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To a great extent, Malcolm X had an effect on the African American Civil Rights Movement from 1925, up until he was assassinated in 1965. He gave a voice to people of all different demographics, religions, and classes, and this perhaps led to what would later be his enormous body of followers, which continued to believe in him even after he died. Coming from an extremely poor family, Malcolm was the son of a Baptist preacher, who received constant criticism and resentment from the white community due to his passion for equality. This is what later lead to the assassination of his father in 1931, by the KKK, one of many white supremacist organisations whose primary target was African Americans. This occurred during the ‘Segregation Era,’ an era that lasted between 1900 and 1939, when black people had virtually no rights. They were seen by white Americans as ‘subhuman’. That was, until 1954, when black Americans such as Malcolm X decided to take a stand against this injustice, and abolish the ignorance surrounding differences in race, especially in the United States.
A large audience that Malcolm X was able to reach was the poor of America, as he himself came from a very down-and-out family. Born in Omaha Nebraska, his father was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, followed by the institutionalisation of his mother. Prior to this, at age 9 Malcolm began robbing grocery stores in an attempt to provide for his suffering family. Malcolm’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown a few years after this, and was shipped off to a mental institution interstate, prompting social workers to split Malcolm and his nine now-parentless siblings apart. For the first few months, Malcolm stayed with neighbours, but he was soon sent to juvenile detention in Mason, Michigan, where he attended an all-white junior high school. Although he was extremely academically successful and aimed for study law at university as he got older, a white English teacher informed him that being a lawyer was, “no realistic goal for a nigga.” Constantly frustrated with the negative attitude of this small town, he moved in with his half-sister when he was 15 years old, no longer attending high school. He attained a rail-road job, and by the time he turned 17 he was a permanent resident of Harlem, in New York City. Then, at 19 years old, he was finally arrested for the first time for his involvement in the theft of his half-sister’s fur coat. Not long after this, he was arrested a second time for an armed robbery, and then a third time for robbing a number of homes. Sentenced to prison at age 21, his cellmates, “called him Satan for his habit of pacing around and muttering curses at God and the Bible.” However, the time in prison proved positive for Malcolm. “In every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk,” Malcolm wrote in his autobiography, “You couldn’t have gotten me out of the books with a wedge.” Therefore, although Malcolm X was often associated with crime in the media, he was an inspiration to many due to his low socio-economic background. He was, essentially, a voice for the poor.
It can be said that Malcolm X was able to reach such a wide audience because he not only inspired his African American followers, but his Islam followers also. Although being born to a Baptist family, Malcolm always felt like the Christian religion was forced on him, as it was forced on his ancestors during the slave era (1776 – 1865). He even went as far as the call Christianity the ‘white man’s religion.’ Furthermore, following the death of his father and the institutionalisation of his mother, Malcolm and his siblings were put into foster care interstate. Malcolm was sent to Harlem, where his life took a steep decline. Once he turned 18 and was no longer in the care of his foster parents, he turned to crime, being involved in a multitude of armed robberies. Because of this, he went to prison, where he discovered Islam. Malcolm X’s fellow inmates has converted to Islam, and this inspired him. They told him about its roots to African American culture and identity, and its correlations with black pride and black nationalism. After further research into the difference in Islam and Christianity he perceived how, “the collective white man had been actually nothing but a piratical opportunist who used Faustian machinations to make his own Christianity his initial wedge in criminal conquests. First, always 'religiously,' he branded 'heathen' and 'pagan' labels upon ancient non-white cultures and civilizations. The stage thus set, he then turned upon his non- white victims his weapons of war,” (Malcolm X Autobiography, 1965). Malcolm believed that Christianity as a whole was, “designed against the black man,” (Malcolm X autobiography, 1965).
The assassination of Malcolm X followed a long and difficult power struggle with the leader of The Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad. Although Malcolm had once had a strong respect for Elijah, his opinion of him changed when he found out that Elijah Muhammad had impregnated and fathered a number of illegitimate children, an action that was in direct violation of the guidelines of the Nation of Islam. Following this disagreement, Malcolm was suspended from the organisation in 1963, which led to his decision to leave in 1964, converting to traditional Sunni Islam, and changing his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He followed this by publicly criticising Elijah Muhammad, accusing him of “religious fakery,” which provoked members of the Nation of Islam to take action against him. They threw bricks and drinks at his home, which forced him and his family to sleep in a tent in their backyard. On February 21, 1965, members of the organisation shot Malcolm dead at a theatre. Members of the public were devasted, with this event causing everyone to question the true motives and intentions, and even authenticity, of the Nation of Islam. People no longer believed that the organisation had good intentions.
In conclusion, Malcolm X had an effect on the African American Civil Rights Movement from 1925, up until he was assassinated in 1965. Such a great number of people supported him due to his strong association with religious independence, as well as his low socio-economic background. His death can be seen as a catalyst for the disintegration of the Nation of Islam many years later. Malcolm was an inspiration to a wide variety of African American groups, which is something that set his apart from other influential black people at the time. Overall, Malcolm X’s part in the African American civil rights movement was crucial in the obliteration of the unjust treatment of African Americans in the United States.