Malcolm X, Islam, And The Civil Rights Movement Essay, Research Paper
Malcolm X, Islam, and the Civil Rights Movement When asked to name a black civil rights leader, many people will immediately think of Martin Luther King, Jr., but equally strong and true in the fight for civil rights was Malcolm X. Although they came from very different social and religious backgrounds, each was fighting towards the same goal. This paper will focus on the life and achievements of Malcolm X in his effort to achieve civil rights, and will show how his involvement in Islam was the key factor in his ability to have influential power over so many others. Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X, Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz, was born on May 19, 1925 to Reverend Earl, and Louise Little, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Rev. Little, was a self-determined man who believed in and worked for the unity and dignity of black people. Raised in this background of ethnic awareness and human dignity, Malcolm was also exposed to the neighborhood of violence of white racists. As a child, his parents, sisters, brothers, and himself were consistently shot at, threatened, harassed, and finally burned out of their home by white terrorists. At the peak of this violence, when Malcolm, was six years old, his father was murdered by these same terrorists. At the age of fifteen, Malcolm dropped out of high school, and adopted the ways of the streets. He spent most of his time with thieves, criminals, and drug pushers. This life finally caught up with him at the age of twenty, when he was convicted of burglary, and sent to prison for seven years. It was during these years in prison that Malcolm realized the need to educate himself, and live a life that would have made his father proud. In addition to his prison education, Malcolm discovered and committed himself to the Nation of Islam, and fully accepted the teachings of Elijah Muhammed. At his prison release in 1952, Malcolm was a very different man. After his release, Malcolm joined the Islamic sect in Detroit. He became extremely dedicated to its cause, and helped promote Islam on a nation-wide level. His involvement made him an internationally recognized figure. He appeared in many magazines, and was also interviewed on major television programs. His words were extremely powerful, and he spoke with eloquence on the injustices done to the blacks of the nation. An interesting twist on the views of Malcolm X stemmed from his involvement in the Nation of Islam. His religion led him to believe that all whites were devils, and the idea that any white man or woman could lend sincere hope to his cause was unacceptable and unbelievable. For twelve consecutive years, this theory on the white man would dominate his speeches and messages, giving the impression that Malcolm himself was very racist, and was really no better than those who were oppressing him. This image of Malcolm X is the one which seems to be the main focus of the public today, however Malcolm did undergo a transformation which completely changed his message to the world. Frustrated with the internal jealousy within the nation of Islam, Malcolm decided to leave and start his own organization. He was thirty-eight years old. At this point, he decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrimage to Mecca is an integral part of the Muslim religion. Called the Hajj, it must be completed at least once in a lifetime, and it is obligatory upon every Muslim male and female who is mentally, physically, and financially fit. It is the largest annual convention of faith on earth (in 1989: 2.5 million). Peace is the dominant theme of the convention. Peace with Allah, with one s soul, with one another, with all living creatures. To disturb the peace of anyone or any creature in any shape or form is strictly prohibited. Muslims from all walks of life, from every corner of the globe, assemble in Mecca in response to the call of Allah. The focus is to commemorate the Divine rituals observed by Abraham and his son Ishmael, who were the first pilgrims to the house of Allah on earth. Muslims go to Mecca to glorify Allah, not to worship a man. Finally, a visit to the tomb of Prophet Muhammad is highly recommended to make the Hajj valid and complete. (Elmasry 6) This pilgrimage to Mecca had a complete and total transformational effect on the life of Malcolm X. As above stated, he spent twelve years preaching how the white man was evil, the devil, and was not to be trusted. After his pilgrimage, his opinion of the white man was drastically changed, as seen in this quote from an interview with Malcolm during the time of his pilgrimage:”During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drank from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of the blond, and whose skin was the whitest of the white. And in the words and deeds and actions of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black Muslims In the past I permitted myself to make sweeping indictments of the entire white race Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to the sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true Muslim.” (Ohio 1) Before his pilgrimage, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were still at opposite ends of the national consciousness, as shown by the statements of Ivanhoe Donaldson, a member of the SNCC campaigns of the decade: “The sixties were defined by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Although they were both born black preachers sons, just four years apart, they arrived from opposite directions. One out of the seminary, the other the penitentiary. Christian and Muslim, idealist and cynic, pacifist and warrior, color-blind and color-conscious, forgiving and incapable of forgiveness but what we missed in our innocence was the extent to which both of them were talking about the same things and the extent to which both of them were able to set the black pulse of America racing.” (Goldman 383)
