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Malcolm X

1925-1965

"In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I will never be guilty of that again — as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks."  - Malcolm X

Text Box: Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little
Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, also known as Detroit Red and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Omaha, Nebraska, May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965 in New York City) was a Muslim Minister and National Spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He was also founder of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
During his life, Malcolm went from being a young street-wise Boston hoodlum to becoming one of the most prominent black nationalist leaders in the United States, and when murdered, became considered by some as a martyr of Islam, and a champion of equality. As a militant leader, Malcolm X advocated black pride, economic self-reliance, and identity politics. He ultimately rose to become a world-renowned African American/Pan-Africanist and human rights activist.
A year before his death Malcolm became an orthodox Sunni Muslim following a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam in Washington Heights on the first day of National Brotherhood Week
Early years
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska to Earl Little and Louise Little (née Norton). His father was an outspoken Baptist lay preacher and supporter of Marcus Garvey, as well as a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Malcolm described his father as a big black man who had lost one eye. Three of Earl Little's brothers died violently at the hands of white men, one of whom was lynched. Earl Little had three children by a previous marriage before he married Malcolm's mother. From his second marriage he had eight children of which Malcolm was the fifth.
Louise Little was born in Grenada and, according to Malcolm, she looked more like a white woman. Her father was a white man of whom Malcolm knew nothing except his mother's shame. Malcolm got his light complexion from him. Initially he felt it was a status symbol to be light-skinned but later he would say that he “hated every drop of that white rapist's blood that is in me.” As Malcolm was the lightest child in the family, he felt that his father favored him; however, his mother gave him more hell for the same reason.[1]
According to Malcolm X's autobiography, his mother had been threatened by Ku Klux Klansmen while she was pregnant with him in December of 1924; his mother recalled that the family was warned to leave Omaha, because his father's involvement with UNIA was, according to the Klansmen, "stirring up trouble".[1]
After Malcolm was born, the family relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1926, and then to Lansing, Michigan shortly thereafter. In 1931, his father was found dead having been run over by a streetcar in Michigan. Authorities ruled his death suicide[2]. This cause of death was disputed by the African American community at the time, and later by Malcolm himself, as Malcolm's family had frequently found themselves the target of harassment by the white-supremacist Black Legion, which had already culminated in the burning down of their home in 1929.[3] Malcolm wondered how his father could bash himself in the head and then lay down across street tracks to get run over[2].
Though Malcolm’s father had two life insurance policies, his mother was only paid from the smaller policy. The insurance company for the larger policy refused to pay, claiming Earl Little's death was by suicide[3]. The financial and emotional stress of raising eight children by herself caused Louise Little to succumb to a mental breakdown and she was declared legally insane in December 1938. Malcolm and his siblings were split up and sent to different foster homes. Louise Little was formally committed to the State Mental Hospital at Kalamazoo, Michigan, and remained there until Malcolm and his brothers and sisters were able to get her released twenty-six years later.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X and local folklore held that, following the death of his father, he lived as a boy on Charles Street in downtown East Lansing. However, the 1930 U.S. Census (released in 2002) shows him living on a completely different Charles Street, in the low-income Urbandale neighborhood in Lansing Township, between Lansing and East Lansing. Later, at the time he was in high school, he lived in Mason, an almost all-white small town twelve miles to the south.
Malcolm graduated from junior high school at the top of his class, but dropped out soon after an admired teacher told him that his aspirations of being a lawyer were "no realistic goal for a nigger"[4]. After enduring a series of foster homes, Malcolm was first sent to a detention center and then later moved to Boston to live with his older half-sister, Ella Little Collins.
Middle years
Malcolm found work as a shoe-shiner at a Lindy Hop nightclub; in his autobiography, he says that he once shined the shoes of Duke Ellington and other notable black musicians. He was also employed for a time by New Haven Railroad, a job he would maintain when he relocated to New York City in 1943.[4] After some time, in Harlem, he became involved in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, and robbery (referred to collectively by Malcolm as "hustling").
When Malcolm was examined for the World War II draft, military physicians classified him to be "mentally disqualified for military service." He explains in his autobiography that putting on a display to avoid the draft, he told the examining officer that he couldn't wait to get his hands on a gun so he could "kill some crackers". His approach worked, and he was given a classification that ensured he would not be drafted.
