Malcolm Little, Aka Malcolm X, was a famous civil rights movement activist. He had a hard childhood. He was picked on due to the light color of his skin by peers and family members. His family lived in poverty and as a result Malcolm Little spent several years of his life committing crimes and ended up in prison. Malcolm X found Islam in prison and developed different philosophies which were influenced by his childhood experiences. Malcolm X eventually found peace, but unfortunately was killed after he began to make a positive difference.
“Malcolm Little was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska” (Perry Page 2). Everyone was excited to have a baby boy born into the family, except Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, because he was ashamed that Malcolm had light skin, blue-green eyes and ash-blonde hair. Malcolm’s mother, Louisa was the same complexion as Malcolm, which is where he got his looks from. Louisa’s father was Scottish, and this made her complexion so light that she passed as white. Earl took pride in the color of his own skin. He was a strong believer of being proud to be black. “Earl was a disciple of Marcus Garvey and was elected president of the Omaha branch of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Louisa also joined the UNIA, which emphasized that blacks should be proud of their blackness and their African heritage. It urged them to free themselves from their dependence on whites, economically and otherwise. Garvey taught that instead of integrating whites, blacks should establish their own sovereign nation” (Perry Page 3). Garvey’s philosophy influenced Malcolm’s beliefs.
“Malcolm’s father reportedly decided to leave Omaha after Ku Klux Klan horsemen waved firearms and blazing torches at the Littles’ home, shattering the window panes with their gun butts” (Perry Page 3). Louisa did not believe Earl because her sister-in-law was told by her husband that Earl impersonated the Ku Klux Klan. No one knows the real reason why Earl wanted to leave. Earl moved his family to Milwaukee as he continued to be a part of UNIA. He traveled through different cities and taught Garvey’s teachings. “The Littles trekked from Milwaukee to Albion, Michigan…then to the northwestern outskirts of Lansing” (Perry Page 4). “Despite the way Louisa extolled the ideal of black pride, she favored her lighter-skinned relatives and proudly insisted she was West Indian, not African American…Sometimes she scrubbed Malcolm’s face and neck violently exclaiming she could make him look white” (Perry Page 5). Louisa used her light skin to have the best of both worlds. She considered herself black around other blacks, but as West Indian around “important” people. Malcolm’s parents were very violent with their children. His mother viewed Malcolm as her favorite because she identified with his light skin color. “Malcolm was spared the brunt of his father’s brutality. Years later, he attributed the favoritism to his light skin color” (Perry Page 6). Malcolm’s father was a cruel man, and he made irrational decisions. He believed that white people had it better than blacks, and was a firm believer of fighting for what he believed in. His father burned down his white neighbor’s home because he felt as though he was not treated fairly. One day Louisa had a bad feeling when Earl left the house, and she tried to chase after him. “Earl was later discovered lying beside the tracks. His left arm crushed and blood gushed from his partly severed left leg, which looked as if it had been hacked open by a meat cleaver. The state police were summoned and found him still conscious. He told Trooper Laurence Baril that he had returned to the car stop just as the trolley was passing by and had tried to board the moving vehicle. But he has missed the step and had fallen under the rear wheels” (Perry Page 12). Louisa told Malcolm that white people had done this to his father, which may have directly affected the way Malcolm saw white people. “Years after the streetcar ran over Earl, Malcolm would argue that his father had been killed by the hooded, black-robed members of a white hate-group called the Black Legion” (Perry Page 12). Malcolm was not a confrontational person. Every chance he got he would avoid fighting. “Even his mother, whose beatings may have contributed to his fear of physical injury, sensed his fear of combat, which caused other youngsters to claim that he was a coward” (Perry Page 15). When fights did occur, Malcolm defended himself the best way he could, but he defended the “weaker” kids better. “Some whites ribbed Malcolm about his skin color, calling him Chinaman, Snowflake, or Eskimo…Not all racial confrontations were initiated by whites.” (Perry Page 16). These and many other fights made Malcolm very self-conscious about his color but did nothing about it because his mother wanted him to stay out of the sun.
