Malcolm Little was born on May 19th, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska to parents Earl Little and Louise Norton. His parents were both members of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, Earl Little was known as the outspoken Baptist Preacher who took a strong stance against racism. Because of his father’s stance against racism Malcolm’s family experienced constant death threats from the Ku Klux Klan and other whites who opposed his father. The threats caused his family to move several times eventually settling outside of East Lansing, Michigan in 1929. Two years later Earl Little was murdered by a band of whites who disliked his opposition to their system of supremacy. His death was ruled an accidental suicide but neither his family nor his neighbors believed the official report.
After the loss of his father Malcolm’s family experienced economic hardships which took a toll on their quality of life. The constant threats along with the hardship took a negatively affected Malcom’s mother Louise, she eventually experienced a decline in her mental health, and declared legally insane by the state and committed to a Michigan mental asylum. Malcolm’s early childhood experiences with racism left a bitter taste in his mouth towards whites, despite his adversity his continued to excel academically in all-white school settings. Once Malcolm was told by one of his white male teachers, “it was unrealistic for a nigger to want to be a lawyer.” This experience did not help motivate Malcolm to continue excelling academically. He eventually dropped out of school and was placed in several juvenile delinquent homes until he left Michigan for Boston in 1941.
Malcolm found several different jobs working on the railroads between in New York and Boston he also began engaging in criminal activity. Malcolm Little had transformed into “Detroit Red” and was living a life of crime before he was eventually arrested, convicted of burglary and sentenced to prison in 1946. During his time in prison Malcolm met a man by the name of Brother Reginald who introduced him to a life outside of the prison he existed in physically and mentally. He taught Malcolm about Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, he also taught Malcolm why it was important to love himself and his blackness. This was the beginning of his transformation from Detroit Red to Malcolm X. He delved deeper into the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and eventually became a member of the Nation of Islam as well as a devout follower of the Islamic religion.
In 1952 Malcolm was paroled from prison and began studying directly under Elijah Muhammad, that same year he also changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X. The surname X represents his name and heritage that was taken from his ancestors by slave masters. Elijah Muhammad realized that Malcolm had a gift for oration and a passion that burned deep; he was building a large following and helping to bring more attention to the Nation of Islam. The membership of the NOI increased from around 400 members to 4,000 members because of Malcolm during the late 50’s and early 60’s. His feat did not go unnoticed; he was appointed the Minister of New York Temple No. 7 in 1954, within three years he was promoted to the national representative of the Nation of Islam, a position that was second to Elijah Muhammad. While ministering at New York Temple No. 7; he further spread the message of Elijah Muhammad by creating the Muhammad Speaks national newspaper. Malcom would meet Betty Sanders who he would eventually marry and have 6 children with. As the popularity of the Nation of Islam grew so did white America’s fear of what they called a Black Muslim militant group. Malcolm was the most recognizable figure in the NOI, he appeared on several radio and television shows debating his critics and spreading Elijah Muhammad’s message.
During the rise of the NOI the Civil Rights Movement was gaining steam and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the leader of the movement. Like Malcolm, Dr. King was a very recognizable figure and his words were often criticized. The two men shared different viewpoints pertaining to the liberation of black people from white supremacy. Dr. King was in support of the idea to integrate, Malcolm believed blacks should separate from white America and become self-sufficient. While the differences between Dr. King and Malcolm were displayed publically the relationship between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad was becoming unglued and was soon to become public knowledge. Malcolm’s political views began to oppose the views of Elijah Muhammad which began to cause friction in their relationship. Malcolm also learned that Elijah Muhammad’s personal affairs were not consistent with his moral message.
