The Life of Malcolm X

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Anytime you have a to itself as the free world and a democracy, and at the same time has 22 million of its citizens who aren’t permitted citizenship, why that in itself reflects lunacy. NARRATOR: Malcolm X was a civil rights crusader, black nationalist, and Muslim minister. He was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm’s father was a Baptist preacher and outspoken supporter of black activist Marcus Garvey. As a result, the Littles were frequently terrorized by white supremacist groups.

Despite his family’s attempts to evade harassment, young Malcolm felt the trauma of racist violence firsthand when his father was killed under mysterious circumstances. A brilliant student, Malcolm was discouraged and demeaned by white teachers, who ultimately pushed him to drop out of school at age 15. Bouncing between Boston, Flint, and Harlem during his teenage years, Malcolm turned to crime to get by. In 1946, at age 21, he was arrested for burglary and sentenced with eight to 10 years in prison.

While incarcerated, Malcolm developed a new and radical worldview based in liberation and self-determination. Through the influence of fellow prisoner John Bembry, Malcolm became an insatiable reader. He soon found himself drawn to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, a pro-black religious group led by Elijah Muhammad.

Accepting his new faith, Malcolm severed ties to the past, changing his last name to X as a representation of his lost African surname. After his release on parole in 1952, he worked to develop the nation’s ministry and expand its membership. In 1958, Malcolm married fellow NOI devotee Betty Shabazz, with whom he would have six children. Malcolm’s rapid rise in the organization mirrored the electrifying appeal of his teachings among African Americans.

The wider public caught a glimpse of his movement’s power one night in 1957, when Malcolm organized hundreds of black Muslims in Harlem to ensure the safety of Hinton Johnson, a hospitalized victim of police violence. Malcolm’s vision of black nationalism, which did not rule out violence as a means of overcoming white oppression, was met with fear and skepticism from mainstream white audiences and quickly attracted the attention of the FBI.

Still, Malcolm’s role as a powerful voice in the Civil Rights struggle continued to build momentum. By the early ’60s, however, Malcolm had grown disillusioned with the Nation of Islam after learning of Elijah Muhammad’s extramarital affairs. In 1963, Malcolm publicly cut ties with the organization. Shortly thereafter, he traveled to Mecca in Cairo on a cultural journey that reaffirmed his faith and cultivated his hope for a peaceful resolution to the struggle for racial equality. Still, Malcolm X’s return home was not easy.

Death threats, many from followers of Elijah Muhammad, plagued him and his family. Eager to make a lasting statement, Malcolm X collaborated with writer Alex Haley on an autobiography. Sadly, he would never see the book’s success. On February 21, 1965, before a speech in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X was shot to death by three members of the Nation of Islam. While Malcolm’s journey was cut tragically short, his words and spirit continue to shed light on the nature of inequality and the path to peace. He remains one of the most influential figures in American history.


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