Louisa also had a very hard time keeping a job because when white people realized she was black, they would fire her. She had seven children, and she did the best she could to feed and clothe them. “In the winter, Malcolm wore nothing more than a loosely knit sweater or an insubstantial jacket that always looked hand-me-down. In the summertime, Malcolm went barefoot” (Perry Page 18-19). Louisa struggled all of her life but was determined to make sure that her kids would go to school and get an education. She forced school on her kids and told them that there was no room for error. Malcolm was very intelligent, but he did not have good grades. He would read books instead of doing his classwork or homework. Malcolm was always respectful to women to the point that his male classmates would refer to him as a “sissy”.
Malcolm ended up getting in a lot of trouble which caused him to go to a detention center and he did not complete the eighth grade. He began doing drugs and dating white women. “In 1945, three weeks before Christmas, Malcolm embarked on a stealing binge.” (Perry Page 94). Malcolm would commit house burglaries with a group of friends. The group of friends feared him which prevented them from telling on him if they were caught. As Malcolm’s confidence in burglaries grew he became careless and left fingerprints on window seals while stealing. One day after the group had committed a house ransack, a police officer began following them. Malcolm pretended that he was lost which distracted the officers and allowed them to escape. However, Malcolm ended up getting caught, and he told on his whole group in order to receive a plea bargain. There were two white women in his group and after they were caught, they ended up accusing Malcolm and his black friend of forcing them into burglary. The case went from house burglaries to “You had no business with white girls! (Perry Page 100). The girls were let off, and Malcolm and his friend were charged with eight to ten years in prison.
While in Prison, Malcolm tried to act mean and cruel, but did not have it in his heart. Malcolm developed hostile feelings toward religion which resulted in people calling him Satan. Malcolm’s brother Reginald came to visit Malcolm in jail, and discussed the religion Islam with him. “He described the Nation of Islam and some of its teachings; including the doctrine that white people are “devils” (Perry Page 115). Elijah Muhammad had the philosophy that white people are the devil. “Elijah Muhammad taught that black people were stolen from Africa, sold into bondage, and finally brainwashed. White people forced them to adopt the names, customs, myths, and god of their masters. Malcolm wrote to Elijah Muhammad every day and began to pray” (Spark Notes). After many extensive conversations with his brother and personal research. Malcolm committed to following the teachings Islam. He became extremely religious after his conversion. Malcolm also started to tan his skin to lose the appearance of his light skin. He met Omar Khalil and it was ironic because they resembled. Elijah Muhammad and Omar Khalil influenced Malcolm, which made him even more serious about Islam.
Malcolm finally got on parole and moved to Detroit. Malcolm changed his name to Malcolm X because he felt like the white man took away African Americans’ original last names. Malcolm moved to Boston and New York, where he opened up mosques and joined the Nation of Islam. He ended up finding the love of his life, Betty Shabazz. The Nation of Islam won a lawsuit and offered money to Malcolm X, but he would not accept. At this time, Malcolm X’s philosophy was “I am a Muslim because it’s a religion that teaches you an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It teaches you to respect everybody and treat everybody right. But it also teaches you if someone steps on your toe, chop off their foot. And I carry my religious axe with me all the time” (Kershaw). Elijah became jealous of Malcom X, and did not want him to speak on his own views. Malcolm X criticized other black civil rights leaders because they wanted blacks and whites to be together. Malcolm X wanted blacks to get back to their roots in Africa, and to also build their own community aside from the whites. “Malcolm heard rumors of a warrant out for his death, and one of his assistants at the New York temple confessed that the Nation has ordered him to kill Malcolm” (Spark Notes). Malcolm X eventually left his position in the Nation of Islam because of these threats. Malcolm X went to Africa and found his sense of wonder at Mecca. He stated that “Islam is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white, but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam” (Kershaw). Malcolm X discovered that Islam is the religion of peace. After traveling to Africa and doing some soul searching, Malcolm X found his organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc. He had a new peaceful outlook and would say things like, “I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color” (Kershaw). Unfortunately Malcolm X was killed about a year after finding his organization.