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MALCOLM X

Malcolm X Malcolm X

Malcolm X together with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr are probably some of the biggest names that come to mind at the mention of the civil rights movement in America. He like Rev. King believed in religious activism and used Islam to sensitize the black masses about their rights. Whereas Rev. King followed Christianity and chose a strictly non-violent approach to reforms, Malcolm was seen by many to be open to any form of black resistance necessary, eventhough he never personally advocated violence. As a member of the Nation of Islam, he was perceived to be more radical and militant as compared to Rev. King. He thus drew his support almost exclusively from blacks unlike Rev. King, whose moderate message attracted some liberal whites. The Nation of Islam to which Malcolm was a member is known to have advocated such radical reforms as the establishment of a black homeland separate from the one inhabited by whites. This separatist idea was originally advocated by Marcus Garvey way back in the 1920's. Both Malcolm and his father were huge fans of Marcus Garvey. Needless to say, radical stances like these alienated Malcolm and his Nation of Islam from the mainstream civil rights organizations which called for one America for all Americans.

Eventhough Malcolm X and Rev Martin Luther King Jr. used different methods to help foster the civil rights movement, its hard to ignore the striking similarities in their lives, above and beyond their obvious sharp intellect and exemplary oratorical skills. Both of them were not only born roughly around the same time to Baptist Minisers, but flourished under religious activism and eventually fell victims to an assassin's bullet.

Macolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19th 1925 in the US city of Omaha, Nebraska to Earl and Louise Norton Little. His father Earl Little was an outspoken Baptist Minister and strong supporter of legendary black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. His father's strong activism soon made him the target of the supremacist white group, The Black Legion. After repeated threats and attacks by the Black Legion, the Littles relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1926. Then again in 1928, the family moved to Lansing Michigan where Malcolm's father had purchased a house. All these relocations however did not prevent threats and attacks against Malcolm's family whose house was burnt to the ground in 1929. The same year, Malcolm's father built a new house on the outskirts of East Lansing Michigan. As if all these was not enough for a single family to contend with, Malcolm's father was killed in 1931 and his mutilated body found lying across the town's trolley tracks. Eventhough police ruled this a hit-and-run, there was little doubt in the Little family that this was yet again the work of the Black Legion. A few years after this incident, Malcolm's mother Louise Norton Little, struggling to raise 8 children by herself suffered emotional breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. Her children were then split up among several foster homes and orphanages.

Malcolm began his elementary education in 1931 at Pleasant Grove Elementary School in Lansing, Michigan. He then proceeded to West Junior High School where all accounts indicate that he was one of the school's brightest students. The young Malcolm had high ambitions of becoming a lawyer but when his favourite High School teacher told him that was an unrealistic goal for a black person, he lost all interest in school and dropped out. After dropping out of High School, he took up some odd jobs in Boston, Massachussetts and thereafter left for Harlem, New York. At Harlem, with no High School Diploma and little hope of economic advancement, the little Malcolm got hooked into the criminal underworld. Reports have it that by 1942, at the tender age of 17, he was already coordinating narcotics, gambling and prostitution rings in Harlem. Eventhough he was clearly using his talents for all the wrong reasons, it nevertheless gives you a grasp as to just how gifted and enterprising the young Malcolm was.

Malcolm then moved back to Boston, where in 1946 he was arrested and convicted on burglary charges. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison. It was during his long stay in prison that Malcolm resumed his academic studies and found Islam. His brother Reginald, on a visit to the prison had brought to Malcolm news of his new found Islamic faith. Reginald had joined the Nation of Islam, then under the leadership of Elijah Mohammed. The teachings of Elijah Mohammed resonated strongly with the young Malcolm, who finally found internal peace and identity in Islam. By the time he was parolled in 1952, Malcolm was already a changed man. He dropped his last name Little, which he called a "slave name" and replaced it with X, to symbolize his lost African tribal name.

After coming out of prison, Elijah Mohammed appointed the intelligent and articulate Malcolm Minister and National Spokesman for the Nation of Islam. From 1952 to 1963, Malcolm X grew the membership of the Nation of Islam from a paltry 500 to approximately 30,000. In 1959, with his star rising, he was featured in a week long TV special titled "The Hate That Hate Produced" with popular TV host Mike Wallace. His surging national popularity however got him in trouble with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Mohammed, who increasingly felt eclipsed by him. In 1963, Malcolm finally fell out with Elijah Mohammed when he discovered that the Nation of Islam leader was having secret sexual relationships with up to 6 Nation of Islam women, some of which had resulted in children. This was quite contrary to Islamic teachings which advocated celibacy until marriage. This shocking discovery obviously crushed Malcolm, who felt very guilty for having led a large mass of people into an organization he now considered fraudulent. Calls from Elijah Mohammed for Malcolm to stay silent about the matter went unheeded and Malcolm soon told the world about the Nation of Islam leader.

Following the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X again got in trouble when he made some controversial remarks. He is reported to have said after Kennedy's death that Kennedy "never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon". Following this incident, Elijah Mohammed silenced Malcolm for 90 days. But Malcolm, as did many other Nation of Islam followers believed the silencing had little to do with the controversial Kennedy remarks and was just an attempt by Elijah Mohammed to clip his wings as the rising leader of the Nation of Islam.

Finally in 1964, with his relationship with Elijah Mohammed at an all time low, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and founded the Muslim Mosque Inc.. The same year, he left on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that would later prove to be life-altering for him.Speaking on his Mecca pilgrimage, Malcolm said he met 'blonde-haired, blue-eyed men I could call my brothers". His message thus shifted from being one focussed only on black people to one addressing all human beings who believed in equality and justice.

But it was no secret that with his Nation of Islam ties severed and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI breathing behind his neck, he was increasingly becoming a walking target. On February 14th 1965 his house on East Elmhurst, New York was bombed but luckily no one was injured. He however ran out of luck on February 21st 1965 when 3 gunmen walked up to the podium and shot him 15 times at close range, while he was delivering a speech at the Manhattan Audubon Ballroom. Malcolm was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. All 3 gunmen were later identified as Nation of Islam operatives.

Eventhough the gunmen managed to physically separate Malcolm from us, his message like that of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is still very much alive, and has been the subject of numerous books and documentaries. Malcolm also left the world a souvenir in his famous black-rimmed spectacles, which became a major hit among black people as a symbol of black intelligence. The most memorable tribute to Malcolm however came in 1952 when Movie Director Spike Lee made the movie Malcolm X featuring star actor Denzel Washington. The movie did very well and received Oscar nominations for Best Actor(Denzel) and Best Costume Designer.

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