A suspension from the NOI and a 90 day speaking ban was placed on Malcolm when he stated that the assassination of then President John F. Kennedy was, “America’s chickens coming home to roost.” In 1964 Malcolm parted ways with the NOI and created the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. His next move was taking a trip through North Africa that would change his views about religion and white people He was taught by Elijah Muhammad that all white people were the devil and could not make it into the holy city of Mecca. That ideology was proven wrong when Malcolm visited Mecca and worshiped Allah alongside blond haired blue eyed whites. He then changed his name from Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz; he continued to use Malcolm X as his name to the public. During that same trip he also met with black civil rights leaders and activist from around the globe and these meetings would prove to be the foundation for the creation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Malcolm was attempting to unify with as many African-American leaders as possible to unite and build a strong black nation. The relationship between Dr. King and Malcolm was strengthening and a powerful alliance was beginning to form. Many people opposed Malcolm and his actions he was targeted by the government and the FBI as well as members of the NOI. His home was bombed in February of 1965, seven days later Malcolm was shot and killed. Many stories exist speculating that he was killed by the NOI collaborating with the FBI; we do know that a great man was killed but his legacy and influence only grew stronger. Malcolm was survived by his Wife Betty Shabazz and his six daughters. He believed that black people in America could live together unify and support themselves without the help of the government or White America. He taught his followers that they were a great and powerful people who were in the image of the all-mighty God. He loved his people and gave his life so we could live free in America. EL-Hajj Malik EL-Shabazz aka Malcolm X aka Malcolm Little, we proudly, proudly stand on your shoulders.
Lauretta Mary Aiken was born in Brevard, North Carolina in 1894, she was one of twelve children born to James Aiken and Mary Smith. Her father was an entrepreneur and a volunteer fireman who subsequently died in an accident involving an exploding firetruck. In the year 1910 her mother was hit by a truck and killed on Christmas Day. More tragedy stuck the young life of Mabley, by the age of fifteen she was raped twice and each time became pregnant from her attacker. She was forced to give both of her children away before she left North Carolina for Cleveland, Ohio. Mabley was fourteen when she began her career as a comedian on the “chitlin circuit” under the Theatre Owners Booking Association. Jack Mabley was a fellow performer would become her boyfriend and the man whose last name she used in her stage name. Aiken was given the nickname “Moms” because of her nurturing qualities; it is said that one of her brothers did not agree with her career choice, so she created her stage name “Moms Mabley” and her life was never the same again.
Mabley began working with the comedic duo Butterbeans & Susie which helped her find enough success to earn her comedic debut at Connie’s Inn in New York City. Mabley was a hit and eventually earn her spot in the world famous Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. Her success as a comedian helped propel her career and led her to acting in films and in stage plays. She appeared in the 1931 Broadway show Fast and Furious: A Colored Revue in 37 Scenes which was written by Zora Neal Hurston. She would next appear in the film Emperor Jones starring the late great Paul Robeson. Mabley was the first female comedian to perform at the Apollo Theater, she also made several appearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960’s. In 1962 she appeared and performed at Carnegie Hall exposing her comedy and musical style to all-white audiences. She would appear in other films such as The Big Timers, Boarding House Blues and the musical Killer Diller which also starred Nat King Cole.
Mabely would record and release over 20 comedy albums in her career, some of her most notable albums were The Funniest Woman Alive, Moms Mabley at the Playboy Club, Moms Mabley at the UN and Young Men, Si – Old Men, No. She would release her satirical song “Abraham, Martin and John” in 1969 and it reached number thirty-five on the Billboard top 100; this achievement made Mabely the oldest person to have a top 100 hit. Later Mabley would make her debut on the Ed Sullivan Show before appearing in the film Amazing Grace in 1974. Unfortunately Mabley suffered a heart attack during the filming of Amazing Grace but she managed to complete the filming. Mabley died in White Plains, New York in 1975, but left a comedic legacy other African-American comedians could build uphold. Actress Clarice Taylor portrayed Moms Mabley in the 1987 play Moms which was held at the Astor Place Theater. Whoopi Goldberg would revitalize Moms Mabley’s name with the documentary Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You. The documentary debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and in 2013 the documentary aired on HBO.
Moms Mabley was a comedic genius that made the best of her opportunities; she was often criticized for her style of comedy that addressed racial and sexual issues amongst African-Americans. She would present herself on stage as an old lady with a thing for young men. Often, she would appear on stage dressed in a man’s suit blurring gender lines. In her personal life she was a beautiful woman who baffled some of her fans; they were used to seeing the image of an aging lady on stage. She was one of the first comedians to use sexual situations within her jokes, she was often heard advocating for older women hooking up with younger men. Moms Mabley was more than a comedian, she was a trailblazer and always ahead of her time with her comedic styles and social commentary. Lauretta Mary Aiken aka Moms Mabley, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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