Malcolm X was an African American who was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 and has spent his childhood in abject poverty amidst racial prejudice. He began his life as a street hustler, dope peddler and doing immoral activities like stealing and robbery. It was a miracle indeed the way he had been transformed into one of the most dynamic and influential African American leaders in modern America. His teenage years had been spent mostly in streets of Boston, Chicago and Harlem. At the age of 20, Malcolm was sentenced to ten years prison term on a robbery case. While in prison, he came under the influence of honorable Elijah Muhammad and his concept of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm underwent a spectacular moral and spiritual transformation (Aboulafia et al., 1996, p.1). After released from jai, he became a cult figure among the American blacks.
When he was released from jail in 1953, he was appointed assistance minister for the Nation of Islam movement. The organization which Malcolm-X brought to national attention in the early was a far cry from the movement as it existed in its earliest stages. The Nation had significantly changed even by the time Malcolm joined it as a newly paroled enthusiast in the summer of 1952 (De Caro and De Caro, 1997, p.11). He traveled the length and breath of United States to preach eloquently about the Nation of Islam concept and converted thousands of black people. However, with the passage of time, there developed ideological rift between Mohammad Elijah and Malcolm and as a consequence, in 1963, Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm X from the Nation of Islam (Aboulafia et al., 1996, p.1).
The black Americans who were subdued for long, started voicing their protest against racial discrimination in the 50s through violent and non violent means and organize black militancy had emerged. Malcolm X played a crucial role in radicalizing the racism issue. He believed that every African Americans had a right to defend themselves against injustice, discrimination, and violence by the white power structure and racist vigilant groups (such as Ku Klux Klan). Malcolm X was bold enough to criticize civil rights activists like Reverend Martin Luther King (Jr.) for their softer stance to American’s racial problems. But during later part of life, he moderated his views and worked towards solidarity of African American people through his organization (OAAS) (Aboulafia, 1996, p.54).
The Nations philosophy was born in an era, when black people were realizing anew the longevity, adaptability, and extensiveness of white people’s racism. It was the great depression era and the place was the urban ghetto of Detroit, Michigan, which was one of many industrial centers where the African American laborers from the South United States had migrated in search of a better life for themselves and their children. While contemporary European immigrants were able to settle down soon, the African Americans found themselves both practically and theoretically overlooked, mainly due to racial attitude. The inevitable outcome of this racist system was the development of the black northern ghetto, which became increasingly crowded as African American migrants arrived. By 1930, the year in which the Nation was born in a Detroit ghetto, 2.25 million black migrants had left southern farms and plantations for the urban North (De Caro and De Caro, 1997, p.12).
Malcolm’s commitment to the liberation of the blacks from bondage, body, and soul was total and consuming. However, mainstream leaders never gave him the recognition as a national leader which he so much sought. He never got the kind of respect and acknowledgment received by moderates like Martin Luther King (Jr) but it hurt him more to see King being conferred the Nobel peace prize for a cause which was yet to be won and when he accepted the peace prize from the whites (Goldman, 1979, p.17).
There was a revival of Malcolm-X mania in 1990, which marked the 50th anniversary of his birth and twenty fifth anniversary of his assassination. These two occasions gave rise to unprecedented scholarly activity and commemorative efforts. These efforts gave rise to about twenty five new books on Malcolm. Malcolm-X foundation had been set up, international conference held, streets, avenues, and boulevards were named after him. One of the most significant and successful efforts in this regard was waged by the New African People’s Organization (NAPO), which succeeded in getting Harlem’s Lenox Avenue renamed Malcolm X Boulevard (Sales, 1994, p.3). The artistic expression of today’s youth, rap music, owes particular debt to Malcolm X. Through rap music, this youth generation speaks to the world and Malcolm X helped this generation find their voice. Malcolm’s image and his words have been prominently featured in rap videos.
Malcolm X the persona
Malcolm X had a larger than life image and it could not have been suppressed or ignored. Often the images of such great figure is distorted, often by being reduced to slogans, which satisfy temporarily but whose superficiality masks the deeper meaning of the issues and analysis he tried to convey. Malcolm X was among the first African American who seriously discussed the possibility of the revolutionary option for black people. In this sense, he was much ahead of his time and many of his peers were nonplussed at his revolutionary stand. Today’s generation, however is much less shocked by Malcolm’s rhetoric and seek to embrace his revolutionary speeches (Sales, 1994, p.5). Malcolm was a man of contagious warmth but it was reserved for the black people only. Black people found his presence comforting and transforming. Malcolm shied away from celebrity status. He never reached for power but power came to him naturally (Goldman, 1979, p.20).
A star was born
In 1959, CBS televised a broadcast about the Nation of Islam and the show was called “The Hate that Hate Produced”. Many people saw Malcolm X for the first time and were impressed with his oratory skill and charismatic personality. Malcolm was shown preaching about brainwashing of black people by the white devils. The show was about Nation of Islam’s economic independence from white people. The show became an instant success and Malcolm X became a star overnight. His powerful persona and speaking style endeared him greatly. He had a knack of understanding and reading people’s mind and their strength and weaknesses. In other words, he felt the pulse of the Black American populations as he himself was a part of ghetto life (Benson and Cosgrove, 2005, p.55).
Assassination of Malcolm X
The ideological differences between Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm arose due to the fact that while Elijah preached and worked for the narrow goal of Islamization of Nation, Malcolm on the other hand wanted to work proactively in the struggle for racial equality. Rather than adhering to Nation of Islam’s “non-engagement policy”, Malcolm was keen on developing political strategies to combat American racial prejudice. His noble cause did not go well with radical Islamists and he started getting death threats. In 1964, Malcolm X made his just pilgrimage to Mecca and during the course of his visit, he established the Organization for Afro- American Unity (OAAU) and he started working actively for the cause of black Americans as a result of which hostilities between Malcolm X and black Muslims heightened and on 21st April, 1965, he was assassinated (Aboulafia et al., 1996, p.2).
Malcolm unlike other black leaders of his time was much more concerned about future of the black people as about their immediate problems. He thought beyond time and had a futuristic plan to end racism (Malcolm and Karim, 1989, p.15). Truly passionate about the cause he was fighting, he always tried to practice what he had preached, i.e., standing tall and fearless amidst white people. Malcolm could have been spared the brutality, nastiness, and malicious conspiracy that culminated in his assassination. A person of wisdom and religious leaning, although he was difficult to be categorized either politically or religiously, it was clear that he fought fearlessly and courageously for the freedom and equal rights for the Black Americans.
Aboulafia, A.J., X, Malcolm., and Haley, A. (1996) Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Research and Education Association, pp.104
Benson, M and Cosgrove, M (2005) Malcolm X, Lerner Publications, pp.112
DeCaro L.A., and DeCaro, L.A. (jr) (1997) On the side of my people, NYU press, pp.363
Goldman, P.L (1979) The Death and Life of Malcolm X, University of Illinois Press, pp.470
Malcolm, X and Karim B (1989) The End of White World Supremacy, Arcade Publishing, pp.148
Sales, W.A.(1994) From Civil Rights to Black Liberation, South End Press, pp.247