It's 1960 and X Marks the Spot
After spending the last month of the trek learning about the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights Movement, I knew that researching Malcolm X would provide some real food for thought. First, there was Martin Luther King, Jr. who, through leading non-violent protests, marches and sit-ins, gave a rising voice to the black community. This voice spoke for an end to segregation, and told us that separate is not equal. But at the same time, there was Malcolm X, another young leader whose words were powerful but whose message was differed from Dr. King's. Although Malcolm X also wanted a voice for the black community, he believed in going about it in other ways.
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Dr. King was protesting for full integration, meaning that blacks should have equal access to everything that whites had. He believed that both blacks and whites should work together for this common goal in a non-violent and peaceful manner. But Malcolm X, a poor kid from the streets, didn't believe in "loving your enemy." His experiences would lead him to propose a completely different kind of revolution.
Malcolm Little was born in May 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. It would be many years later that he would change his name to Malcolm X. Malcolm grew up in a foster home and only made it through the eighth grade. After that, he ended up on the streets of Harlem, New York dealing drugs and robbing places to get money. By the age of 21, he was arrested for armed robbery and served a sentence of ten years in prison. It was in prison, believe it or not, where he began to turn his life around.
The first step in this transformation was getting an education. At the end of his prison term, started to take correspondence courses and read books from the prison library, to learn everything his mind could handle.
The second step came from religion. Malcolm's brother and sister introduced him to the Nation of Islam, a form of the Muslim religion led by Elijah Muhammad who preached black superiority while praying to Allah. It was the ideas spurred by the Nation of Islam that would help Malcolm develop his philosophy for a black revolution. This religious community would also give him an audience to which he could preach these ideas.
The Nation of Islam's leader Muhammad preached that history had been "whitened." He claimed that the white man was the devil who kept non-whites down. Malcolm learned from Muhammad and followed in his footsteps. He remembered from grade school that the history books simply left out any black history. He knew that if the black community could come together and build a common pride in their own history, separate from "white" history, that they could make their own lives better.
With the support of the Nation of Islam behind him, Malcolm traveled across the nation sharing his ideas with audiences of students both black and white. He wanted black communities to take responsibility for themselves and to protect themselves, with force if necessary. These were strong ideas in an unstable time.
For over a decade, Malcolm preached these beliefs with the support of the Nation of Islam. By doing so, he helped it grow into an even larger community. But in the mid-sixties, he had a falling out with its leader and broke with the organization.
Without the Nation of Islam's support, Malcolm X formed his own organizations that helped spread his beliefs. These groups focused on politics, community improvement, self-protection and education.
Unfortunately, Malcolm X didn't have a chance to lead these organizations for long, because in 1965, he was shot and killed. He was giving one of his speeches at the Audubon Hotel when a group of gunmen ended his life. Three men were arrested and convicted of the crime, but the question of who supported the murder is still being asked today. It could have been the Nation of Islam, since after Malcolm's falling out, they were a constant threat to him. Or perhaps it was the FBI. Malcolm believed they were tapping his phones and following him for most of his public career.
Although Malcolm is gone however, we are left with the legacy of his ideas. How do they fit into our race issues of today? Still the question of equality in jobs, schools, and housing exists between blacks and whites. What would Dr. King and Malcolm X be preaching now if they were both still alive? More than three decades later, the questions still remain and are still as difficult to answer.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley was used as a resource for this dispatch.
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Links to Other Dispatches
Neda -Martin Luther King, Jr. and a shattered peace movement
Stephanie - The night Watts was set ablaze