After his pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm became much more appealing to all types of people, because it was there that he learned the truth about the nature of whites. The truth that whites can be just as dedicated, just as sincere, just as religious, and just as genuine to the cause of civil rights as blacks. After sharing his plate, glass, and bed with white Muslims, he realized that people are people, and should all be treated with the same respect. At this point, he and King could begin to work more effectively toward their common goal of civil rights in America. Obviously, both King and Malcolm were incredible leaders, however it was Malcolm who made a more tangible bond between himself and his people. When speaking to crowds and congregations, King referred to the people as “you”, whereas Malcolm always referred to them as “you and me”. It was Malcolm who could hit the streets and reach the people, for the streets were his adolescent home and he knew exactly how to fit in. (Goldman 382) This was a skill that King could never develop. Malcolm had a cynical, mocking, and even cruel vision of the events during the civil rights movement. Although he was instrumental in motivating the major leaders of the movement, he was also responsible for harming them, as seen in the words of NAACP member Roy Wilkins: “With Malcolm, the only way you could judge things was by whether you did the thing that was manly , no matter if it was suicidal or not. A man like Malcolm had to be able to put himself in the shoes of people who did the best they could under the circumstances he had no sympathy for those in the black American past who petitioned and sued and swallowed their pride to beg at the back door if they had to Malcolm assumed that polite meant cowardly, and this was an idea that he never did get over.” (Goldman 385) With all of his prejudices, life lessons, and leadership qualities, Malcolm X was a driving force in the lives of millions. He established almost a cult following, complete with Malcolm buttons, shirts, caps and other memorabilia. He motivated countless numbers of people to make a stand, and fight for what they believed was right. His efforts were not well-received by everyone, however, and he knew that he was a target for assassination. While preparing to give a speech at a New York hotel on February 21, 1965, he was shot by three black men. It appeared that the Nation of Islam had something to do with his death, but many believe that other organizations were also involved. Most likely, we will never know the full truth about his murder. He died at the age of thirty nine, a few months short of forty. In these short forty years, he managed to shape an entire generation of people. His influence still remains to this day, and is constantly reinforced by the media, as in Spike Lee s recent film “X”. His memory will continue to live on, in the hearts and minds of those who knew him, were influenced by him, and who read the stories and articles about him. Knowing that he was a constant target, he left a message in the end of his autobiography, saying: I know that societies often have killed the people who have helped to change those societies. If I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer malignant in the body of America then, all of the credit is due to Allah. only the mistakes have been mine.” (Haley 409) Bibliography Elmasry, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim. Islam, an Introduction. American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1984. This is an informative pamphlet which details the points of the Islamic religion. Its main points are: the meaning of Islam, the articles of Faith, and the Pillars of Islam and Application of Faith. It provides good, general information about the Islamic religion, and offers other sources to investigate should you have further questions. Goldman, Peter. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, San Francisco, London, 1973. This book is a great resource for those wanting to learn more about Malcolm X, and how he developed into the man he was. It contains countless stories and anecdotes from those who knew him personally, and from those who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. Haley, Alex, ed. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books, New York, 1965. This is probably the most relied upon book as far as the life of Malcolm X, because it was in fact practically written by Malcolm X himself. It offers a great look at his life, and especially at his involvement in the Nation of Islam and in the Civil Rights Movement. Ohio State University. “http:www.lib.ohio-state.edu/OSU_profile/bslweb/rights.html. Black Studies Library Website, accessed 11/28/98 at 11:25 a.m. This website is sponsored by Ohio State University, and contains information about basically every civil rights topic imaginable. It has links to many documents, such as the Declaration of Human Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, just to mention a few. I would recommend this as a great resource tool for anyone interested in Civil Rights.