We recently passed the birth anniversary of renowned African-America civil rights activist Malcolm X. He is most well-known for his radical outspokenness against racial injustice in the United States and across the world.
Malcolm was assassinated on February 21st 1965, just a few months short of his 40th birthday. It was only by the mid to late 1950’s that Malcolm had become a well-known figure in public life. The majority of Malcolm’s life is a story of struggle and strife and in many ways his early life typifies the black experience in mid-20th century America. His father, a prominent follower of Marcus Garvey and theologian, was killed at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan when Malcolm was just 6 years old. His mother, unable to deal with the stress of raising five young children by herself was placed in a mental asylum when Malcolm was only 13 years of age. For the remainder of his childhood Malcolm would be passed between different foster homes.
Although through his teens Malcolm maintained high grades in school (At one point Malcolm was so advanced in his class he proclaimed to his teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer to which the teacher responded: “a lawyer is no realistic goal for a nigger”) it is clear that his tumultuous childhood would impact him in his early adult life. Just aged 20, Malcolm was arrested for breaking and entering and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Upon his release in 1952, Malcolm, then aged 27, had already joined the black American religious movement The Nation of Islam. The spiritual leader of the Nation, Elijah Muhammad, had claimed that he was a messenger sent from God in the flesh, to deliver the black man and woman from oppression. Malcolm’s quick wit and fantastic oration skills meant that he quickly became a leader in the Nation, being appointed as Elijah Muhammad’s national spokesperson.
Malcolm’s struggle would not end here. Although seemingly among his own people, internal strife within the Nation would eventually make his position untenable, and in 1964 Malcolm would split from the Nation after making some unguarded comments following JFK’s assassination. In the years that followed it became clear that government forces (namely the FBI and their COINTELPRO mission) were instrumental in manufacturing a division between Malcolm, the Nation and Elijah Muhammad.
In the last year of his life Malcolm embraced Sunni Islam after performing Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, and also established an organisation called The Muslim Mosque Incorporated. It looked as though this was the start of a new chapter in Brother Malcolm’s life.
In February of 1965, in an address to his newly formed organisation, Organisation of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm was gunned down by two men. The men arrested for the assassination were both members of the Nation of Islam, however there is much uncertainty around whether the men imprisoned for the crime were actually those who committed it. In Malcolm’s own words, in the last days of his life when he knew he was in serious danger were that forces “bigger than the Nation” were involved in the plot to kill him. Despite this threat to his life Malcolm insisted on giving his address to a packed Audoborn ballroom in Harlem.
This piece is not just to serve as a mini biography of the life of a colossal figure in black, and indeed world history, but also to serve as a reminder to us all that progress, development and struggle are prerequisites of a fulfilled life. Although Malcolm was taken from the world far too young, his near forty years of life on this earth were a journey of perpetual development. Whilst it certainly cannot be said that Malcolm lived a comfortable life, he most definitely lived an impactful one.