Fifty-five years on, concerns about why Malcolm X was killed by the Nation of Islam are still causing mistrust and tensions between law enforcement agencies and the Black community (Felber 2015). Malcolm X was an American Islamic preacher and human rights activist, assassinated on 21 February 1965. When Malcolm was six years old, his house was burned down, and his father died after being hit by a streetcar. Many suspects that the accidents were caused by white supremacists. After that, his mother, Louise Little, who had a nervous breakdown, was sent to a mental institution, and Malcolm and his siblings were sent to foster homes. An outstanding student at school, Malcolm dropped out and joined a life of crime, after one of his teachers “advised” him to become a carpenter, rather than a lawyer. Soon, Malcolm was imprisoned six years for a robbery. While in prison, he was introduced to the Nation of Islam and soon converted. But there were conflicts and disagreements with Elijah Mohammed, the leader of the movement, after which Malcolm left. Many speculated that Malcolm was killed by the Nation of Islam, because of his articulated concepts. But, the fact remains that many factors played a major role in his assassination.
Living in the shadows of racism and segregation, Malcolm was steered onto a new path in search of meaning and belonging. Malcolm joined the Nation of Islam while in prison for a robbery from 1946 to 1952. One of the wealthiest and most known organizations in Black America, the Nation of Islam had a big impact on eliminating racism. While Malcolm was in jail, he read a lot of books and was introduced to the Nation of Islam. Soon, he converted and changed his last name to X as an indication to his unknown African ancestors. After his release, he immediately became an assistant minister in the Nation of Islam and met his leader, Elijah Mohammed. In just 6 years, Malcolm was able to recruit 40,000 people to the Nation of Islam (History.com Editors 2009). In one of his lectures, Malcolm reassured, “We who are followers of the honorable Elijah Mohammed do not make a choice between integration and segregation, segregation doesn’t enter into the picture at all.” Some criticized Malcolm, including Martin Luther King, for his speech on pacifism and integration. Not one to believe in peaceful integration, Malcolm thought that the only way blacks could gain equality was through separation. He urged his followers to defend themselves when attacked by white racists. Through joining the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X helped change the racial terms used to refer to African Americans.
Malcolm left the Nation of Islam after his leader Elijah Mohammed turned against his teachings and banned him from speaking. Tension started to emerge between Malcolm and Elijah, which went on for years. Malcolm was devastated after he found out that six of Elijah’s children wherefrom his secretaries, who made it public and caused major conflicts (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020). Also, Elijah did nothing after some members of the Nation of Islam were physically abused by the police in South Central, Los Angeles. After Malcolm told the press that John F. Kennedy’s assassination was “chickens coming home to roost”, which meant the society is suffering the consequences of their violence, Elijah banned him from speaking for 90 days (New York Times 1964). Malcolm, infuriated by Elijah’s acts, left the Nation of Islam. It’s suspected that the main reason tensions between the two broke out is that Elijah was aggravated because Malcolm was gaining more money and public attention than he was.
Soon after Malcolm left the Nation of Islam, he traveled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to make a Muslim pilgrimage and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Renunciating the nation's racist views, he believed the solution to U.S. racial problems lay in conservative Islam. He created the Organization of African-American Unity in 1965 as a secular platform to internationalize the plight of black Americans and make common cause with people in the developing world to move from civil rights to human rights. Malcolm's increasing animosity with the Nation of Islam has led to death threats and open violence against him. The Nation of Islam had Malcolm’s car bombed and burned his family’s home. “Right up to the end, Malcolm X remained open to changing his opinions. Three days before his death he said, 'I'm man enough to tell you that I can't put my finger on exactly what my philosophy is now.'” . On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was set to give a speech in Manhattan, but shortly after he began speaking, three members of the Nation of Islam approached him and shot him 15 times in the chest. “Three members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) — Talmadge Hayer or Thomas Hagan (a.k.a Mujahid Abdul Halim), Norman Butler (a.k.a Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Thomas Johnson (a.k.a Khalil Islam) — were convicted of his murder in 1966.”
Malcolm was declared one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. Through joining the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X helped change the racial terms used to refer to African Americans. But after, the Nation of Islam turned against Malcolm, as a result of him leaving the organization. Tragically, just as Malcolm X appeared to be embarking on an ideological transformation with the potential to dramatically alter the course of the Civil Rights Movement, he was assassinated (Legacy 2020). Malcolm X will be remembered for his contribution to society by demonstrating the great lengths human beings will go to secure their freedom to underscore the value of a genuinely free populace.
- 2. Bates, Josiah. “The Mystery Surrounding Malcolm X's Assassination.” Time. Time, February 20, 2020. https://time.com/5778688/malcolm-x-assassination/.
- Felber, Garrett. “Malcolm X Assassination: 50 Years on, Mystery Still Clouds Details of the Case.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Feb. 2015, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/21/malcolm-x-assassination-records-nypd-investigation.
- Mamiya, Lawrence A. “Malcolm X.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Sept. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Malcolm-X.
- History.com Editors. “Malcolm X.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x.
- Legacy, M. (2020). Biography. [online] Malcolm X Legacy. Available at: https://malcolmxlegacy.com/pages/about-malcolm [Accessed 21 Feb. 2020].
- “MALCOLM X SPLITS WITH MUHAMMAD; Suspended Muslim Leader Plans Black Nationalist Political Movement.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Mar. 1964, www.nytimes.com/1964/03/09/archives/malcolm-x-splits-with-muhammad-suspended-muslim-leader-plans-black.html.
- 1. Pasley, James. “The Life and Assassination of Malcolm X, the Controversial Civil Rights Activist Whose Death Remains a Mystery.” Business Insider. Business Insider, February 19, 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-malcolm-x-lived-died-assassinated-death-reinvestigated-2020-2#they-escaped-unharmed-40.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Black Nationalism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 11 Feb. 2020, www.britannica.com/event/black-nationalism.