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.
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