chickens coming to roost”. The following year, Malcolm formed his own radical group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Malcolm and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Describing himself as the “angriest black man in America”, Malcolm rejected Martin Luther King‘s non-confrontational approach and mocked King’s March on Washington (August 1963). Achieving integration through non-violence and, as Malcolm saw it, long-term suffering, would not progress the African American’s place in society. Instead, Malcolm preached independence, black power and black consciousness, a message that had widespread appeal. The Civil Rights Movement had, in Malcolm’s view, “begged the white man for freedom” (see clip below) and begging for freedom did not, he continued, set you free. (Malcolm and Martin Luther King, Jr met just the once, pictured, in March 1964).
Assassination of Malcolm X
On February 21,1965, Malcolm, who was now using the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was shot sixteen times and killed as he was about to deliver a lecture at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. He was three months short of his fortieth birthday. Three of Elijah Muhammad’s followers were later found guilty of his murder. The last of the three, Talmadge Hayer, was released from prison in 2010.
Elijah Muhammad, on hearing of Malcolm’s death, said, “Malcolm X got just what he preached… We know such ignorant, foolish teachings would bring him to his own end.”
Malcolm’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, written over two years, was published soon after his death, and remains a cult hit.
See also article on Malcolm X’s influence on the philosophy of the Black Panther movement.
Rupert Colley’s novella, My Brother the Enemy, set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is now available.