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Malcolm X’s Role in the Black Community

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Malcolm X was an African-American leader and a very prominent figure within the black community for things he accomplished during the civil rights movement. He pioneered the concepts of race pride and black nationalism in the 1960s.[footnoteRef:1] Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, with his birth name of Malcolm Little. Even from a young age, Malcolm X went through hardships, which includes when his father died, and his mother was committed to a mental facility.[footnoteRef:2] Malcolm X’s parents suffered through many racist acts of violence towards them, which included burning their whole house to the ground. After the death of his father Earl Little, his mother never recovered from grief and was committed to a mental hospital. Malcolm X and his siblings were then separated and placed in different foster homes.[footnoteRef:3] He later denounced his last name for the letter X because he believed his last name originally came from former slave owners. [1: History.com Staff, Staff. ‘Malcolm X.’ History.com. 2009. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x] [2: ‘Malcolm X.’ Biography.com. January 18, 2018. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/malcolm-x-9396195. ] [3: Ibid.]

Malcolm X was many things, a minister, a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, and a human rights activist.[footnoteRef:4] Like all men, he was flawed though, in February of 1946, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for robbery but only ended up serving seven.[footnoteRef:5] While in prison he became a follower of Elijah Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, a cult in which Malcolm’s siblings urged him to join.[footnoteRef:6] The Nation of Islam was a small group of devotees when Malcolm X decided to join them. Malcolm X was an inspiring speaker for the black community and helped change the social norms in which blacks had to go through. While in prison he further educated himself and did not let his tragic past of racism towards his family and peers hold him back. [4: History.com Staff, Staff. ‘Malcolm X.’ History.com. 2009. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x] [5: Archie C, Epps, ‘The Rhetoric of Malcolm X.’ Harvard Review, no. 3 (1993): 64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27559632] [6: Ibid.]

Malcolm X was known as “Detroit Red” in the streets of New York and was known to be quick-tempered and violent.[footnoteRef:7] He returned to Boston and formed his own house-robbing gang in 1945 but was arrested in 1946 for robbery.[footnoteRef:8] While Malcolm X was in prison, he copied a dictionary page-by-page of the whole book and read every book that they had in the library related to history, philosophy, literature, and science.[footnoteRef:9] Malcolm X used books to educate himself and rarely found himself without one when he was in prison. Some of the literature books that he read in prison included “Wonders of the World”, and H.G. Wells: “Outline of History.” However, the book that influenced him the most was the Quran, the central religious text of Islam.[footnoteRef:10] He was paroled in 1952 and began his journey to being one of the most prominent black leaders of his time. [7: Archie C, Epps, ‘The Rhetoric of Malcolm X.’ Harvard Review, no. 3 (1993): 64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27559632] [8: ‘Malcolm X Imprisoned.’ G.E. Engineers Test Jet Engine. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/malcolm-x-imprisoned.html] [9: Ibid.] [10: Abagond. ‘What Malcolm X Read in Prison.’ Abagond. July 27, 2017. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://abagond.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/what-malcolm-x-read-in-prison/.]

Malcolm X had a huge influence in the black youth community and encouraged them to protect themselves against the tyranny that they were going through by telling them to defend themselves against white aggression “by any means necessary.”[footnoteRef:11] The methods that he mainly used were campaigns and speeches that were meant to restore the dignity of the black man and to take their freedom as Americans. This point was further proved when Malcolm X stated “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”[footnoteRef:12] Malcolm X wanted his community to break free of white dominance and to throw away the notion of non-violence. He even compared himself to other prominent leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr in which he states that Luther was trying to support the current conditions of a black man by defending the white man.[footnoteRef:13] King and Malcolm X met only just one time and King later says, “He is very articulate, but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views- at least insofar as I understand where he now stands.”[footnoteRef:14] Malcolm X believed that non-violence was not the answer and that the African-American Community would have to take what was theirs, but Malcolm X did not think like this forever. [11: History.com Staff, Staff. ‘Malcolm X.’ History.com. 2009. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x.] [12: People. ‘Malcolm X Quotes: In His Own Words.’ The Week UK. Accessed May 10, 2018. http://www.theweek.co.uk/62630/malcolm-x-quotes-the-man-in-his-own-words. ] [13: Celeste Michelle, Condit, and John Louis, Lucaites. ‘Malcolm X and the Limits of the Rhetoric of Revolutionary Dissent.’ Journal of Black Studies 23, no. 3 (1993): 291-313. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2784569] [14: DeNeen L, Brown. ‘Martin Luther King Jr. Met Malcolm X Just Once. The Photo Still Haunts Us with What Was Lost.’ The Washington Post. January 14, 2018. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/01/14/martin-luther-king-jr-met-malcolm-x-just-once-the-photo-still-haunts-us-with-what-was-lost/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d2b34b91e8de. ]