In early 1946, he was arrested for a series of burglaries and received a sentence of 10 years. While in prison, he received correspondence from his brother Reginald telling him about the Nation of Islam, to which he subsequently converted. While in prison, he read voraciously and developed astigmatism. He was in regular contact with Elijah Muhammad during his incarceration and went to work for the Nation of Islam after his parole.
In 1952, after his release from prison, Malcolm went to meet Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. It was soon after this that he changed his surname to "X". Malcolm explained the name by saying, The "X" is meant to symbolize the rejection of "slave-names" and the absence of an inherited African name to take its place. The "X" is also the brand that many slaves received on their upper arm. This rationale led many members of the Nation of Islam to change their surnames to X.
In March 1953, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a file on Malcolm, supposedly in response to an allegation that he had described himself as a Communist; according to the Church Committee, the FBI had long been used to monitor, disrupt, and repress radicals like Malcolm. Included in the file were two letters wherein Malcolm uses the alias "Malachi Shabazz". In "Message To The Black Man In America", Elijah Muhammad explained the name Shabazz as belonging to descendants of an "Asian Black nation".
In May 1953, the FBI concluded that Malcolm X had an "asocial personality with paranoid trends (pre-psychotic paranoid schizophrenia)", and had, in fact, sought treatment for his disorder. This was further supported by a letter intercepted by the FBI, dated June 29, 1950. The letter said, in reference to his 4-F classification and rejection by the military, "Everyone has always said ... Malcolm is crazy, so it isn't hard to convince people that I am."[5]
Later that year, Malcolm left his half-sister Ella in Boston to stay with Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. He soon returned to Boston and became the Minister of the Nation of Islam's Temple Number Eleven. In 1954, Malcolm X was selected to lead the Nation of Islam's mosque #7 on Lenox Avenue (co-named "Malcolm X Boulevard" in 1987, from 110th Street/Central Park North to 147th Street) in Harlem and he rapidly expanded its membership. Malcolm X was a compelling public speaker, and was frequently sought after for quotations by the print media, radio, and television programs from around the world. In the years between his adoption of the Nation of Islam, in 1952, and his split with the organization in 1964, he always espoused the Nation's teachings, including referring to whites as "devils" who had been created in a misguided breeding program by a black scientist, and predicting the inevitable (and imminent) return of blacks to their natural place at the top of the social order.
Malcolm X was soon seen as the second most influential leader of the movement, after Elijah Muhammad himself. He opened additional temples, including one in Philadelphia, and was largely credited with increasing membership in the NOI from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963. He inspired the boxer Cassius Clay to join the Nation of Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali. (Like Malcolm X, Ali later left the NOI and joined mainstream Islam.)
In 1958, Malcolm married Betty X (née Sanders) in Lansing, Michigan. They had six daughters together, all of whom carried the surname of Shabazz. Their names were Attallah (also spelled Attillah), born in 1958; Qubilah, born in 1960; Ilyasah, born in 1962; Gamilah (also spelled Gumilah), born in 1964; and twins, Malaak and Malikah, born after Malcolm's death in 1965.
By the summer of 1963, tension in the Nation of Islam reached a boiling point. Malcolm believed that Elijah Muhammad was jealous of his popularity (as were several senior ministers). Malcolm viewed the March on Washington critically, unable to understand why black people were excited over a demonstration "run by whites in front of a statue of a president who has been dead for a hundred years and who didn't like us when he was alive." Later in the year, following the John F. Kennedy assassination, Malcolm delivered a speech as he regularly would. However, when asked to comment upon the assassination, he replied that it was a case of "chickens coming home to roost" — that the culture of violence sanctioned by white society had come around to claim the life of its leader. Most explosively, he then added that with his country origins, "Chickens coming home to roost never made me sad. It only made me glad." This comment led to widespread public outcry and led to the Nation of Islam's publicly censuring Malcolm X. Although retaining his post and rank as minister, he was banned from public speaking for ninety days by Elijah Muhammad himself. Malcolm obeyed and kept silent.
In the spring of 1963, Malcolm started collaborating on The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. He also publicly announced his break from the Nation of Islam on March 8, 1964 and the founding of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. on March 12, 1964. At this point, Malcolm mostly adhered to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, but began modifying them, explicitly advocating political and economic black nationalism as opposed to the NOI's exclusivist religious nationalism. In March and April, he made the series of famous speeches called "The Ballot or the Bullet" [citation needed]. Malcolm was in contact with several orthodox Muslims, who encouraged him to learn about orthodox Islam. He soon converted to orthodox Islam, and as a result decided to make his Hajj.
Hajj
On April 13, 1964, Malcolm departed JFK Airport, New York for Cairo by way of Frankfurt. It was the second time Malcolm had been to Africa. Malcolm left Cairo arriving in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at about three in the morning. He was automatically suspect due to his inability to speak Arabic and his United States passport. He was separated from the group he came with and was isolated. He spent about 20 hours wearing the ihram, a two-piece garment comprised of two white unhemmed sheets--the first of which is worn draped over the torso and the second of which (the bottom) is secured by a belt.
