original name MALCOLM LITTLE
Muslim name EL-HAJJ MALIK EL-SHABAZZ
born May 19, 1925, Omaha, Nebraska
died Feb. 21, 1965, New York, NY
black militant leader who articulated concepts of race pride and black nationalism in the early 1960s. After his assassination, the widespread distribution of his life story "The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)" by Alex Haley made him an ideological hero, especially among black youth.
Malcolm X was born as Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl Little, a Baptist minister, was president of the Omaha branch of UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) and a dedicated organizer for Marcus Garvey, the leader of the Back-to-Africa-movement and promoter of black nationalism and black pride. When Malcolm was young he often accompanied his father to UNIA meetings.
Malcolm never forgot the dynamic preaching at Baptist church meetings. His father always finished with Marcus Garveys cry: "Up, you mighty race, you can accomplish what you want!" Malcolm grew up believing that.
Because of the hostility of white racists Earl Little moved his family to Lansing, Michigan. Malcolm had a very hard childhood. He was very often beaten by his father, he accepted violence as part of his childhood. At the age of four Malcolm saw his house burned down at the hands of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. The Littles had to move twice more to escape harassment. Two years later his father was murdered, thrown under a streetcar.
"It always stayed on my mind that I would die a violent death. In fact, it runs in my family. My father and most of his brothers died by violence - my father because of what he believed in.... If I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add that to the kind of temperament I have ... these are the ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age."
The family had to live under very bad conditions. Malcolms mother took sewing jobs or did the housework for white families. "I was so hungry I didn't know what to do." After school he often went to stores stealing fruit.
In 1936 his mother began to lose her mind. Malcolm was placed with a black family. When his mother was sent to a state mental hospital, he and his siblings were split up and placed with different families. Malcolm was sent to a detention home in Mason, Michigan. He was the only black child in his class in Mason Junior High School, but he was treated well. He earned the best marks in seventh grade and became so popular that he was elected class president. All through this time he tried hard to be white.
One time, when he was asked about the career he hoped to pursue, he told that he wanted to become a lawyer. Although he had the best marks in class, his teacher told that "That's no realistic goal for a Nigger".
In 1940, at the age of fifteen, he was invited to visit his half-sister Elena in Boston. Malcolm was very impressed of that city and so he managed to have Elena transfer him from Michigan to Massachusetts. He wanted to live in black society.
His friend Shorty got Malcolm a job as a shoeshine boy and washroom attendant, but Malcolm earned the real money as a pimp-daddy. Malcolm tried to look white, he straightened his hair and wore a suit. Still only fifteen, Malcolm loved dancing at the Roseland Ballroom.
After working as a shoeshine boy, soda jerk, and busboy, Malcolm lied about his age to get a job as a sandwich vendor on a train between Boston and Washington. Harlem fascinated him so much, he often walked down the streets where Marcus Garvey had once staged the great parades.
Joining his new life in New York, Malcolm began drinking and smoking marijuana to excess. Becoming arrogant against train passengers, he was fired. Giving up legitimate work, Malcolm now fully joined his friends in the criminal underworld.
Malcolm began to sell drugs and later he turned to armed robbery. To soothe his nerves, he began to use cocaine and opium. For the next four years, he worked as burglar, as a pimp for a Harlem lady and as a truck-driver. A careless slip led to the arrest of all involved in his burglar ring and Malcolm was sentenced to ten years in Charlestown State Prison.
During his early prison years he was so violent that he was often placed in solitary confinement. Because of his extremely anti-religious attitude he got the nick-name "Satan". Bimbi, a very charismatic black prisoner, persuaded him to use the prison library to improve his knowledge and vocabulary. With prison correspondence courses Malcolm could complete his education he had quit in the eighth grade.
Malcolm became interested in a religion called the "Nation of Islam". After he was transferred to Norfolk Prison Colony, an experimental institution, he read a lot about Elijah Muhammad, the leader of this religion, the Messenger of Allah. Malcolm wrote daily letters to Muhammad and he decided to give up his criminal past. Instead he now planned to challenge the system by helping to build up a strong, united Black Muslim brotherhood.
After spending six and a half years in prison, he was finally paroled in 1949. The next three years Malcolm spent working for his brother Wilfred and attending the city's Muslim Temple Number One. In 1952 he and some friends visited Temple Number Two in Chicago to hear Muhammad speak. His speech made Malcolm think of the UNIA-meetings with his father. Suddenly, during the service, Muhammad wanted Malcolm to stand up. He announced that the Nation of Islam made Malcolm give up his criminal career, smoking and drinking. After that Malcolm and his friends were invited to Muhammads home. Malcolm was encouraged to recruit young blacks for the Detroit temple.