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In 1963, Malcolm X broke off his relationship with Elijah Muhammad to begin his own Muslim ministry in New York City’s Harlem.[footnoteRef:15] This breakup was inevitable because of Elijah’s growing jealousy over Malcolm’s public success and how popular he was getting within the black community.[footnoteRef:16] One of the most important reasons though was the increasing limitations being placed on the founding myth of the Nation of Islam, which damaged the opportunities for political and social activism.[footnoteRef:17] The myth was supposed to support programs of self-sufficiency, the development of black-owned business and a demand for blacks to have their own designated states for themselves.[footnoteRef:18] This was not the only other important reason though, the action that mainly caused it was that Malcolm X was to stay quiet on the topic of President Kennedy’s assassination, but he did not do so.[footnoteRef:19] After breaking ties with Elijah, he started to make his own community and movements. He started the “Black Nationalism” movement which means [15: ‘United States History.’ Malcolm X. Accessed May 02, 2018. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3757.html ] [16: Ibid.] [17: John Gordon, Melton. ‘Nation of Islam.’ Encyclopedia Britannica. April 06, 2018. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Nation-of-Islam ] [18: Ibid. ] [19: Celeste Michelle, Condit, and John Louis, Lucaites. ‘Malcolm X and the Limits of the Rhetoric of Revolutionary Dissent.’ Journal of Black Studies 23, no. 3 (1993): P.298 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2784569] that the black man should control the politicians and politics of his own community. The idea of “Black Nationalism” is the separation of national status for black people to be given their own rights and to govern themselves.

Later in life, Malcolm X started to view whites differently and thought differently about how black man should handle themselves. This new view of whites came from when he visited Mecca and stopped viewing the whites as exclusively evil.[footnoteRef:20] After his travels he even stated “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. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all together, irrespective of their color.”[footnoteRef:21] Malcolm X’s new belief sprung from the separation from Elijah Muhammad and was a different way to look at the relationship that the black and white community had with each other as a whole. Malcolm X demanded all rights ever claimed by humanity which for his time was ambitious but would later be the legacy that he leaves for Black America.[footnoteRef:22] On April 13, 1964, Malcolm X made a spiritual and personal journey through West Africa and the Middle East. When he was in Saudi Arabia, he’d experienced his pilgrimage to Mecca and discovered an authentic Islam, known as the Hajj. His journey to Mecca helped him understand that the belief of the whites being exclusively evil was wrong and that there should be no separation between people, only unity. Even though he now understood that whites are not naturally evil, that did not stop Malcolm X from pursuing what he believed. Malcolm X was willing to take help from “sincere whites” but understood that the solution for the black Americans problems would not begin with whites. [footnoteRef:23] [20: Pierre, Tristam. ‘How Malcolm X Became a Real Muslim.’ ThoughtCo. April 13, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/malcom-x-in-mecca-2353496] [21: People. ‘Malcolm X Quotes: In His Own Words.’ The Week UK. Accessed May 10, 2018. http://www.theweek.co.uk/62630/malcolm-x-quotes-the-man-in-his-own-words. ] [22: Celeste Michelle, Condit, and John Louis, Lucaites. ‘Malcolm X and the Limits of the Rhetoric of Revolutionary Dissent.’ Journal of Black Studies 23, no. 3 (1993): p.302] [23: Pierre, Tristam. ‘How Malcolm X Became a Real Muslim.’ ThoughtCo. April 13, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/malcom-x-in-mecca-2353496]

