From The Ramparts
Junious Ricardo Stanton
What We Can Learn From The Life of Malcolm X
“There is no better (teacher) than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” Malcolm X
Malcolm Little was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha Nebraska one of eight children born to Earl and Louise Little. His father was an avid follower of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and a Baptist minister. Rev. Little’s outspokenness and local activities earned the ire of the whites in the town of Lansing Michigan where Earl Little and his family lived. The family’s home was fire bombed twice while Malcolm was still a young boy and subsequently Earl Little was found dead on the trolley tracks in downtown Lansing. Earl Little’s death (some claimed he was murdered by the local white supremacist group) devastated the family. Overwhelmed with trying to raise eight children by herself in an extremely hostile environment, Louise Little suffered an emotional breakdown and had to be institutionalized.
Malcolm and his siblings were separated and sent to various foster homes and orphanages. Malcolm by all accounts was a bright child who expressed a desire to become a lawyer but was discouraged by his teachers because of his race. He was sent to Boston to live with a half sister Ella. Due to a lack of motivation and encouragement from his teachers, Malcolm dropped out of school, started hanging out in the street doing a series of odd jobs. Malcolm subsequently became immersed in the street hustle of numbers running, pimping and petty crime.
After a sting of “successful” burglaries Malcolm his buddy and partner in crime Shorty Jarvis were arrested and sentenced to ten years for robbery and larceny. When he first arrived in prison Malcolm was unruly, angry and extremely defiant. His nickname was “Satan”. As a result he was thrown into solitary confinement for long periods of time. While in prison he was visited by his younger brother Reginald who told Malcolm about his conversion to the Nation of Islam. Several other of Malcolm’s sibling had also joined the organization. Malcolm began to read and study while confined and he was able to revive his dormant intellectual curiosity.
Gradually Malcolm began to change. His quest for learning balanced out and eventually replaced his anger. He developed self-control once he became intrigued with and exposed to the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.
When he was released from prison he went to Detroit to meet with Mister Muhammad and be mentored under his tutelage. Recognizing Malcolm’s keen mind, his elocution and charisma Mr. Muhammad moved Malcolm up the ranks within the Nation of Islam from Minister to eventually becoming the national spokesman for Mr. Muhammad.
Using their newspaper Muhammad Speaks which Malcolm edited, radio and the new medium of television the message of the NOI spread far and wide. The Nation of Islam’s philosophy of racial pride, self-determination, uncompromising racial separatism and self-reliance offered a stark contrast to the bourgeoning Civil Rights movement with its calls for racial integration, jobs and voting rights. Many grass roots folks while not abiding by the strict discipline and dietary code of the Nation of Islam respected what they said, how they said it and the fact they stood tall and denounced Europeans as “devils”. To the masses they embodied the ideal of the “New Negro”.
But a rift developed between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm veered off of the doctrines of Mr. Muhammad that taught Allah would take care of the devils in due time when the LA police shot up their Los Angles Temple killing several members. Malcolm openly called for revenge while Mr. Muhammad cautioned restraint. Several years later when Malcolm disobeyed Mr. Muhammad’s instructions that none of his Ministers comment one way or the other about John F. Kennedy’s murder; Mr. Muhammad disciplined Malcolm by silencing him for ninety days. Malcolm was forbidden to speak in public for ninety days.
The schism grew wider between Mr. Muhammad and Malcolm once Malcolm discovered his mentor had fathered several children by young female members. This revelation shocked, discouraged and disappointed, Malcolm prompting him to leave the Nation of Islam and start his own movement
. Malcolm was forced to rethink his position on the struggle and eschewed the Muslim philosophy of non-engagement.
He soon began to dialogue with other leaders many whom he had formally denounced and chided for their philosophy and tactics. But Malcolm was not compromising his position; he wanted a stronger more unified proactive movement. Unlike many of the folks he criticized, Malcolm saw the issue not as merely one of civil rights but of human rights. Malcolm internationalized the struggle by planning to take the United States before the World Court and charging it with massive human rights violations.
This idea was not new Paul Robeson had attempted to do the same thing years before and the US government went after him with a vengeance. The US did the same to Malcolm. At the time the US was attempting assert itself as the new champion of global white domination and neocolonialism following its victories over Germany and Japan in WW II. Malcolm railed against US apartheid at home and its involvement in Viet Nam way before there was an anti-war movement when most Americans weren’t even aware the US was in that region.
A month before he was murdered Malcolm who changed is name to El Hajj Malik El Shabazz equated the struggle of Vietnamese “rice farmers” with that of Afro-Americans in the US. He said, “Imagine that a country that’s supposed to be a democracy, suppose to be for freedom and all that kind of stuff, when they want to draft you and put you in the army and send you to Saigon to fight for them-and then you’ve got to turn around and all night long discuss how you’re going to just get the right to register and vote without being murdered. Why, that’s the most hypocritical government since the world began!” Malcolm visited heads of state in the Afro-Asian block to try to get them to support his plan and was succeeding so much so the US CIA poisoned him while on one of his trips abroad When that didn’t succeed, the US government cunningly exploited the rift between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam and used it as a cover to “neutralize” him.
The US would not only later escalate the war in Southeast Asia but the war at home using the FBI’s COINTELPRO and the CIA’s Operation Chaos. We are still feeling the affects of those counterinsurgency campaigns today. They had to eliminate people like Malcolm, the more radicalized Martin Luther King Jr. and militant young Bucks.
What can we learn from Malcolm and his life? Much: Malcolm cultivated his innate intelligence so can we. Malcolm was resilient in the face of hardship and circumstances beyond his control; he was willing to change we can be too. Malcolm was able to adapt and adjust on the fly after thoughtful introspection and analysis. We can be that way too. Malcolm thought outside the box, he knew the US government would never voluntarily grant Black people full human rights so he set out to embarrass them before the whole world to force them to change. He was bold and he took initiative. Malcolm used personal setbacks as a stepping stone for future growth and development. We can do all of that in our personal and collective lives.
As we pause to honor Malcolm for his courage, intellect and love for his people, let us apply the lessons he learned, cultivate his positive traits and characteristics in our own lives so like Malcolm we make an impression and imprint that leaves the world better than we inherited it.