Malcolm X, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was a prominent and influential figure in the American civil rights movement. Born on May 19, 1925, his life was marked by an unyielding commitment to racial equality and social justice.
Malcolm Little, who would later adopt the name Malcolm X, was born in Omaha, Nebraska. His childhood was fraught with hardships and violence. His father, a Baptist preacher and supporter of Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, was allegedly killed by white supremacists. His mother was institutionalised for mental health issues, and Malcolm and his siblings were placed in foster care.
During his early life, Malcolm faced significant racial discrimination, which influenced his views on race and social inequality. In his teen years, he relocated to Boston and later Harlem in New York City, where he became involved in criminal activities.
Prison and Conversion
In 1946, Malcolm was sentenced to ten years in prison for larceny and breaking and entering. It was in prison where he began a transformative journey. He was introduced to the teachings of the Nation of Islam (NOI), a Black nationalist and religious movement, through his brother Reginald. He began to study the teachings of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, which led to his conversion to Islam. It was also during this time that he adopted ‘X’ as his last name, a symbol for the African identity that he felt had been stolen from him and other African Americans due to slavery.
Rise to Prominence
Upon his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm X became a devoted follower and spokesperson for the NOI. His charisma, intelligence, and powerful oratory skills quickly propelled him into the national spotlight. He fiercely criticized the mainstream civil rights movement and its advocates, like Martin Luther King Jr., for their nonviolent approach, arguing instead for racial separatism and self-defense in the face of racial violence.
Malcolm X’s philosophy evolved throughout his life. After a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, he became disillusioned with the NOI and its teachings. He embraced Sunni Islam and began to advocate for racial harmony, rather than separatism.
Assassination and Legacy
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated while giving a speech in Harlem. His killers were identified as members of the NOI. His assassination marked a tragic end to a life dedicated to challenging the status quo and fighting for the rights of African Americans.
Malcolm X’s legacy continues to resonate today. He is often celebrated for his unapologetic critique of systemic racism, his powerful articulation of Black identity, and his advocacy for Black self-determination. His life and work continue to inspire and influence movements for racial and social justice across the globe.