The Legacy of Malcolm X
Junious Ricardo Stanton
As we pause to commemorate the birth and life of Malcolm Little, aka Malcolm X aka El Hajj Malik El Shabazz we have to keep in mind he was a complex man of great intellect, integrity and courage who changed and modified his positions on issues but never his love of Black people and his desire to see us free. Malcolm Little was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha Nebraska the son of Earl and Louise Little. The family later moved to Lansing Michigan where his father a Baptist minister and ardent supporter of the Pan-African leader from Jamaica Marcus Garvey was killed when he was hit by a streetcar. Rev. Little’s death, many suspected it was murder due to his Black nationalist organizing and activism, plunged the family into trauma and poverty. The stress caused his mother to have a nervous breakdown, she was subsequently committed to a mental asylum, Malcolm and his siblings were split up and sent to foster homes or to live with family members.
Malcolm was extremely bright but he was discouraged by white teachers and subsequently dropped out of school. Malcolm got into difficulty in Michigan and was sent to a juvenile detention center. Upon release he moved to Boston to live with his older half-sister from his father’s first marriage. In Boston Malcolm took to the street life engaging in petty crimes, robbery, gambling and drugs. Eventually he was arrested, convicted and sent to prison. Correspondence with several of his sibling who were members of the Nation of Islam under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad led Malcolm to eventually convert and join the organization.
Upon his release from prison he went to Chicago where he met Mr. Muhammad who was called by his followers The Messenger. Malcolm was groomed and prepared for leadership by Mr. Muhammad and after servings stints in Philadelphia as head of the local Temple and New York’s Harlem Mosque, Mr. Muhammad elevated Malcolm to the position of national spokesman for the NOI, which thrust him into the national limelight. Malcolm distinguished himself by his eloquent oratory skills, his keen mind, his insight into people, psychology, white supremacy and his uncompromising support of Mr. Muhammad’s teachings. Malcolm was influential in the creation of the NOI’s newspaper and propaganda organ Muhammad Speaks.
HoweverMalcolm did deviate from Mr. Muhammad’s teachings which brought him into conflict with his leader and some of the NOI upper echelon leaders. Mr. Muhammad called for the total separation of the races and advised his followers not to fret over the wickedness of the devils (the term he used to define whites), he said their time or power would soon come to an end and Allah would punish them for their wickedness.
Malcolm on the other hand called for Blacks to arm and defend themselves against the bombings and attacks whites were inflicting upon them. He was especially vocal and adamant after the LA police beat and killed several NOI members in a brazen attack on their Temple. From then on, Malcolm railed against turning the other cheek unlike what Martin Luther King Jr espoused and he focused his attention on the strife the civil rights movement was engendering while Mr. Muhammad called for non engagement with the US system on any level.
While that position was not in line with Mr. Muhammad’s philosophy, Malcolm’s stance gained numerous followers and much respect nationally from Blacks who did not have the discipline or the inclination to join the NOI.
Malcolm was extremely astute and tapped into the unrest, dissatisfaction and growing resistance of the times. He was one of the first Black leaders to denounce the US military presence in Vietnam, he equated the status of Blacks in the US with colonized people around the world. Malcolm internationalized the struggle. He was a fierce debater who easily befuddled and flustered Negro and white apologists for the system and status quo. He mocked and derided the major Civil Rights organizations as tools of the white establishment calling their leaders chumps and Uncle Toms. He even sent telegrams to US Nazi and KKK leaders warning them against harming civil rights activists and the Black community in general. That type of behavior was unheard of at the time and it set Malcolm and the NOI apart from the other civil rights organizations but also brought additional scrutiny on him and the NOI by local police and the FBI.
Despite the fact he lived a whirlwind life of travel, speaking boosting the membership of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm was a devoted husband to his wife Betty, dedicated father to his four small chlidren, a vociferous reader with a keen insight in local and world events.
Some Black people liked the fact Malcolm was bold, he was articulate and eloquent. But his forthrightness also got him into trouble with Elijah Muhammad. He disobeyed Mr. Muhammad’s order not to say anything publicly about the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Malcolm’s disobedience led to a ninety-day suspension, his subsequent estrangement from Mr. Muhammad and an eventual break from the NOI.
Once he left the NOI, Malcolm expounded his stance on human rights as opposed to civil rights, he traveled, met with and lobbied international leaders from the Afro-Asian block in the UN to support his attempts to bring the United States before the World Court and charging the US government with genocide and human rights violations. He attempted to mend his relations with Civil Rights leaders and even reached out to whites with his message of peace, social change and human rights. He attempted to build a nonsectarian grassroots organization to improve the conditions of Black people in the US and globally. Malcolm’s activism, his increased engagement with world leaders did not sit well with the US powers that be who were monitoring and following him.
The Deep State used/exacerbated the tensions and feud between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam by infiltrating both organizations. On February 21, 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated in front of his family (just like JFK was killed in broad daylight in front of the US public) during an organizational meeting at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem New York. Several Muslim patsies were arrested, convicted and jailed, but a great light was snuffed out that day. The government used the feud between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam to “neutralize” Malcolm; this served as a template for their subsequent COINTELPRO counter insurgency campaigns against other dissident individuals and groups.
We can learn much from Malcolm’s life, history and the times: his resilience, his self-determination to cultivate his intellect, his ability to adapt and evolve, his retention of the love of Black folks his parents instilled in him (despite his taking maladaptive antisocial paths) which helped him regain his moral and intellectual compass and his uncompromising commitment to social justice and change. He was fearless in the face of the immorality and corruption of the US system.
During these times of uncertainty, turmoil and upheaval we can apply these lessons to our own lives, remembering Malcolm as a great man and replicating his love and commitment to his people.