It was at this time he remembered the book The Eternal Message of Muhammad by Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam and which Dr. Mahmoud Yousseff Sharwabi had presented to him with his visa approval. He called Azzam's son who arranged for his release. At the younger Azzam's home he met Azzam Pasha who gave Malcolm his suite at the Jeddah Palace Hotel. The next morning Muhammad Faisal, the son of Prince Faisal, visited and informed him that he was to be a state guest. The deputy chief of protocol accompanied Malcolm to the Hajj Court.
It therefore was a mere formality for Sheikh Muhammad Harkon to allow Malcolm to make his Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). On April 19, he completed the Umrah, making the seven circuits around the Kaaba, drinking from the well of Zamzam and running between the hills of Safah and Marwah seven times. The trip proved to be life-altering. Malcolm met many devout Muslims of a number of different races, whose faith and practice of Islam he came to respect. He believed that racial barriers could potentially be overcome, and that Islam was the one religion that conceivably could erase all racial problems.
A changed man
On May 21, 1964, he returned to the United States as a traditional Sunni Muslim (and with a new name — El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz). When Malcolm returned to the United States, he gave a speech about his visit. This time he gave a much larger meaning and message than before. The speech was not only for the Muslims, instead it was for the whole nation and for all races. He said,
"Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth." 
"In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I will never be guilty of that again — as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks." 
"Since I learned the truth in Mecca my dearest friends have come to include all kinds — some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, socialists, and communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists — some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!" [5] 
"While in Mecca, for the first time in my life, I could call a man with blond hair and blue eyes my brother." 
Along with A. Peter Bailey and others, El-Shabazz then founded the U. S. branch of the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Patterned after the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Africa's continental organization, which was established at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 1963, the OAAU resolved to establish a non-religious and non-sectarian program for human rights. The OAAU included all people of African ancestry in the Western Hemisphere, as well as those on the African continent.
Africa
Malcolm X visited Africa on three separate occasions, once in 1959 and twice in 1964. During his visits, he met officials, as well as spoke on television and radio in: Cairo, Egypt; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Dar Es Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania); Lagos and Ibadan, Nigeria; Accra, Winneba, and Legon, Ghana; Conakry, Guinea; Algiers, Algeria; and Casablanca, Morocco.
Malcolm first went to Africa in summer of 1959. He traveled to Egypt (United Arab Republic), Sudan, Nigeria and Ghana to arrange a tour for Elijah Muhammad, which occurred in December 1959. The first of Malcolm's two trips to Africa in 1964 lasted from April 13 until May 21. On May 8, following his speech at Trenchard Hall on the campus of the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, he attended a reception in the Students' Union Hall held for him by the Muslim Students' Society. During this reception the students bestowed upon him the name "Omowale" meaning "the son returns home" in the Yoruba language.
Malcolm returned to New York from Africa via Paris, France, on May 21, 1964. On July 9, he again left the United States for Africa, spending a total of 18 weeks abroad. On July 17, 1964, Malcolm addressed the Organization of African Unity's first ordinary assembly of heads of state and governments in Cairo as a representative of the OAAU. On August 21, 1964, he made a press statement on behalf of the OAAU regarding the second African summit conference of the OAU. In it, he explained how a strong and independent "United States of Africa" is a victory for the awakening of African Americans. By the time he returned to the United States on November 24, 1964, Malcolm had established an international connection between Africans on the continent and those in the diaspora.
Malcolm held to the view that African-americans were right in defending themselves from aggressors. On June 28, 1964 at the founding rally of the OAAU he said,
"The time for you and me to allow ourselves to be brutalized nonviolently has passed. Be nonviolent only with those who are nonviolent to you. And when you can bring me a nonviolent racist, bring me a nonviolent segregationist, then I'll get nonviolent. But don't teach me to be nonviolent until you teach some of those crackers to be nonviolent." [citation needed] 
Increasingly though he did come to regret his involvement within the Nation of Islam and its tendency to promote racism as a blacks versus whites issue. In an interview with Gordon Parks in 1965 he revealed:
"I realized racism isn't just a black and white problem. It's brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another." 
He stopped and remained silent for a few moments, then stated,
"Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant -- the one who wanted to help the Muslims and the whites get together -- and I told her there wasn't a ghost of a chance and she went away crying?" 
"Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then -- like all [black] Muslims -- I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years." 
"That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days -- I'm glad to be free of them." 

