AFRICANGLOBE – He was known for his tireless fight for Black rights and equality, captivating speeches and unquestionable integrity.
And today (May 19), Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X would have celebrated his 89th birthday.
Born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Nebraska, Malcolm X went on to become one of the greatest figures in the Nation of Islam and modern history.
Malcolm was the fourth of eight children born to Louise and Earl Little. His father was a preacher who was also an active member of the local chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.
Due to Earl Little’s civil rights activism, the family faced frequent harassment from White supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and one of its splinter factions, the Black Legion.
When Malcolm X was four-years-old, local Klan members smashed all of the family’s windows, causing his father to move the family from Omaha to Michigan.
However, the racism the family encountered in East Lansing proved even greater than in Omaha. In 1929, shortly after the Littles moved in, a racist mob set their house on fire, and the town’s all-White emergency responders refused to do anything.
Two years later, in 1931, Earl Little was found dead on the municipal streetcar tracks. Although Malcolm X’s father was very likely murdered by White supremacists, the police officially ruled his death a suicide, thereby voiding the large life insurance policy he had purchased in order to provide for his family in the event of his death.
Malcolm X’s mother Louise never recovered from the shock and grief of her husband’s death. In 1937, she was committed to a mental institution and Malcolm X left home to live with family friends.
By the age of 15 Malcolm, went to live with his older sister Ella. He worked at the Roseland Ballroom shining shoes and soon fell into a life of crime.
In 1946 he was arrested on charges of larceny and sentenced to ten years in jail.
While in prison, Malcom converted to the Nation of Islam and abandoned his surname in favor of his famous X – a tribute to his unknown African ancestors.
After prison he served as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam during the 1950s and 1960s. Due largely to his efforts, the Nation of Islam grew from a mere 400 members at the time he was released from prison in 1952 to 40,000 members by 1960.
He became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple No. 11 in Boston, while also founding new temples in Harford and Philadelphia. In 1960, he established a national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, in order to further promote the message of the Nation of Islam.
It was during this period that Malcolm delivered some of his most memorable and rousing speeches and emerged as a leading voice of the radicalized wing of the civil rights movement.
He broke with the Nation of Islam in 1964 and embarked on extended trip through North Africa and the Middle East. The journey proved to be both a political and spiritual turning point in his life. He learned to place the American Civil Rights Movement within the context of a global anti-colonial struggle, embracing socialism and pan-Africanism. Malcolm X also made the Hajj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during which he converted to traditional Islam and again changed his name, this time to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
It was during his tour on February 12, 1965, when Malcolm paid an unexpected visit to Smethwick in Brmingham after learning how White householders had won council support to buy up empty homes to prevent African, Caribbean and Asian house-hunters from moving in.
His walk along Marshall Street attracted international media attention and within months of the visit a new administration had been sworn in and the policy overturned.
However, he was never able to witness the positive turn of events as nine days later – upon his return to the United States – he was assassinated.
On the evening of February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, where Malcolm X was about to deliver a speech, three gunmen rushed the stage and shot him 15 times.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital shortly thereafter at the age of 39.