Once back in America, the Organization of Afro-American Unity was founded by Malcolm X, John Henrik Clarke, and other prominent black nationalist leaders on Jun 24, 1964, in Harlem, New York.[footnoteRef:24] This organization was formed shortly after Malcolm X’s break with the Nation of Islam, and the Organization of Afro-American Unity was a secular institution that sought to unify 22 million non-Muslim African Americans with the people of the African Continent.[footnoteRef:25] Malcolm X hoped that the organization would help reconnect African Americans with their African heritage and to be the gateway to establish economic independence separate from the whites and hoped it would make African Americans more determined in themselves. After Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, the Organization of Afro-American unity died.[footnoteRef:26] Malcolm’s half-sister Ella Collins took over the Organization of Afro-American unity, but it was a desperation attempt and without Malcolm X’s charismatic leadership and advise, most members deserted the organization. Even though the OAAU was put to rest alongside Malcolm X, it became the inspiration for hundreds of “black power” movements that emerged during the next decade.[footnoteRef:27] [24: Lucy Burnett. ‘Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) 1965.’ Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) 1965 | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Accessed May 02, 2018. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/organization-afro-american-unity-oaau-1965 ] [25: Ibid.] [26: Ibid.] [27: Ibid]

Malcolm X foreshadowed his death beforehand though in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It showed his modest lifestyle, the devotion to his people, and serves as a reminder of human possibility and achievements no matter what situation they may find themselves in.[footnoteRef:28] Influenced largely by Malcolm X, in the summer of 1966 members of SNCC called for black power for black people.[footnoteRef:29] Their lack of power is what originally motivated Malcolm X’s charge in the pursuit of the human rights they were denied in America. The knowledge that Malcolm X provided even after his death allowed African Americans to take a step towards getting the rights they deserve, and Malcolm X’s efforts and feats have guaranteed him a spot as one of the greatest black leaders in history. [28: History.com Staff, Staff. ‘Malcolm X.’ History.com. 2009. Accessed May 2, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x] [29: Ibid.]

Bibliography

  1. History.com Staff, Staff. ‘Malcolm X.’ History.com. 2009. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x.
  2. Epps, Archie C. ‘The Rhetoric of Malcolm X.’ Harvard Review, no. 3 (1993): 64-75. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27559632.
  3. Rodgers, Raymond, and Jimmie N. Rogers. ‘The Evolution of the Attitude of Malcolm X toward Whites.’ Phylon (1960-) 44, no. 2 (1983): 108-15. doi:10.2307/275022.
  4. ‘Malcolm X Imprisoned.’ G.E. Engineers Test Jet Engine. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/malcolm-x-imprisoned.html
  5. Condit, Celeste Michelle, and John Louis Lucaites. ‘Malcolm X and the Limits of the Rhetoric of Revolutionary Dissent.’ Journal of Black Studies 23, no. 3 (1993): 291-313. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2784569
  6. Proyect, Louis. ‘Malcolm X and Chickens Coming Home to Roost.’ Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist. October 03, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://louisproyect.org/2011/04/08/malcolm-x-and-chickens-coming-home-to-roost/
  7. Tristam, Pierre. ‘How Malcolm X Became a Real Muslim.’ ThoughtCo. April 13, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/malcom-x-in-mecca-2353496
  8. ‘Malcolm X.’ Biography.com. January 18, 2018. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/malcolm-x-9396195.
  9. Abagond. ‘What Malcolm X Read in Prison.’ Abagond. July 27, 2017. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://abagond.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/what-malcolm-x-read-in-prison/.
  10. Brown, DeNeen L. ‘Martin Luther King Jr. Met Malcolm X Just Once. The Photo Still Haunts Us with What Was Lost.’ The Washington Post. January 14, 2018. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/01/14/martin-luther-king-jr-met-malcolm-x-just-once-the-photo-still-haunts-us-with-what-was-lost/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d2b34b91e8de.
  11. ‘United States History.’ Malcolm X. Accessed May 02, 2018. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3757.html
  12. Melton, John Gordon. ‘Nation of Islam.’ Encyclopedia Britannica. April 06, 2018. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Nation-of-Islam
  13. Burnett, Lucy. ‘Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) 1965.’ Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) 1965 | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Accessed May 02, 2018. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/organization-afro-american-unity-oaau-1965
  14. People. ‘Malcolm X Quotes: In His Own Words.’ The Week UK. Accessed May 10, 2018. http://www.theweek.co.uk/62630/malcolm-x-quotes-the-man-in-his-own-words.

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