After this event Malcolm changed his name to Malcolm X. The X stood for his unknown original African family name.
In 1953 Malcolms speeches tripled the Detroit temples membership in just three months. Malcolm became assistant minister of the Detroit temple and he was sent to Boston and Philadelphia to open new ones.
In 1954 he was acknowledged as the dynamo of the Nation of Islam and appointed a full minister of Temple Seven in New York city. By 1956 the number of temples had grown up to fifteen, most organized by Malcolm.
"Revolution is bloody", he cried. "Revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way!"
"The hell that the so-called-Negroes have gone through for these many years in North America will make the inside of a jailhouse look like the best suite in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel!"
One night in April 1957, the black Muslim Hinton Johnson was attacked by two policemen for not running away when they told him. Although he was in a very bad condition he was arrested instead of being brought to hospital. Malcolm, his followers and other by passers marched to the police station and stayed there until they got the message that Hinton would be brought to a hospital and receive the best medical care. Later Malcolm and Hinton succeeded in suing the police, winning a $70.000 jury award.
In 1959 Malcolm and his wife Betty, a nurse he had married in 1958, were sent on a three-week trip to Islamic Nations.
"The Holy City of Mecca had been the first time I had ever stood before the Creator of All and felt like a complete human being ... My thinking had been opened wide in Mecca" , Malcolm related later.
In a TV documentary called "The Hate That Hate Produced" in late 1959 Malcolm and Elijah received their first major news.
Asked by reporters if it was true that he and the Muslims hated whites, Malcolm replied, "For the white man to ask the black man if he hates him is just like the rapist asking the raped, or the wolf asking the sheep, ´Do you hate me ?´. The white man is in no moral position to accuse anyone else of hate!"
In a Playboy interview, Malcolm declared that if the present generation of whites studied the truth about their own race history, it would make them anti-white themselves.
After rallies in which Malcolm and Elija would urge blacks to join the Muslims and grow their own food, build factories to manufacture their own goods, set up their own stores, conduct their own commerce, and eventually develop an independent black nation, police and the FBI paid lose attention to this mass movement.
"The white man has so thoroughly brainwashed the Negro that he wants to be like everyone but himself."
By 1961 the number of small businesses that traded only with blacks was increasing. In Detroit they set up own schools for blacks, in Chicago they could join black education from kindergarten up to high school. The Nation of Islam made a program to help drug addicts to be cured.
When Muhammad moved to Arizona because of his health, Malcolm got more and more rights. The Muslims became now the fastest-growing religious group in the Western hemisphere and Malcolm was hard to stop. Only the restraint of other temple leaders stopped furious Malcolm from leading Muslims in an armed attack on the police.
Malcolm was accused more and more of dividing the black community. He criticized Martin Luther King, he called him "a professional Negro.... His profession is being a Negro for the white man. No man can speak for Negroes who tells Negroes love your enemy.... There's no Negro in his right mind today who's going to tell Negroes to turn the other cheek." He scoffed at Martins march on Washington: "How was a one-day ´integrated´ picnic going to counter-influence these representatives of prejudice rooted deep in the psyche of the American white man for four hundred years?"
He also criticized President Kennedy by saying "Those who are familiar with Kennedy's promises to the Negro know what he said he could do with the stroke of his pen. And he was in office for two years before he found where his fountain pen was."
By this time Malcolm was recognized as the militant champion of ghetto blacks. Malcolm raised membership in the Nation of Islam from four hundred to forty thousand. In 1963 a chapter of the Louisiana Citizens Council had put up a $10.000 reward for his death.
When Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in November 22, Malcolm made headlines all through the country when he called the assassination retribution for the climate of white violence in America -"the chickens coming home to roost". This statement caused a lot of trouble in the Nation of Islam and Malcolm had the feeling that Muhammad wanted to get rid of him. Malcolm watched his back carefully, he knew that his assassination was only a matter of time.
In March 1964 he called a meeting in Harlem to announce his defection. He found a new Mosque in New York called the Muslim Mosque, Inc., "for blacks regardless of their religious or political beliefs." His program called for eliminating the political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation suffered by millions of black Americans. Whites were allowed to help them, but they couldn't join them. After warning that "a bloodbath is on its way in America" he then kept a bodyguard around him all the time. Thousands of ghetto-blacks became members of Malcolms organization because there were no strict rules like in the Nation of Islam (no smoking, drinking, ...).
On his Africa-tour in spring of 1964 he learned to divide the whites into two groups: those who had racist attitudes towards colored people, and those just with white skin. He learned that the descendants of the prophet Muhammad were both black and white, and that Muslims made no distinction between the two, except when they had been corrupted by Western influence. In a letter home he wrote that "America needs to understand the Islam. The people of all races, colors, from all over the world coming together as one!"
