May 19, 1925 – Feb. 21, 1965
by Brother Gerald del Campo
Born Malcolm Little in Omaha Nebraska on May 19, 1925. He grew up in Lansing, Michigan, when the house was burned down by the white supremist group the Ku Klux Klan. Shortly thereafter his father was murdered, and his mother was consequently placed in a mental hospital.
Malcolm spent most of his teen years in and out of trouble, and moved to live with his sister in Boston. He converted to the Black Muslim faith, Nation of Islam, while serving time for burglary in 1946. This religion taught the righteousness of black people and the inherent evil of whites. Malcom adopted the Muslim name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
Released from prison in 1952, Malcom went to Nation of Islam headquarters in Chicago, there to meet with the leader Elijah Muhammad, and embraced its teachings. Malcom changed is last name to “X” to indicate a kinship to all blacks whose last names had originated with white slaveholders.
Malcolm X has a gift for speaking to large crowds, and went out on speaking tours around the country and soon became Nation of Islam’s prime speaker and organizer. Committed, intelligent, and speaking with an unemotional eloquence, he won many followers.
“I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.”
He created many new mosques and increased the movement’s membership. He was eventually assigned to be the minister of his own Mosque New York City’s Harlem area.
At first he scoffed at the civil-rights movement, and all but accused Martin Luther King of being in bed with the enemy. He had this to say after Dr. King had received the Nobel Peace Price:
“He got the peace prize, we got the problem. … If I’m following a general, and he’s leading me into a battle, and the enemy tends to give him rewards, or awards, I get suspicious of him. Especially if he gets a peace award before the war is over.”
Dr. King called for integration, racial equality and peaceful resistance; while Malcolm X preached black separatism, pride and the use of violence for self-defense. Rejected by most civil rights leaders, many of them thought of Malcolm X as a fanatic.
“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
He had become so popular that jealousy had begun to rear its ugly head on the Black Muslim hierarchy. Elijah Muhammad suspended him and forbade him to speak. Malcolm responded by announcing that he had formed his own religion. In April of 1964 he took a pilgrimage to Mecca. His spiritual quest seems to have opened Malcolm’s heart. Upon his return he stated that he no longer believed whites to be innately wicked, and changed his focus from Black Separatism and began to embrace the possibility of world brotherhood. He was more focused, and content with his own self realization.
The mounting resentment between Malcolm’s supporters and the rival Black Muslims turned itself in aggression and threats against his life. His house firebombed, his wife and children escaped death only because they had not been there.
On February 21, 1965, three Black Muslims shot Malcolm to death during a rally in Harlem, New York. This is what Malcolm had said two days before his death:
“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.” 19 February 1965.