Before we get into it, let’s talk about how he got famous!
Malcolm was born in New York City in 1925. He grew up with two very important people: his father, Earl Little, and Martin Luther King Jr., his uncle.
Both men inspired him to help other people through their work as activists and leaders for social justice. As a kid, he wanted to be like them — an activist who worked towards equality and fairness across all groups.
He learned basic black history from his family and school, but nothing more than what white culture deemed acceptable to teach students of color. (Note: This is still a problem today!)
It wasn’t until college that he really studied African-American history in depth. And even then, only certain figures were mentioned and concepts such as slavery and racism were framed in neutral terms.
He read several biographies and studies about civil rights pioneers, but none focused much attention on how they became well known. It seemed like most people had heard of MLK or Rosa Parks, but not so with Shabazz or Louis.
That made him curious.
After his exile in Africa, Muhammad Ali returned to America as a champion for racial equality. He was well-known now not just for his boxing skills, but also his outspoken political views.
Ali became involved with an organization called The Nation Of Islam (NOI). While some considered NOI leader Elijah Muhammed crazy or even dangerous, he had a growing group of followers who admired him.
Many people associate the term “Muslim” only with religion, but there are actually many different sects within that faith. One such sect is known as the Sunni Muslims, which make up around 90% of all practicing Muslims. They have their own interpretation of religious texts and rules.
The Nation of Islam is considered part of the larger umbrella of Sunni Muslims, making it important to know about them.
After he left The Muslim Mosque, Elijah Muhammad asked Malcolm to come work for him as an assistant minister. At this time, however, very few people knew about Malcolm due to his secrecy when it came to his personal life.
Malcolm was reluctant at first but eventually agreed because he saw potential in the organization that Muhammad ran. He wanted to help build the faith and get more Muslims out into community to meet other religions.
He worked hard to win over members of different faiths by showing love and respect towards them while also encouraging unity within the Islamic community.
By creating conversations and debates around important issues suchas Jesus being God’s son or whether Christians are true followers of His religion, he sparked interest and talk about Islam!
Not only did he succeed in bringing new people into the fold, but he also inspired many others to start studying Islam themselves.
After leaving the Nation of Islam in 1963, Malcolm began to work closely with other civil rights leaders. He met with non-violent protest leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at least twice.
Dr. King asked him if he wanted to help lead an effort to break up the white power structure that was dominating America’s institutions, including its schools. Malcolm said yes, and soon became one of his most important advisers.
He helped develop what would become known as “the three pillars approach” to social justice activism. That included educating people about the injustices happening around them, protesting these injusticies in a peaceful way, and creating alternative systems for solving our nation’s problems.
Malcolm also focused heavily on developing strong black leadership by having us talk about our successes and how we can take pride in ourselves and each other. He once said, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, but they are essential to anyone who wants to see change happen.
After his speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King was invited to speak at Harlem’s Mosque Noor Islami. There he met with two local political leaders who wanted to discuss ways they could help him bring more attention to racial justice in America. These men were El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm Little) and Muhammad Ali.
Elijah Muhammad had left New York years earlier after experiencing significant hostility from white people there. He returned home to Detroit where he founded the Nation Of Islam, an organization that preaches about black supremacy over whites.
Muhammad later broke away from this group and rebranded himself as Elijah Mohammad. In February 1965, he announced the creation of what would become known as The World Muslim League, or WML for short. This organization was designed to promote unity among Muslims around the world. It also sought to empower them by teaching them how to be successful business owners.
At first, few people took the league seriously because it didn’t seem like it would have much success. However, when members did start organizing businesses and gathering money, word got out and donations flooded in. Many people donated not just to see the effects of the organization but to gain recognition for Mr. Muhammad and the work he was doing.
In May of that year, Mr. Muhammad held his second annual meeting in Chicago.
In October 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech before an audience in Washington D.C. For many, it was their first exposure to non-theistic black nationalist rhetoric.
Malcolm traveled across America speaking about black power, black consciousness, and racial pride as legitimate ideologies that can be used for self-determination. He criticized those who preached unity over separation and called this false hope.
He said there is no such thing as peaceful integration because white people are not integrating with other whites. Only when white people are interacting with others of their own race does peace occur. This isn't true for blacks, he explained.
We have been integrated into everything since Emancipation, but we still cannot achieve equality. We still face discrimination and oppression everywhere we go, even within our own communities where white people occupy more powerful positions. Blacks remain oppressed minorities in a racist society.
In April 1965, he gave his famous “Message to the Grassroots” speech at an international organization of black nationalist groups in Detroit.
He called for self-determination for oppressed people around the globe and criticized what he saw as opportunistic alliances within the African diaspora.
Malcolm also warned against racial separatism and nationalism that would create more hostility towards minorities rather than unite them. He said such ideologies were simply tools used by white supremacists to keep blacks down.
His final plea was to focus on building strong community ties and solidarity instead. This appealed to many because it emphasized friendship over division. He is now considered one of the most important political leaders of the 20th century.
In April of 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King called for an international day to honor African-American history by observing what would have been his 77th birthday. At that event he asked those attending to create public spaces to recognize and celebrate black people’s past achievements.
He suggested using landmarks, buildings, monuments, and museums as locations to begin such conversations. But he was not asking everyone to agree with everything about how blacks should be treated in America, he only wanted to acknowledge their existence.
That is why many consider his “I Have A Dream” speech two years earlier in August of 1965 to be more significant. There he mentioned meeting with President Lincoln but didn’t mention breaking down any racial barriers or mentioning slavery.
It wasn’t until after these speeches that media began paying attention to him. Many saw his calls for civil rights activism as too moderate and nonconfrontational. He had made statements before like “Colored People Are My Brothers,” but it took his assassination for most people to realize just how much racism plagued this country.
On February 21, 1965, at 2:30 AM, police were called to investigate gunshots in an apartment building in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. When they arrived, they found the body of black nationalist leader Malcolm Little outside his second-floor apartment door along with five bullets in his chest.
Malcolm was 35 years old and had just finished giving a speech when he was shot twice by white supremacists angry about his criticisms of racial inequalities in America. He would later be pronounced dead at the scene.
Many people believe that assassination is too strong a word for what happened to Malcolm, but it is appropriate here because this killing fit the criteria for both premeditated murder and felony manslaughter.
Investigators determined that three shots came from across the street where there was a dispute over parking, one hit the car of a bystander, and another went through the windshield, hitting him. A third bullet was recovered some 200 feet away, suggesting that Malcolm may have been trying to flee when he was killed.
The person who fired the fatal shot has never been charged or identified, though several theories exist. Because of the way the crime occurred, many feel that witnesses must have seen something before or after the shooting, and then vanished. Others think that someone left the area right after the event, without telling anyone why.
Whatever the truth behind the death of Malcolm X, it exposed serious problems within American society that need addressing.