"I'm not anti-American and I didn't come here to condemn America - I want to make that very clear! I came here to tell the truth - and if the truth condemns America, then she stands condemned."
"I'm black first. My sympathies are black, my allegiance is black, my whole objectives are black....I am not interested in being American, because America has never been interested in me."
Back in America he declared that his Muslim Mosque was then religiously afflicted with 750 million Muslims of the Islamic world. Asked by reporters about the statement in his letter he told: "In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I never will be guilty of that again - as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man....To judge a man because he's white gives him no out. He can't stop being white. That's like judging us because we're black." Malcolm added that his fight was not against all whites, but only against white racists.
These statements created a kind of a sensation. Malcolm then invited everyone to attend the meetings of the Muslim Mosque, regardless of religion or color.
Meanwhile, Harlem's ghetto began to erupt with gunfire and flames, but the police charged and bloodied them with nightsticks. As an effect the riot touched off others in Brooklyn, Rochester, Chicago, Philadelphia, and three in New Jersey cities.
Malcolm said: "If it must take violence to get the black man his human rights in this country, I'm for violence exactly as you know the Irish, the Poles, or Jews would be if they were flagrantly discriminated against...no matter what the consequences, no matter who was hurt by the violence.... Why was it that when Negroes did start revolting across America, virtually all of white America was caught up in surprise and even shock?... We're non-violent with people who are non-violent with us. But we are not non-violent with anyone who is violent with us."
In a meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Cairo, Africa, Malcolm came to a new concept of thinking when a white ambassador in Africa told him that he had never noticed color as long as he was in Africa, but he became conscious of it as soon as he returned to America. Out of this he came to the conclusion that racism wasn't a prejudice natural to white men, but it was the result of a national culture.
In June of 1964, after he had created an Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), Malcolm tried to explain that he now believed in a brotherhood of all races. But first the blacks had to achieve racial dignity, pride, confidence and unity to welcome unity and equality with white brothers.
At this time Elija Muhammad tried to remove him and his family from the home provided for them by the Nation of Islam. As a consequence Malcolm began making speeches attacking Muhammad for immorality. Malcolm had to receive telephoned death threats, he was followed by members of the Nation of Islam, and he kept an automatic carbine at home and showed his wife how to use it.
"Black men are watching every move I make," he declared, "awaiting their chance to kill me.... Anyone who chooses not to believe what I am saying doesn't know the Muslims in the Nation of Islam."
On the first of February in 1965, Martin Luther King got arrested in Selma, Alabama. After demands of Martin's SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Malcolm visited Selma and accused the local police. "If you're looking at the cops in Alabama, you're looking at the Klan." He reminded that President Johnson had promised to "pull the sheets off the Ku Klux Klan" if elected. Malcolm spoke at the mass rally in support of Martin and the other civil rights demonstrators in prison. To show the contrast between Martin's peaceful demonstrations and his own tougher tactics, Malcolm said: "I don't advocate violence, but if a man steps on my toes, I'll step on his.... Whites better be glad Martin Luther King is rallying the people, because other forces are waiting to take over if he fails!"
After the French refused his speech to a Congress of African Students in France and a short visit to London, on February 13, 1965, Malcolms house was half destroyed by fire bombs crashing through his front window. He reacted very furious when Muhammad accused him of having firebombed the house himself to get publicity.
"I've reached the end of my rope!", he announced to a Harlem audience of five hundred blacks. "I wouldn't care for myself if they would not harm my family! My house was bombed by the Muslims!"
He accused the Nation of Islam to be "a criminal organization that used the same tactics as the Klan".
In an interview with Gordon Parks, he told the black Life photographer and author, "I did many things as a Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then - like all Muslims - I was hypnotized, pointed to a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years!"
On the 16th of February he accused France of having barred him from speaking to the black students. He told that all the Western powers including the United states were alarmed by the growing unity and militancy of blacks all over the world.
"We must make the world see that our problem was no longer a Negro problem or an American problem but a human problem - a problem for humanity."
On the 21st of February in 1965, he was going to give a speech in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem in which he wanted to apologize for having accused the Black Muslims of firebombing his home.
As he prepared to speak, a man at the rear of the auditorium yelled at a man beside him, "Take your hands out of my pocket!"
A commotion erupted and Malcolm shouted, "Hold it! Hold it! Don't get excited. Let's cool it, brothers-"
Those were his last words. After a smoke bomb went off, three men aimed guns at Malcolm. Two of the men, one with a sawed-off shotgun, the other with two revolvers, shot at him.
Malcolm fell over the chairs behind him after sixteen bullets had ripped into his body. "My husband! They're killing my husband!" were the cries of his wife.
Three Black Muslims were convicted of the murder.