Visiting the UK
On 12 February 1965 Malcolm X visited Smethwick, near Birmingham, which had become a byword for racial division after the 1964 general election when the Conservative Party won the parliamentary seat using the slogan, amongst others, "If you want a nigger for your neighbour, vote Labour" [6]. He visited a pub with a non-coloured policy, and purposely visited a street where the local council would buy houses and sell them to white families, to avoid black families moving in.
Death and afterwards
Assassination
Malcolm X holding an M1 Carbine and pulling back the curtains to peer out of a window. This photograph is a popular image on T-shirts and often appears with the slogan "By Any Means Necessary."
On March 20, 1964, Life magazine published a famous photograph of Malcolm X holding an M1 Carbine and pulling back the curtains to peer out of a window. The photo was taken in connection with Malcolm's declaration that he would defend himself from the daily death threats which he and his family were receiving. Undercover FBI informants warned officials that Malcolm X had been marked for assassination. One officer undercover with the Nation of Islam is said to have reported that he had been ordered to help plant a bomb in Malcolm's car.[citation needed]
A week later on February 21 in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm had just begun delivering a speech when a disturbance broke out in the crowd of 400. A man yelled, "Get your hand outta my pocket! Don't be messin' with my pockets!" As Malcolm's bodyguards rushed forward to attend to the disturbance and Malcolm appealed for peace, a man rushed forward and shot Malcolm in the chest with a sawn-off shotgun. Two other men quickly charged towards the stage and fired handguns at Malcolm, who was shot 16 times. Angry onlookers in the crowd caught and beat the assassins as they attempted to flee the ballroom. The 39-year-old Malcolm was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He was killed by the shotgun blasts, the other bullets having been directed into his legs.
Although a police report once existed stating that two men were detained in connection with the shooting, that report disappeared, and the investigation was inconclusive.[citation needed] Two suspects were named by witnesses — Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson — however both were known as Nation of Islam agents and would have had difficulty entering the ballroom on that evening.
Three men were eventually charged in the case. Talmadge Hayer confessed to having fired shots into Malcolm's body, but he testified that Butler and Johnson were not present and were not involved in the shooting. All three were convicted.
A complete examination of the assassination and investigation is available in The Smoking Gun: The Malcolm X Files, a collection of primary sources relating to the assassination.


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“All faith is FALSE, all faith is TRUE.

TRUTH is the shattered mirrors strewn In myriad bits; while each BELIEVES

His LITTLE BIT the whole to own.”

 

From “The Kasidah of Hji Abu el-Yezdi”, as translated by Sir Richard F. Burton