Malcolm X

Malcolm X

February 21, 2021 | Black History Month, G-BLOG

Malcom X
Malcolm X on March 5, 1964
Photo Credit: Eddie Adams/AP

On Feb. 21, 1965, Malcom X was assassinated.

He was at a speaking engagement in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom when three gunmen rushed the stage and opened fire. He was pronounced dead at the age of 39. 

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Ne. His mother, Louise Helen Norton Little was from Grenada. His father, Reverend Earl Little, was a Baptist minister and an organizer for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). 

Malcolm X was the seventh of his father’s nine children — three by a previous marriage — and his mother’s fourth child.

Rev. Little organized activities for the UNIA and this angered the local Ku Klux Klan. The Little family moved to Milwaukee, Wi. in 1926 and to a farm near Lansing, Mi. in 1928 to escape the violence.

In Michigan, the Black Legion, a white supremacist organization, harassed Rev. Little. A racist mob set the family’s house on fire in 1929. The white emergency responders refused to do anything. 

“The white police and firemen came and stood around watching as the house burned to the ground,” Malcolm X remembered.

In 1931, Rev. Little’s body was found lying across a trolley track. Official reports claim he was hit by a trolley car, but the family believed he was killed by the Black Legion. 

The Little family drifted apart after Rev. Little’s death. Malcolm X was sent to live with another family due to disciplinary problems, Mrs. Little was hospitalized, and the other children were sent to various foster homes and orphanages.  

At the age of 13, Malcolm X was sent to the Michigan State Detention Home in Mason, Mi. He was to move to a reform school, but the white couple who operated the home liked him. As Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography, they treated him more like a “pink poodle” or a “pet canary” than a human being. 

Malcolm X attended Mason High School and was an outstanding student. He was elected class president. He dreamed of becoming a lawyer. 

But that dream was shattered in 1939 when his English teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Upon hearing Malcolm X’s reply, the teacher responded, “One of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic … you need to think of something you can be … why don’t you plan on carpentry?” 

As a result of the teacher’s rebuke, Malcolm X’s school grades suffered and he dropped out of school at the age of 15. 

He asked if he could move to Boston, to live with his half-sister, Ella. She was socially and financially successful and she had visited Malcolm X in the detention home. His wish was granted and he moved to Boston in early 1941. He was placed in Ella’s custody.   

In Boston, Ella got Malcolm X a job shining shoes at the Roseland Ballroom. He also took a job working as a kitchen helper on the Yankee Clipper train between New York and Boston. 

Unfortunately, Malcolm X also got caught up in a life of crime. In 1946, he was arrested and charged with theft. He was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in jail. He was 21-years-old.

While in prison, Malcolm X took to reading the books in the prison library to further his education. His brother Reginald visited him and introduced him to Islam, specifically the Islam prophesized by Elijah Muhammad and the National of Islam.  

Elijah Muhammad argued that white society worked to keep Blacks from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic, and social success. The Nation of Islam also argued for a Black state, separate from white people. 

In 1952, Malcolm X was paroled after serving seven years. By now he had changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X. He considered “Little” to be his slave name. The “X” signified his lost African name. 

Malcolm X moved to Chicago and became a minister under Elijah Muhammad. By the late 1950s, Malcolm X was the leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam. 

He was sent to Boston to establish a temple and was soon the minister. He also travelled to the temples in Philadelphia and Harlem to recruit new members. 

At the Harlem temple, Malcolm X met nursing student Betty X. They were married in January 1958 with Elijah Muhammad’s approval. They had six daughters. 

Between 1959 and 1964, Malcolm X became immensely popular within the National of Islam, and this caused a rift with Elijah Muhammad. In his autobiography Malcolm X wrote about his “physical divorce” from the Nation of Islam, and his “psychological divorce” due to the order for his assassination.

In the spring of 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and created the Organization of African American Unity. He also made a pilgrimage to Mecca to perform the Hajj.

A significant result of Malcolm X’s trip to Mecca was the effect upon his racial attitudes. He met many white Muslims on the Hajj who treated him as an equal.

He wrote in his autobiography that contrary to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, racial problems were more a matter of attitude than of colour. Being white did not make a person evil. It was the American society that ingrained racial prejudices into a white person. 

While on the Hajj, Malcolm X also acquired his new Islamic name: Elijah Malik El-Shabazz — the pilgrim Malcolm of the tribe of Shabazz.

The break from the Nation of Islam led to repeated attempts on Malcolm X’s life. On Feb. 14, 1965, his family’s home in East Elmhurst, N. Y. was firebombed. Luckily, the family escaped physical injury.

One week later, Malcolm X’s enemies were successful. 

Fifteen hundred people attended his funeral in Harlem on Feb. 27, 1965. 

SOURCES: BIOGRAPHY.COM, BRITANNICA.COM, KINGINSTITUTE.STANFORD.EDU, MALCOLMX.COM, NEWYORKER.COM, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X

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