Black History Month
Malcolm Little was born May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up in the mid-west. His parents, Earl and Louise, were political activists who supported the militant black- nationalist movement of Marcus Garvey.
Earl Little was murdered when Malcolm was a young child and his mother, Louise, was institutionalized for mental illness shortly after. Malcolm was subsequently placed in foster care and for a time in a youth detention facility.
At 16 Malcolm left school and moved to Boston at the invitation of his half-sister, Elle Little. During WW2 “Detroit Red,” as Malcolm was affectionately known, became a small time hustler, burglar, and narcotics dealer in Harlem and Roxbury. In January 1946, Malcolm was arrested for burglary and weapons possession charges and received a 10 year prison sentence in the Massachusetts prison system. While in jail, Malcolm’s siblings introduced him to the Nation of Islam, a black-nationalist oriented religious movement led by the “Honourable” Elijah Muhammad. Converting to the NOI’s version of Islam led Malcolm to a spiritual and intellectual epiphany while behind bars.
After being released from prison in August of 1952, with the name Malcolm X, the talented and articulate young man quickly became assistant Minister of NOI’s Detroit Temple # 1. In 1954, Malcolm was named Minister of Harlem’s Temple #7, which he led for nearly a decade. Malcolm X travelled constantly across the country as the spokesman for black- nationalism, winning thousands of new converts in the process.
Between 1955 and 1961, Malcolm X was personally responsible for establishing more than 100 Muslim temples or mosques throughout the U.S. As the chief spokesperson for Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm built the NOI into a spiritual organization of over 100,000. By the early 1960’s, Malcolm had become a widely celebrated (and feared) public speaker and debater at universities and in the national media. The FBI’s efforts to discredit the Nation and its leaders resulted in illegal wiretaps, surveillance, and harassment.
In 1960, Malcolm established the newspaper “Muhammad Speaks,” which by the end of the decade had a circulation of 600,000. However, by this time, divisions had developed between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad and his coterie of organizational leaders in Chicago over a number of issues. Malcolm was personally dismayed when it was revealed that Elijah Muhammad had fathered a number of children out of wedlock, Malcolm also disagreed with the NOI’s political conservatism and their refusal to support civil rights protests.
By reaching out to Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and other civil rights leaders, Malcolm proposed a broad coalition of Black activist organizations, working in concert to achieve social justice. In March, 1964, Macolm X announced publicly his break from the NOI. He soon created two new organizations, The Muslim Mosque, Inc., designed for former NOI members as a spiritually-based group, and the secular-oriented Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). Converting to traditional Islam, Malcolm completed his spiritual Hajj to Mecca in April, 1964, and returned to the United States the next month as El-Hajj Mailik El-Shabazz.
During his two extended journeys through Africa and the Middle East in 1964, Malcolm gained new insights into the problem of racism. In his autobiography, he later wrote: “I was no less angry than I had been, but at the same time the true brotherhood I had seen had influenced me to recognize that anger can blind human vision.” He now believed that a race war was not inevitable, and felt that “America is the first country… that can have a bloodless revolution.” Malcolm’s new political strategy called for building black community empowerment, through social tools such as voter registration and education, economic self-sufficiency, and the development of independent politics. He called upon African-Americans to transform the civil rights movement into a struggle for international human rights. Malcolm emphasized the parallels between the African-American struggle for equality and the Asian, Latino, and African campaigns against European Colonialism. Malcolm also drew attention for criticizing the growing U.S military involvement in Vietnam.
Upon Malcolm’s return to the United States in November, 1964, death threats escalated against him and his family. In the early morning hours of February 14, 1965, his home in Elmhurst, Queens, was fire bombed. On Sunday, February 21, 1965, just before delivering an address at the Audobon Ballroom, Malcolm was assassinated before a crowd of hundreds of people, including his pregnant wife Betty Shabazz and three of their four children. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of his assassination: “”””The assassination of Malcolm X was an unfortunate tragedy and reveals that there are still numerous people in our nation who have degenerated to the point of expressing dissent through murder and we haven’t learned to disagree without becoming violently disagreeable.”