The Last Years of Malcolm X (Fall 2012)
Malcolm X once stated "We declare our right on this earth...to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” (Ali 1). He had a rough upbringing that fueled his actions and extreme viewpoints later in life. The extreme views about the black race had many people thinking that he didn’t want equality for all but instead he wanted black supremacy. Even 50 years after his assassination, Malcolm X is an icon for the Civil Rights Movement and is looked at to have a big impact on the change that would eventually happen in society. During Malcolm X’s short life he managed to accomplish many things such as taking on a leadership role for the Civil Rights Movement and converting to the Muslim faith, which would eventually lead to his assassination. The large impact that one man can make is evident through the historical influence he showed through a very influential life.
Malcolm X was known as a troublemaker throughout his childhood and grew to a rebellious young adult. When residing in Boston, he began a relationship with a white woman and started to steal and burglarize for means of making money. Eventually he was convicted of burglary and was sentenced 10 years in prison. The harsh punishment was thought to be because of the relationship he had with the white woman and not solely because of the thefts he committed (Haley Chapter 9). While in prison, his views began to side with his black race more than they ever had. As a history force that fulfills this viewpoint, Malcolm X categorizes himself with Personal and Group Identities. Reflecting on his life in prison, many instances of racism, discrimination and prejudices though to once be individual attacks, now became viewed as hate crimes toward the black race (Haley Chapter 8). The change that many felt would need to occur during the Civil Rights movement was equality. Malcolm X took a more violent approach to getting attention to black issues compared to another Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. who used non-violent protests to get his message across. His perspectives are still evolving as he obtains more knowledge and experience over time.
Four of Malcolm’s siblings would convert to Islam after his release from prison in 1952. He attends the Nation of Islam in Detroit and quickly becomes indulged in the teachings and ways of the religion. Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little changed his last name, which he looked at as a “slave” name to the surname ‘X’ (Malcolm X Make It Plain). Once educated about the Muslim faith, he began to recruit members and voice the beliefs he learned. The impact of the Nation of Islam on Malcolm X was highly significant and would eventually guide many of his thoughts and perceptions before he converted fully into the faith. Upon conversion he found himself not only identifying with the black race but also the Muslim faith. Another history force that Malcolm X portrays is the religious and philosophical category. Malcolm is now practicing Islam and his teachings will be guided more towards religion. This impacted many people in the U.S because many also converted to Islam once they found out Malcolm X, a strong-minded leader, had also made the commitment to the religion. The Nation of Islam and his beliefs for Black Nationalism and power turned into a group called the Black Muslims (54th Malcom X…). Through his grim past, he created a strong hate for the white race and preached black supremacy more than equality with all races. His words had an effect over the people because many black Americans had been suppressed by white Americans and this would be the perfect pay back for all the hurt bestowed on them. The ideology went on to influence several other factors in the U.S as well.
The Black Power ideology influenced black Americans and the right to own a business. Malcolm X wanted the black community to be as self-reliant as possible. ”The Ballot or the Bullet” speech was given by Malcolm X in 1964 stressing the need for black businesses to start a new independent way of living apart from the white world that surrounded them. At the time of this speech, black people did not have the freedom to create their own businesses in white neighborhoods or areas (Milliron). Malcolm X believed once the businesses were established blacks would be able to take power of their own lives and pursue work that they loved. Malcolm X covers many areas in his speech including economics in black communities: The economic philosophy of Black Nationalism is pure and simple. It only means that we should control the economy of our community. Why should white people be running all the stores in our community? Why should white people be running the banks of our community? Why should the economy of our community be in the hands of the white man? Why? If a black man can't move his store into a white community, you tell me why a white man should move his store into a black community. The philosophy of Black Nationalism involves a re-education program in the black community in regards to economics. Our people have to be made to see that any time you take your dollar out of your community and spend it in a community where you don't live, the community where you live will get poorer and poorer, and the community where you spend your money will get richer and richer. (Quoted from the speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”).
In the passage, he describes his rage toward white business owners. The ideology that a white man powers all businesses and gives a black man no chance is unfair. By creating black businesses, African Americans can have a steady income and rise in their own community. The historical force that this idea related to is the economy. The black community needs self sustained money flowing through to survive without the white businesses and sales. The money that was spent by blacks would now be going into a black owned business, this theory would also effect white communities. The right for black business owners to grow and white business owners to stay on their own turf would boost the morale of blacks all over the country. Money is needed to survive and Malcolm X emphasized this in his significant speech reiterating that economics is the start of the society Malcolm X had dreamed of.
