The Legacy Of Malcolm X Essay, Research Paper
The LeGaCy oF maLcoLm X
(El hajj Malik El Shabazz)
The 1960’s was the heart of the civil rights movement. Amidst the chaos, nonviolence policies, the marches and the police brutalities, many black leaders strived to unite the blacks and win them their rights. Among these leaders was a man named Malcolm X, also known as El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. The most common response to his legacy revolves on what he did wrong. People, regardless of race will say, Malcolm promoted violence, he hated white people, he hated other black leaders and he was only thinking of himself. However the truth, is that Malcolm wanted what everyone else in this nation wants: freedom. He wanted to be able to live peacefully without police brutality, injustice of the courts and the title “second class citizen.” In a society full of hatred and chaos, Malcolm wanted love and peace. To understand Malcolm’s views, to comprehend his feelings against the oppressive acts of white people (not the whites themselves), one must take a look at his past, his life story and his struggles.
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha Nebraska in the year 1925. His parents, Reverend Earl Little and Louise Little; both believed and worked towards the unity of black people.
In his early childhood his family moved to Lansing, Michigan. Growing up in Lansing, Malcolm saw his house burned down at the hands of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Two years later his father was run over and killed by a streetcar. The authorities, declared that it was a suicide, but most knew it was an act of violence against the reverend’s determined efforts to unite the blacks. His mother, unable to bear the shock, was put into a mental institution for the following twenty-six years.
Malcolm, once a brilliant student, spent the following years in detention homes and at age 15 he dropped out from school. In 1941 he moved to Boston to live with his half sister Ella. For the two years that followed he worked on a passenger trains as a dishwasher. He always dreamed of going to New York and once he had saved enough money, he did just that.
In the streets of Harlem’s underworld, he became a hustler, pimp, drug pusher and later on a drug user. In 1946, Malcolm was arrested, while stealing to support a drug addiction. He was to serve a term of ten years at Charleston State Prison.
In 1947 he was transferred to the Concord Reformatory, where he converted to the Black Muslim faith, known as the Nation of Islam; this sect claims the superiority of black people and an inherent evil nature in whites. Upon his release at age 27, he set out for the headquarters of the Nation of Islam in Chicago, where he met the leader Elijah Muhammad. There he changed his last name to “X”, a custom of the Black Muslims who consider that their family names have originated from white slaveholders. The “X” represents the unknown names of their slave ancestors.
Malcolm X was sent on speaking tours around the country and soon became the most effective speaker and organizer for the Nation of Islam. He founded many new temples and greatly increased the movement’s membership. In 1961 he founded Muhammad Speaks, the official publication of the movement. He was eventually assigned to be minister of the important Temple Number Seven in New York City’s Harlem area.
Speaking with bitter eloquence against the white exploitation of black people, Malcolm developed a brilliant style, which soon won him a large and dedicated following. Malcolm often criticized the hypocrisy of whites; teaching love and democracy while treating blacks as inferiors. In his speech “Message to the Grass Roots,” he chastises the blacks for their psychological dependence on whites.
As long as the white man sent you to Korea you bled. He sent you to Germany, you bled. He sent you to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, you bled. You bleed for white people, but when it comes to seeing you own churches being bombed and little black girls murdered, you haven’t got any blood. You bleed when the white man says bleed; you bite when the white man says bite; and you bark when the white man says bark. I hate to say this about us, but it’s true. (DeCaro, 1997)
Malcolm ridiculed the civil rights movement and rejected both integration and racial equality, calling instead for black separatism, black pride, and black self-dependence. Because he advocated the use of violence (for self-protection) and appeared to many to be a fanatic, his leadership was rejected by most civil-rights leaders, who emphasized nonviolent resistance to racial injustice
Malcolm X described the assassination of JFK as a “case of chickens coming home to roost,” meaning the kind of violence that whites had long used against blacks has now turned on them. Malcolm’s success had this time aroused jealousy within the Black Muslim hierarchy and in response to his comments on the Kennedy assassination, Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm from the movement. In March 1964, sick of all the internal jealousy of the Nation of Islam and revelations of Elijah’s sexual immorality Malcolm left the movement. He then announced the formation of his own organization of Afro-American Unity.
In April of 1964, he made a pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca, where he adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. In October of 1964 he reaffirmed his conversion to Islam; a religion believing in one God and Muhammad as the last messenger of God. This modified his views of black separatism, he declared that he no longer believed whites to be innately evil and acknowledged his visions of the possibility of world brotherhood.
White reporters and others alike, were eager to learn about El Hajj Malik’s newly formed opinions concerning the ‘white race.’ What could make a man, who had preached against the ‘whites’ for so long, turn around and embrace them? To them El Hajj Malik responded:
My pilgrimage broadened my scope. It blessed me with a new insight. In two weeks in the Holy Land, I saw what I never had seen in 39 years here in America. I saw all races all colors,– blue eyed blond to black skinned Africans-in true brotherhood! In unity! Living as one! ?. In the past I have made sweeping indictments of all white people, I will never be guilty of that again – as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. 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. (Haley, 1965)
Growing hostility between Malcolm’s followers and the rival Black Muslims resulted in violence and threats against his life. On February 21, 1965, he was shot to death at a rally of his followers at a Harlem ballroom, where he had criticized Elijah Muhammad. Three men from the Nation of Islam were convicted; Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3x Butler and Thomas 15x all received life sentences for the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
At the end of his autobiography, similar to an epitaph, Malcolm says:
I know societies often have killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America-then, all of the credit is due to Allah (God). Only the mistakes have been mine. (Haley, 1965)
Malcolm died that day in February, but his legacy still lives. This is apparent when we see Elijah Muhammed’s son, Wallace Muhammad, convert many Nation of Islam followers to (orthodox) Islam. His influence is still apparent; when we see the popularity of the movie Malcolm X (released in 1992) by Spike Lee, or in the massive sales of his autobiography by Alex Haley. We see him in children who break the geographical, racial, ethnic barriers and live as one?
Malcolm, was indeed one of the greatest Afro-American political activist in the 1960’s.
His message was cloudy in the beginning, but after his conversion, it was simple and clear; as he put it himself “I am not a racist in any form whatever. I don’t believe in any form of racism. I don’t believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam.” (Dyson, 1996)
DeCaro Jr., Louis A. On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
Dyson, Michael E. Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. Oxford University Press, 1996.
Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Santa Monica: The Voyager Company, 1965.
“Maloclm X- An Islamic Perspective” (http://www.colostate.edu/Orgs/MSA/docs?m_x.html)
“The Malcom X Archive” (http://members.aol.com/jcobain/malcolmx.htm)