Two-thirds of the U.S House of Representatives and Senate were democrats. With many of the democrats coming from southern states, there was no hope for change in politics. In his 1964 speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet”, Malcolm X explains the troubling issues at the time: The Dixiecrats (Democrats) in Washington, D.C., control the key committees that run the government. The only reason the Dixiecrats control these committees is because they have seniority. The only reason they have seniority is because they come from states where Negroes can't vote. This is not even a government that's based on democracy (Quoted from the speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”).
When the majority of the Senate and House were against the civil rights movement, many felt it was hard to make any change. The democracy excluded a lot of black people who could have made a major change in the elections but couldn’t because of the voter restrictions for African Americans. Following the vote to put President Lyndon B. Johnson into office in 1963, many African Americans wanted the same rights so they could have an influence in politics. In 1965, after Malcolm X’s death, President Johnson signed The Voting Rights Act to overcome the legal barriers that stopped African American’s from exercising their right to vote (Voter’s Rights Act). Malcolm X helped to make many changes in history that would assist in African Americans ability to exercise their right to vote. The Voting Rights Act influenced politics in a big way, now African Americans were able to have a say in who was elected. A good example of the political force of history is shown here. Malcolm X and many others made the inequality known to many and the Voting Act was one of many things that were influenced.
There was a conflict between the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X. Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the NOI, and Malcolm X had tension between them because many thought Malcolm was looking to replace Elijah (Bell). The tension eventually led to Malcolm’s decision to leave the NOI. Many members of the NOI were bitter about Malcolm X leaving but there were also small groups that were unforgiving of Malcolm’s decision. It is a decision that many people felt led to his demise amongst the people that supported him for so many years.
In 1965, Malcolm X was shot ten times while starting a speech in New York City. Police reports said that five people were involved in the assassination but the report later disappeared. Three men were tried and convicted of the crime but there are still many unanswered questions. A NOI bodyguard took one weapon from the crime scene, cleaned it and then turned it into the FBI (Bell). To this day, the many unsolved inquiries still linger. The funeral was attended by between 14,000 to 30,000 admirers (Rogers). A civil rights activist presented Malcolm’s eulogy and explained him as “our shining black prince” (Rogers). The history force, a role of the specific individual, is shown with the life and death of Malcolm X. Even with the death of Malcolm X, the civil rights movement still rose and fought for equality. The role of Malcolm X is known throughout the world and his significance is still felt today.
Malcolm X was considered to be a very influential figure in the history of the civil rights era. Malcolm along with many other leaders stirred up a following that started a historical revolt against one of the many injustices in society. He will forever be known as a pioneer in American civil rights and without his strength and courage, aside many other leaders, America may still be in the same situation if not worse now. It takes a lot to do what he did, to stand up for what you believe in without knowing the outcome, but just knowing you will face a lot of adversity throughout your campaign. Malcolm X knew he would be looked at as outspoken and maybe even considered violent but he stuck with one idea that can be summed up in a single quote, “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” –Malcolm X
- 54th. Malcolm X and The Nation of Islam. U.S History: Pre Columbian to the New Millennium, 2012. Web. 5 December 2012. <http://www.ushistory.org/us/54h.asp>.
- Ali, Noaman. Malcom-X.Org. 2000. Web. 4 December 2012. <http://www.malcolm-x.org/quotes.htm>.
- Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. City Not Specified: Grove Press, 1965. Print.
- Malcolm X Make it Plain. PBS, 2005. Web. 4 December 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/malcolmx/timeline/index.html>.
- Milliron, Albert. Malcolm X would Have Been A Republican. Now Public, Crowd Powered Media, 2008. Web. 5 December 2012. <http://www.nowpublic.com/world/malcolm-x-would-have-been-republican>.
- Rogers, Kevin. Malcolm X’s Funeral. Timelines. Web. 8 December 2012. <http://timelines.com/1965/2/23/malcolm-xs-funeral>.
- Voting Rights Act. History.com. Web. 8 December 2012. <http://www.history.com/topics/voting-rights-act>.